Charles Wakefield Cadman
Piano Trio in D Major, Op.56
Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946) is another unjustly forgotten composer. Cadman’s musical education, unlike that of most of his American contemporaries, was completely American. Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania he began piano lessons at 13. Eventually, he went to nearby Pittsburgh where he studied harmony, theory and orchestration with Luigi von Kunits and Emil Paur, then concertmaster and conductor respectively of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This was the sum of his training. Cadman was influenced by American Indian music and traveled throughout the American West to make cylinder recordings of tribal melodies for the Smithsonian Institute. He learned to play their instruments and later was able to adapt it in the form of 19th century romantic music. He was to write several articles on Indian music and came to be regarded as one of the foremost experts on the subject. But his involvement with the so-called Indianist Movement in American music made it difficult for his works to be judged on their own merits. His early works enjoyed little success until the famous soprano, Lillian Nordica, sang one of his songs (From the Land of Sky Blue Waters) Cadman eventually moved to Los Angeles where he helped to found, and often was a soloist with, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He wrote the scores for several films and along with Dmitri Tiomkin was considered one of Hollywood’s top composers. But Cadman, first and foremost, was a serious composer who wrote for nearly every genre.
The Piano Trio in D, Op.56 dates from 1913 and was Cadman’s first published chamber music work. The music falls within the late 19th century Central European romantic tradition. In three movements, the opening Allegro maestoso is full of energy. Cadman loved to write songs. (he wrote nearly 300) This attraction for and understanding of the human voice gives his writing the same kind of quality one finds in Schubert’s trios. The violin and cello are treated in a rather vocal way and the piano is never allowed, as in Brahms or Schumann, to overwhelm them. In the second movement, a lovely Andante cantabile, the strings are given most of the melodic material, which can be characterized as a highly charged romantic love song. It was the finale, Vivace energico, which caught the attention of the music critics who styled it “idealized ragtime.” It is true that there are some ragtime elements, which might be missed if one were not listening for them, but other American elements—a restless and optimistic energy, for example, are more prominent. The Piano Trio is clearly a forerunner to some of the “American” writing Gershwin and others were to make popular.
Long out of print, we are pleased to make this fine work available again. It belongs in the repertoire and performing American trios would do well to present it. Amateurs will also enjoy playing it.