comparatively recent years there have been only
a few women composers, either in this country or
abroad, and most of these have confined themselves
to the smaller forms. They have written charming
songs, chamber music, piano pieces, and choral works.
But only a small number have composed for orchestra.
The reason for this, Mabel Daniels feels, does not
necessarily lie in lack of talent. Women have imagination
and great natural gifts, and they have achieved
distinction in the other creative fields. But they
have only recently begun to compose. Since music
is the most intangible and the most exacting of
the arts, infinite concentration, time, and actual
physical labor are required in writing down the
endless notes of an orchestral score. The general
public has no conception of the work involved; the
original inspiration is the least, if the most important,
Women with household cares and families to raise
can rarely find the time and strength necessary
for such work. But with the increasing leisure of
today's world, more women will undoubtedly join
the ranks of the composers. Mabel Daniels is so
far one of the few who have composed for orchestra,
and whose works have been played on important symphony
During an intermission at one of the 1940 Worcester
Music Festival concerts, a man walking through the
corridors of the War Memorial Auditorium stopped
to chat with Mabel Daniels. Albert Stoessel, directing
the orchestra, a large chorus, and Rose Bampton
soloist, had just finished a stirring performance
of an important new choral work called The Song
"I liked the piece they just played,"
the man confided, "that one about Jail...."
Miss Daniels smiled and gave a slight bow. "Why
on earth," he continued, "did they have
that woman come up on the platform?"
"Perhaps" Miss Daniels replied with
a twinkle in her eyes, "she was the composer!"
"Composer?" the man looked bewildered.
It hadn't occurred to him that such an ambitious
work could have been written by a womanmuch
less that he was at that very moment talking to
the one who wrote it. His reaction, says Miss Daniels,
is typical of most of the American public.
most of her life has been devoted exclusively to music,
Miss Daniels's first ambition was to write stories.
Born in Swampscott, Massachusetts, she is a dyed-in-the-wool
New Englander and has spent most of her life in and
around Boston. Music was a daily part of her early
environment. One of her grandfathers played the organ,
and the other directed a choir, while both her parents
sang in Boston's Handel and Haydn Society chorus.
(Mr. Daniels later became president of this society).
Mabel Daniels's earliest musical recollection has
to do with a rehearsal of Verdi's Requiem which
she attended, hand in hand with her mother. She was
excited to discover her father in the chorus. The
music fascinated her, but the Dies Irae so
overpowered her by its terrifying force that she cried
and begged her mother to take her home.
She was given piano lessons at an early age and often
made up pieces to play. (When ten years old she wrote
a Fairy Charm Waltz). She also had a fine soprano
voice, and this was what really started her on a musical
career. At Radcliffe she sang in the Radcliffe Choral
Society and took leading parts in the college operettas.
Soon she was made director of the Society and began
writing music for the operettas. She composed two
of these and conducted them herself. Miss Daniels
graduated from Radcliffe magna cum laudethough
she insists, with the charming sense of humor that
is one of her main characteristics, that she received
this honor only because the courses were elective
and she chose the easiest ones.
By the time she had finished college Mabel Daniels
knew that music, and more particularly composing,
was to be her life's work. For a time she studied
composition and orchestration with George W. Chadwick
in Boston. Then she went to Germany to work with Ludwig
When she tried to join the score-reading class at
the Royal Conservatory in Munich, the director was
frankly upset. No woman had ever before presumed to
ask admittance. After long and weighty consideration,
and "with an expression worthy of a crisis in
the affairs of state," he finally gave his consent
saying: "Of course, that a Fraulein has never
before joined the class is no reason why a Fraulein
never can!" When, after two winters spent in
Germany Miss Daniels came back to the United States,
she recorded this incident and many of her foreign
experiences in an interesting book of memoirs.
On her return to Boston she joined the Cecilia Societya
chorus of mixed voices. Since she could not play an
instrument, the next best thing was to sing in a chorus
giving works with orchestra, and since the Cecilia
Society often performed modern works it offered her
the chance to get at these scores "from the inside."
The rehearsals with orchestra were especially valuable
and stimulated her natural bent for choral writing.
Every creative artist, whether painter, sculptor,
writer, or musician, dreams of a retreat where he
can work undisturbed by noise or interruption. Edward
MacDowell, America's first great composer, discovered
such a retreat in the wooded hills of New Hampshire.
There he found inspiration for his work, and refreshment
for body, mind and spirit. These priceless gifts he
longed to share with others.
At MacDowell's death his widow dedicated her life
to the project they had planned together. The wooded
acres of their New Hampshire farm were turned over
to a Memorial Association, and largely through the
personal efforts of Mrs. MacDowell, who toured the
country giving concerts to raise the necessary funds,
the colony gradually took shape: old farm houses were
transformed into eating, sleeping and recreation buildings,
and small studios were builtscattered through
the woodseach one in that complete isolation
that had meant so much to MacDowell himself. A group
of working artists, recommended for their talent and
promise and chosen by a special committee from a large
number of applicants, gathers here each year, and
many important works have sprung from this fruitful
environment. It would be difficult to estimate the
influence that the McDowell Colony has had on the
cultural development of America.
communal building at the MacDowell Colony
the colony's early years a festival, or pageant, was
put on each summer in the forest-encircled amphitheater.
Mrs. MacDowell always interested in promising
young composerslearned of Mabel Daniels's The
Desolate City (an early choral work for baritone
and orchestra) and was so struck by it that she asked
her to direct a performance of The Desolate City
at the pageant. This was Miss Daniels' first important
composition. The following year she was invited to
return as a colonist, and since then most of her music
has been written at the colony. She is now a corporate
member of the Edward MacDowell Association.
The lovely New Hampshire woods inspired one of her
most widely played compositions. Deep Forest,
a "delicately imaginative work," was originally
written for chamber orchestra and first played by
the Barrere Little Symphony. She later rewrote it
for full orchestra, and in that form it has been performed
by Koussevitzky, Barbirolli, Kindler, and a number
of other leading conductors throughout the country.
At the Carnegie Hall Festival in 1939, under the sponsorship
of ASCAP, Mabel Daniels's Deep Forest was the
only work by an American woman composer to be played
on the program of serious music. She is a member of
the American Composers' Alliance, ASCAP, and the College
Club of Boston; an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa,
Mu Phi Epsilon, and the Musical Guild; and an alumna
trustee of Radcliffe College. In 1933 she was awarded
an honorary M.A. degree from Tufts College, and in
1939 a Doctor of Music Degree from Boston University.
She has also received a number of prizes for her compositions.
When Radcliffe College planned a special celebration
for its fiftieth anniversary, in 1929, President Comstock
invited Miss Daniels to compose a choral work in honor
of the occasion. For this, she wrote Exultate Deo,
for mixed chorus and orchestra. It was performed at
the jubilee celebration by the combined Harvard Glee
Club and Radcliffe Choral Society, and later by Koussevitzky
with the Boston Symphony and the Cecilia Society,
and the High School Choruses and Orchestra of Philadelphia.
It has become Miss Daniels's best known work, and
has been given all over the United States and as far
west as Manila. Although it has been a good many years
since this choral work was written it is still frequently
performed on high school programs all over the country.
Among her other earlier compositions are Peace
and Liberty (chorus and orchestra), and Pirates'
Island, a humorous suite for orchestra alone.
This last was played at summer concerts of the Cleveland
Symphony under Rudolf Ringwell, and soon after Arthur
Fiedler performed it with the Boston Pops Orchestra.
It was just at this time that Ted Shawn, looking for
new music for his ballet group, chanced to be in town.
He heard Mabel Daniels's piece, and found it just
suited his needs. The following summer Pirates'
Island was given as a ballet at Robinhood Dell
by Ted Shawn and his dancers, accompanied by the Philadelphia
Orchestra. Another of Miss Daniels's more recent pieces
has also been arranged for ballet: two movements from
her Three Observations for Three Woodwinds.
Miss Daniels's most important workThe Song
of Jael, scored for orchestra, chorus and soprano
solois founded on a poem by Edwin Arlington
Robinson. He was a close friend of Miss Daniels's:
shortly before his death in 1935 she discussed with
him plans for the work. Although her earlier compositions
are more conventional in style, The Song of Jael
shows a definite use of modern idiom. The critic of
the Boston Post called it:
prolonged hymn of triumph that comes to a mighty
climax. Few American composers have been so successful
as Miss Daniels in choral writing and the outstanding
feature of her Jael is the striking and frequent
highly original handling of the chorus. There are,
nevertheless, many effective moments in the orchestral
score, while the long soprano solo is dramatic and
impressive. This by no means conventional piece
makes a valuable contribution to American choral
Song of Jael was Mabel Daniels's first venture
into "modern" music writing. Since then
she has written entirely in this style. Her later
works include Pastoral Ode for flute and
strings (1940) first played by members of the Boston
Symphony Orchestra and by Dr. Frank Black over the
National Broadcasting System; Three Observations
for Three Woodwinds, a short satirical skit
"not intended to be taken very seriously"but
always enjoyed by audiences; Digressions for
String Orchestra; Two Pieces for Violin and
Piano: Diversion for Diana and Remembering
Two Young Soldiers, played by Oscar Bogerth,
the brilliant Brazilian violinist, at his 1948 concert
in Boston, and also by Ruth Posselt; and, in 1951,
Overture for Orchestra.
Mabel Daniels has always taken a deep interest in
music students. She has anonymously offered two
prizes in composition to undergraduates in colleges
for women. At Radcliffe she founded a loan fund
for students majoring in music, and from this has
sprung a "Mabel Daniels Beneficiary Fund"
named by her class in her honor. This fund is used
to buy symphony tickets and music, and to aid needy
students. Shortly after she graduated she presented
the college with a silver cup for the class singing
competition, held annually in the spring in the
college yard, which has since become a college tradition.
In her music Miss Daniels believes in retaining
the best of the old, but she is constantly experimenting
with new forms (as her later works show) selecting
and choosing from modern counterpoint and harmony
what seems to her to have the greatest value. Much
of present day music, she feels, is immensely clever,
but too often turns its back completely on the rich
heritage of the past. In its effort to avoid the
slightest taint of nineteenth century "lush
sentimentality" it goes to the other extreme
and becomes purely cerebral and mathematical, "Real
music should be more than a crossword puzzle,"
Mabel Daniels insists. "It must have something
human in it." It is this human quality that
makes her own work noteworthy.
Modern Music-Makers: Contemporary American Composers
published by E.P. Dutton and Company, New York,