PenPoints April 2009 / 6

So We All Can Be Heard
By Marlene Cook, IWPA historian

An early IWPA member, Eleanor Everest Freer, was a recognized composer, singer and philanthropist who founded
the American Opera Society of Chicago and served as its first president. Her passion was to encourage American composers and musicians to express their own national heritage at a time when the European tradition set the standard.

“She has waged war,” asserted Agnes Greene Foster, “a bloodless revolution in their behalf, sacrificing her own work, time, energy and money.”

Freer once said, “As art is the expression of the life and thoughts of a people, it must be developed, or a nation passes, leaving no trace behind. Do we want such a fate for our country?”

Eleanor Everest was born into a musical family on May 14, 1864. Her father, Cornelius Everest, was a theory and choral professor who published three instructional books containing vocal exercises as well as many hymns and chants. He was also a church organist and vocal coach. Her mother, Ellen Amelia (Clark) Everest, possessed a beautiful soprano voice and her only sibling, DeWitt Everest, studied violin.

At age 5 Eleanor taught herself to play piano and accompanied her bother, mother and herself in daily musical activities in their home. She penned her fi rst composition at age 13, a piano solo, “Polka Facile,” published in 1880.

Many musical and literary guests frequented their home and one of her mother’s best friends, playwright/novelist Anna Dickinson, commissioned Eleanor to compose an overture for her play, Aurelian. The result was Eleanor’s second musical work, The Aurelian March, composed in 1878.

In 1883 at age 19, she set sail for Paris with a chaperone to study voice. During that journey she resented having to go so far to study. She asked, “Why did the public believe it was impossible to receive adequate musical training in America?” She determined then to bring back the teaching methods of Parisian instructors to elevate American musical education.

While in Paris at the Ecole Marchesi, where she spent three years, she learned French, German and Italian, while taking voice lessons. She also studied theory and diction with Benjamin Godard, who trained many famous singers. She met many of them, sang for and studied with the likes of Franz Liszt, and performed a selection from Mozart’s opera, Cosi Fan Tutte, before Giuseppe Verdi.

Following her graduation, she returned to Philadelphia and from 1886-1891 ran a vocal studio, where she taught more than 60 students per week.

In 1889 she traveled twice weekly to the National Conservatory of Music in America in New York City where she taught the Marchesi method to its vocal students.

She met Archibald Freer, a wealthy doctor from Chicago, on a short trip to Paris in 1887. They married four years later and had one daughter. In 1899, the family moved to Chicago and by 1901 settled into a fashionable address at 1430 Lake Shore Drive.

At age 37 she began study with Bernard Ziehn and remained his student until 1907. At first she wrote music only for piano, but her calling lay in setting English verse to music and she did so with poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

After taking ill she was unable to compose, but during her convalescence she translated into English 10 Italian librettos to prove that opera could be rendered as artfully in English as in any other language.

From 1914-1918, composition was halted due to her wartime efforts. She helped raise more than $80,000 for relief funds and was awarded the Silver Cross of the Association des Dames Francaises, the Medal of Gratitude by the French government and the Medal of Queen Elizabeth by the Belgium government. Her husband was awarded the Order of Leopold for his work in the rehabilitation of Belgium after WWI.

When she wasn’t composing or volunteering, Freer devoted her energies to women’s clubs that included IWPA. For those organizations she arranged musical events, wrote for their newsletters and headed various committees.

By 1921, Freer returned to composing, penning 163 songs, 11 chamber operas, 19 solo piano works and more than 13 choral pieces, most of which she published in her lifetime.

One of her most important contributions to the music world was the founding of the Opera in Our Language Foundation (OOLF) in 1921. As founder and president, Freer insisted that all productions be performed in English by American singers, instrumentalist and conductors. In doing so, the cost was lowered thereby encouraging the average music lover to attend. The group’s most important achievement was to energize American composers and musicians to remain in the U.S. to study and to write operas based on English texts and American topics.

Continued on page seven

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IWPA FOUNDED IN 1885                                      IN THIS ISSUE:


April, 2009



Inauguration for


Networking is

Page 3

Social Web

Page 4

Record Communications Contest Entries Judged

Page 5

So We All Can
Be Heard

Page 6

Members in the News

Page 7

Upcoming Events/
New Members


Page 8

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