Child education activist Sarah Farwell was a relative of Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Vedantic student of Swami Saradananda, and an admirer of Theosophy and New Thought philosophy. Her son, Arthur Farwell was steeped in this visionary atmosphere as a child, and would embrace it for the remainder of his life. While earning his BA in Electrical Engineering at MIT, Farwell also gave horoscopic readings to his classmates. He would go on to experience numerous visions and dreams that would influence his life, and it was a visionary experience performing Schubert that called Farwell to become a composer. Early on he was deeply inspired by the music and religion of Native American traditions, working closely with anthropologists and tribal members, and celebrating their music through piano arrangements and lectures. As he matured, his musical and spiritual philosophy became rooted in the New Thought philosophy of Thomas Troward. By the 1920s he had self-devised a method of consciously inducing intuitive visions, which would guide his life's work. Farwell’s compositional process involved visualization and meditation techniques, symbolism, mythology, and esoteric geometry.
Largely forgotten by history, Farwell is now known for his early role as a leading figure in the “Indianist movement” and for his founding of Wa-Wan (1901), the first independent music press in America. But his life and music were much more diverse than his Indianist period alone could portray. He went on to pioneer massive multi-media performances and community dramas, pageants, and sing-ins. He founded an outdoor theatre in California, which was a key inspiration for the formation of the Hollywood Bowl. While throughout his life Farwell wrote, lectured, and taught music--publishing textbooks, newspaper articles, and essays. In his later years, he began lecturing on mental science and intuition, featuring screen projections of his hand drawn visions. In 1941 he wrote an essay on the relationship of the sonata form to the Kabbalistic "tree of life." And when he died in 1952, Farwell left behind an unfinished 600-page tome called Intuition in the Worldmaking, a vast work describing the nature, laws, and application of intuition with considerable references to his own visions, which he also interpreted and depicted in watercolors. I am currently working on abridging this work for its first publication.
I have created this website to provide an updated and richer portrait of Farwell, who conductor Karl Kreuger rightly called “America’s most neglected composer.”
Arthur Farwell's archives are held by the Farwell family and the Sibley Library at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.