William Mason was one of the brilliant American composers and pianists of the 19th century. Mason’s piano compositions were amusing, vivid and are admired by many. Most of his works contained the typical musical styles of the mid-nineteenth century. His musical talents and in-born abilities also offered him the opportunity of working with some of the legendary pianists including Ignaz Moscheles, Alexander Dreyschock and Franz Liszt. Apart from his musical works, he also held various positions in musical institutions, which indicate his commitment and devotion towards music. Mason’s work underwent a subtle evolution throughout his career, which spanned up to around sixty years. He was a supportive teacher, a brilliant piano instructor and piano virtuoso who invested his efforts well, to bring out the best in himself. In order to know more about the career and the works of this noteworthy composer, read further.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in Boston, New York, on January 24, 1829, William Mason was a member of a musical family. Mason’s father was considered be to a leading name in American church music in those days, while, his younger brother Henry Mason was renowned as the co-founder of the piano manufacturers, ‘Mason and Hamlin Company’. Though, Mason was born in a musical family, he did not receive much encouragement from his family to pursue a career in music. His father wanted him to take up a career in the clergy, which Mason refused strongly. Around 1845, he began his piano studies under Henry Schmidt at the Boston Academy of Music. At the same time, he was also involved in composing and publishing his works for the piano, ‘Deux Romances Sans Paroles’. In 1846, William Mason came up with his debut composition at the Boston Academy of Music, where he gave a performance on the Variations on the Air from Méhul’s “Joseph”, Opus 20. After his successful debut at the Boston Academy of Music, William Mason moved to Europe.
Mason went to Germany for further studies in piano in 1849. He stayed there for five years and visited cities like Leipzig, Prague and Weimar. While in Germany, he received musical lessons from some of the most brilliant pianists of that era like Ignaz Moscheles, Moritz Hauptmann, Alexander Dreyschock and Ernst Friedrich Eduard Richter. He was fortunate enough to be the first American piano student of Franz Lisztand Ignaz Moscheles. During this time, he also published several academic works for the piano students. Mason’s growing popularity and influence was evident from the fact that, Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) dedicated his second piano sonata to William Mason. William Mason’s masterly use of octaves, his great registers, cadenza-like flourishes, and complex arpeggio figuration reflected the influence of great musician like Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg.
In the year 1854, William Mason returned to USA and began his career as a concert pianist. He was successful in building an admirable reputation through various concert tours. Within a year however, Mason realized that his musical tours are not going to yield anything of essence. Therefore, he moved to New York City and spent the rest of his years there as a performer, teacher as well as a composer. The formation a chamber ensemble was a major development during this period which included Mason and the violinist Theodore Thomas. In additions to his publications, William Mason became famous as a piano pedagogue. In his lifetime he also held many important positions in musical academies. In the year 1901, Mason’s illuminating autobiography, ‘Memories of a musical Life’ got published in New York. Mason carried on as a professional teacher and composer working mostly from his studio in Steinway Hall. Whereas his compositions from 1857-1890 reflected the melodic poeticism and the dance like rhythms, those from 1890-1905 consist more of personal and complex idioms of Johannes Brahms, Schumann and Fauré. William Mason passed away on July 14, 1908 in New York, when he was 79 years old.
- Silver Spring, for piano, Op 6
- Capriccio Fantastico, for piano, Op. 50
- Rêverie Poétique, for piano, Op. 24
- Improvisation, for piano, Op. 51
- Valse-Caprice, for piano, Op. 17
- Deux Humoresques de Bal, for piano, Op. 23
- La Sabotière: Danse aux Sabots, for piano, Op. 33
- Lullaby, for piano, Op.10
- Badinage, for piano, 4-hands, Op. 27
- Caprice Grotesque, for piano, Op. 22
- Ballade et Barcarolle, for piano
- Préludes (3) for piano 3 tracks
- Amourette, for piano, Op. 48
- Valse de Bravoure, for piano, Op. 5