ARTHUR FARWELL • The Indianist Period

Composer Anton Dvorak came to America in 1892, and he began passionately encouraging American composers to dive into American folk traditions to find their musical own identity. Farwell was perhaps the most inspired and responsive to this call. He became fixated on Native American music, and through that their religious view of the world. He worked with anthropologist Alice Fletcher and maverick journalist Charles Lummis in transcribing and preserving Native American music. He lectured across the US on Native American music; and he began interpreting Native American melodies and rhythms into his own music. He was not alone in this latter regard. Farwell was a leading figure in what came to be known as the "Indianist" movement in American music during early 20th century. This movement included numerous composers, like Charles Wakefield Cadman, Carlos Troye, Thurlow Lieurance, Preston Ware Orem, and many others. While many appropriated Native American music aesthetics to imbue their own work with more profundity and originality, Farwell was insistent on promoting the cultural and spiritual context of the music he published. 

Disenchanted with his opportunities of publishing his Indianist scores, in 1901 Farwell founded Wa-Wan Press, one of the first independant music presses in America. Through Wa-Wan (Omaha, "to sing to someone"), Farwell published his and other composer's works with a focus on progressive artists and those engaging Native American music. One of Farwell's best known works is one of his earliest, American Indian Melodies (1901), published by Wa-Wan. Even in his later years, Farwell continued to relate his own music and spiritual philosophy with that of Native American tradition; though he hated being pigeon-holed as "Indianist." Nevertheless, these are the compositions--some his earliest--which are still performed today. 

Of all Farwell's borrowings from Native American music, there is one song that stood out to me and which was re-mixed in several ways throughout Farwell's career. That song is "The Old Man's Love Song." This song was popularly sung amongst the Omaha tribe and was subsequently recorded by anthropologist Alice Fletcher in 1897. I presume this ethnographic recording was the one that inspired Farwell's "Love Song," first featured in Farwell’s American Indian Melodies (1901). It was also used in his solo piano work Dawn, Opus 12 (1902). And he would later rescore the original piano version for chorus in Four Songs for A Capella Chorus, op. 102 (1937). Above you can hear excerpts of each of these renditions. Farwell writes of the song in his introductory note to the 1901 score:

"The Old Man’s Love Song” gives expression to a mellowed love of life, born of years of benign and ennobling existence, voiced at dawn in the presence of peaceful nature. It is a tribute, in song, to the spirit of Love and Beauty in the world. The dreamy and idyllic prelude is but a floating breath. This song, with its phrases like the notes of birds, and its pastoral musings, is singularly self-explantory. It wafts like the breath of a zephyr over the grasses of gentle hilltops, and is not inferior, in its idyllic quality, to the music which Wagner conceived for the “Flower Maidens” in Parsifal.

Elsewhere Farwell contextualizes the song from the perspective of the Omaha tribe:

With the Omahas the early morning, when the maidens go to the springs for water, is the hour for the singing of love-songs. Choosing this hour, an old man of the Omaha tribe toward the close of his life went at sunrise every morning to the summit of a hill near the village and sang his radiant and peaceful song, “With the dawn I seek thee.” The precise meaning of this ceremony was never made clear, but after the old man's death his song became a favorite, and was sung by the young people of the village.