William Mason Biography

(Composer, Pianist)

Birthday: January 24, 1829 (Aquarius)

Born In: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

William Mason was an American music composer and pianist known as one of the great American musicians of the second half of the 19th century. Born into a musical family, William initially did not have the support of his family to pursue a career in music. However, he still went ahead and enrolled in the Boston Academy of Music. In the late 1840s, he moved to Germany to further his musical education and learned music under the greats such as Franz Liszt and Ignaz Moscheles. After staying there for five years, he returned back to the United States, first to Boston and later settled in New York. He worked and lived in New York thereon, primarily working from his studio. He played in concerts, started a chamber ensemble and taught piano to the music students. Along with publishing piano pieces, he also published pedagogical works such as A System for Beginners in the Art of Playing upon the Piano-Forte and A System of Technical Exercises for the Piano-Forte. Some of his most popular piece compositions are Silver Spring, for piano, Op 6, Rêverie Poétique, for piano, Op. 24 and Capriccio Fantastico, for piano, Op. 50.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 79


father: Lowell Mason

siblings: Henry Mason

Born Country: United States

Pianists Composers

Died on: July 14, 1908

place of death: New York, New York, United States

City: Boston

U.S. State: Massachusetts

Childhood & Early Life

William Mason was born on January 24, 1829, in  Boston, into a family with deep roots in music. He was the third one among the family of four brothers born to Lowell and Abigail Mason. His father was a known figure in American church music while one of his brothers served as a co-founder of the famous piano manufacturing firm named Mason and Hamlin.

Due to his father’s profession in music, William had become interested in pursuing music at an early age. However, his parents were not in his support for the same and wanted their son to become a clergy. But William had already made up his mind to pursue music full time and he attended the Boston Academy of Music to receive formal training in music.

At the Boston Academy, William studied piano under a great teacher named Henry Schmidt. William was a prodigy and even when he was in music school, he wrote and published his first piano score, Deux Romances Sans Parole, which was hugely successful. However, he knew that moving to Europe was the next logical step if he wanted to stand in the league of top tier professionals.

In 1848, he moved to Germany and trained in music under esteemed musicians such as  Ignaz Moscheles, Alexander Dreyschock, and Moritz Hauptmann. He also toured across several European cities such as Prague and Weimar, to further hone his skills as a musician. He collaborated with many successful pianists and his popularity slowly grew. Even without a substantial public success yet, he had been so influential for Edward MacDowell that he composed a sonata on William. While making music, William was also interested in the scientific aspect of it and published many academic studies on music.

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William stayed in Germany for five years and returned back to the USA in 1854 and began his career as a concert pianist in his home country. He organized several recital tours and through back to back performances, he managed to become popular among the Americans as well. He was primarily living in Boston and was doing tours. He did that for a year before realizing that was putting a speed-breaker to his growth as a pianist.

In 1855, he moved to New York City to discover some new avenues of making music. He found way more success and prestige in the city that his base remained there all his life. He got himself extremely busy with back to back tours. He also worked as a teacher and composer. He eventually purchased a studio in Steinway Hall, where he did most of his compositions.

He formed a chamber ensemble with violinist Theodore Thomas during this time and the two performed together on many occasions, achieving huge success. At that time, the American classical music industry had strong American essence as the influence of many European legends was limited to their continent.

Theodore and William brought the music of European legends to the Americans, especially Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann. William was most active during the Civil War period in the 1860s and toured around the country.

As a musician, his music did not divulge into heavier themes or experimentation. He mostly followed a very clear ABA structure while composing his piano pieces that were immensely entertaining, colourful and ‘salon’ pieces that were highly entertaining and were timeless in approach. He also made no attempt to subvert the general musical themes of the American music of the late 19th century which was hugely inspired by the European greats.

However, his career spanned over 60 years and minor variations were bound to take place. In the initial period of his career, he relied heavily on the grand virtuoso style which was highly prevalent in the mid 19th century. During that period, which primarily lasted in the mid-1850s for a few years, his work showed similarities to the piano greats such as Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg. William had been a great admirer of both the musicians in the past and had learned a lot from them.

Toward the latter part of his career, as he matured, his music showed a more modest style. His work was obviously, more poetic in nature and followed dance-like rhythms. In that, his work exhibited striking similarities to the works of Frederic Chopin. However, talking about the very late part of his career, he was mostly composing personal pieces, which bore a similarity to the works of Johannes Brahms.

Despite all his mega achievements as a pianist, it was his reputation as a piano pedagogue that excelled beyond any other of his accomplishments. He began his pedagogical journey in 1867 when he published his first pedagogue work titled A Method for the Piano-Forte. He had co-authored the piece with E. S. Hoadly. After the immense of this first work, he published several more, such as A System for Beginners in the Art of Playing upon the Piano-Forte, Touch and Technic, Op. 44) and A System of Technical Exercises for the Piano-Forte.

In addition to his musical endeavours, he also held multiple posts as a teacher to the young budding musicians. He served as the president of the National Musical Congress and American Vocal Music Association. Additionally, he also was a board member of piano examiners for the American College of Musicians.

Some of his major publications as a composer were Badinage, for piano, 4-hands, Op. 27, Caprice Grotesque, for piano, Op. 22, Ballade et Barcarolle, for piano, Préludes (3) for piano 3 tracks and Amourette, for piano, Op. 48 among others.

In 1901, he also wrote an autobiography titled Memories of a Musical Life. The book contained a detailed account of the Weimar circle, which proved valuable for the music students that wanted to learn more about European music.

In the 20th century, he mainly stayed out of the limelight and worked from his studio in New York, where he also taught music to young students.

Personal Life & Death

William Mason never married and remained unmarried throughout his life. There has been no record of any romantic relationship in his life either.

William passed away on July 14, 1908, in New York City.

See the events in life of William Mason in Chronological Order

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