Text Box: PIANIST autographs


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Autographed 10” x 12” (mount) blind embossed Gessford of New York presentation photograph to his pupil Myra McKeown, New York, June 20th, 1904.

William Mason (1829-1908) was the earliest born American pianist to have a virtuoso career.  While Mason went to study in Germany, the other great American piano virtuoso of the time Louis Moreau Gottschalk four months his junior went to France.  (Interestingly, they were good friends.) Mason was born in Boston to an old New England family.  His father Lowell was a PhD graduate from NYU and a major figure in church music in New England.  William, his third son was apparently musically gifted as a child but his father was determined that he become a clergyman so his talent was not encouraged.  In 1845, at the age of 16, he was sent to study with the composer and conductor Henry Schmidt at his father’s Boston Academy of Music. (Lowell Mason and William Woodbridge established the conservatory in 1833 attached to the Odeon Theatre, the concert hall in Boston at the time.)  Mason was taught piano, composition and theory by Schmidt.  The young pianist made his debut in 1846 in Boston playing a work by Henri Herz with a quintet accompanying him.  Interestingly it was at this time he saw the pianist Leopold de Meyer and initially adopted some of his mannerisms.  In 1849, Mason set sail for Paris where a chance meeting with Meyerbeer who heartily approved that he go to Leipzig to study with Ignaz Moscheles where he was readily accepted and also studied harmony and counterpoint with Moritz Hauptmann and theory with Ernst Richter.  He then spent time in Prague with Alexander Dreyschock. In 1853 at the invitation of Sir Julius Benedict he gave his London recital at Exeter Hall playing the Weber Konzerstücke under the baton of the conductor.  According to Mason’s autobiography he arrived in Weimar in April of 1853 by happenstance.  Apparently, Liszt had invited him when they met four years earlier.  Mason showed up without a formal invitation and Liszt responded, “Well Mason, you keep people waiting a long time” followed by “I’ve been expecting you for four years.” After an audition where he played his own works, he was accepted as his pupil.  Mason remained until July, 1954 and apparently never saw Liszt again.  Interestingly, he was both Liszt and Moscheles’ first American pupil.

Mason initially returned to Boston and made several recital tours around the country during that first year to excellent reviews.  In 1855, he was unsatisfied with the life of a touring virtuoso as he did not find it cerebral enough.  So he moved to New York City which he felt was best suited to his musical desires to perform, teach and compose.  He befriended Theodore Thomas the conductor, a young violinist émigré from Germany, who the year before joined the fledgling New York Philharmonic Society.  Mason and Thomas formed the Mason-Thomas Quartette, which lasted for thirteen years, ending in 1869 when Thomas formed his own orchestra.  The Quartette played a number of American premieres of European composer’s music up and through the Civil War.  For instance, the Quartette gave the first performances of Schumann’s 3 early 1840’s string quartets in America in the early 1860’s.  In 1860 at the concerts, Mason offered the American Premiere of Chopin’s ballades.  The unknown “New York Times” critic wrote, “….why so called we can’t divine.  It is filled with melodies and a piece of strong effects - not a simple and uninterrupted musical narrative, as a Ballade should be”  he then went on to say, “Mr. Mason collected the author’s meaning with fine foresight and feeling, and the performance was consequently excellent.”  In all he played 110 concerts between 1846-1884.

Mason opened up his studio in 1855, moving to Steinway Hall in 1866 and became “America’s most foremost piano pedagogue”.  His most important student was William Hall Sherwood who would also go on to study with Liszt.  Another student was Julia Rive-King.  He also wrote 5 treatises on piano technique between 1867 and 1891.

As a composer, Mason wrote numerous salon pieces for piano solo and songs.  The works initially were along the lines of the bravura pieces he heard both in the U.S. and Europe by the greats of the time.  His later works became more refined and in many cases typical American salon pieces.  His later works were more personal and represented the mores of the times.

Miss Myra McKeown (1862-1937) was a pupil of Mason’s.  She hailed from Youngstown, Ohio and had some sort of career.  She was important enough to be on Mason and Hamlin’s advertising during the 1910’s.  The Mason in Mason and Hamlin was William’s younger Brother Henry’s company.