John Alden Carpenter

John Alden Carpenter

1876 - 1951

John Alden Carpenter's work in general has an impressionistic lightness, but ranges widely in expression from light and humorous to the poetic and moody, from jazz-inspired to patriotic, and from the popular to the non-Western. His ballet Skyscrapers was given at the Metropolitan Opera, but he is perhaps most famous for his great output of piano pieces and songs.

--The Newberry Library, Chicago

Photo: TITLE: [John Alden Carpenter, bust] CALL NUMBER: LOT 4809 [item] [P&P] Check for an online group record (may link to related items) REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-43032 (b&w film copy neg.) REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA DIGITAL ID: (digital file from b&w film copy neg.) cph 3a43348


Together with Charles Wakefield Cadman and Deems Taylor, John Alden Carpenter was considered one of the foremost "modern" composers of the 1920's and 30's. Born into an affluent Chicago shipping family, Carpenter traced his ancestry back to the Pilgrims. His musical studies began with his mother, a passionate amateur singer, and continued with John Knowles Paine at Harvard and in later life with Elgar in Rome and Bernard Ziehn in Chicago.

After his graduation in 1897, he entered the family business, and, like Ives, for the rest of his career worked as an executive by day and a composer in his leisure hours. Unlike Ives (who hurled invectives at Carpenter's early work Adventures in a Perambulator), however, his music was far more mainstream and accessible. In 1915 Carpenter became interested in incorporating elements of popular music--Tin Pan Alley and jazz--into his works.

His 1921 musical pantomime Krazy Kat, with its dazzling orchestration that influenced Gershwin, enjoyed a great success and resulted in a commission from Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev for an American ballet. Carpenter's resulting composition, Skyscrapers, eventually was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1926, greatly enhancing his reputation as a composer. Until his death in Chicago in 1951, he devoted his life to creating two symphonies, a violin concerto, several tone poems, and over 100 songs. Carpenter's vocal literature is enlivened by his impeccable taste in poetry, his luxuriant melodic inspiration, and his fluid settings of text. His most famous songs include his cycle of Rabindranath Tagore poems, Gitanjali, his Four Negro Songs to Langston Hughes texts, and his Four Poems by Paul Verlaine.

--Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, PBS I Hear America Singing

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