April 25, 1906: Portland-born John Knowles Paine, one of the first Americans to achieve recognition for large-scale orchestral music, dies at 67 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Paine’s father owned a music store, led a Portland band and published music. The son also drew inspiration from Hermann Kotzschmar (1829-1908), a German musician, conductor and composer who settled in Portland, best known as having inspired the name of the Kotzschmar Organ, the largest organ in Maine, which resides in Merrill Auditorium in Portland City Hall. Kotzschmar gave organ and composition lessons to Paine.

After training in Berlin’s Hochschule für Musik with organist Karl-August Haupt and composer Wilhelm Wieprecht, Paine returned to the United States and began a long career as an organist, composer and music professor. He joined the Harvard University staff in 1862 as a vocal instructor and organist, became the school’s first music professor in 1875 and established the first music department at an American university.

His musical works include two symphonies, a violin sonata, many piano and organ works, many choral compositions and a song collection.

In the last 15 years of his life, Paine worked on composing a three-act opera, “Azara,” according to a May 2000 Harvard Magazine biographical article by then-Harvard choirmaster and organist Murray Forbes Somerville.

“Acclaimed a masterpiece in concert performances,” Somerville wrote, “‘Azara’ was scheduled at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1905-06 season, the year of his retirement, but the company’s Italian singers refused to learn a full-length opera in English and it was dropped, to his bitter disappointment.”

The opera, although published, never has been staged, Somerville wrote.

Paine’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 23, which he completed in 1875, can be heard online here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt9vopxw09Y

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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