New York Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta
John Knowles Paine's Symphony No. 1 is a milestone in the development of American music. It was not the first symphony written by an American (George Frederick Bristow, for many years a violinist in the New York Philharmonic, had already written several), but Paine's two essays in the medium are the first that could be received by the musical community here and abroad as works of a composer fully trained to the highest international (i.e., German) standards. Their premieres—The First Symphony in 1876, the Second in 1880—may be said to mark the effective beginning of the American symphonic tradition, inspiring an entire generation of gifted composers to aim at the most demanding forms, the largest scale of work.
The seriousness of Paine's symphony, and the positive reaction of the players and the audience, sparked more than one budding young composer in Boston, and perhaps elsewhere in the country. They recognized his homage to Beethoven's Fifth, not only in choice of key, but in the characteristic rhythmic figure of the first movement's development. But far more than that, they recognized the spaciousness of Paine's first movement, its wide-ranging harmonic span and energy; the vigor and wit of the scherzo; the warm lyricism of the Adagio, becoming more agitated in the middle section; and the exuberance and dash of the C-major finale. The symphony may have been his first, but it was also an achievement of lasting significance, and "Jakey” Paine (as his friends sometimes called him, from his initials J.K.) was instantly established as the leading composer in America.
The overture to As You Like It was Paine's second work for orchestra. Like Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Nights' Dream overture, the work was not composed with a stage production in mind, but simply to evoke in music some of the joyous spirits of Shakespeare's comedy. There are no themes designed to capture the Forest of Arden (unless perhaps the slow introduction be considered “forest murmurs” or the lively Rosalind, of Orlando pining for love, or the clown Touchstone; nor is there any attempt to translate the most famous monologue in the play— “All the world's a stage...” —into music. The overture is cast in the normal design for such works: a slow introduction with a clarinet melody that foreshadows the principal theme, followed by the Allegro in sonata form. The mood is occasionally vigorous and energetic, and for the most part the 6/4 rhythm skips along, as does the Shakespeare play that inspired it.
John Knowles Paine: Symphony No. 1