Frederick Shepherd Converse (b. Newton, Mass., Jan. 5, 1871; d. Westwood, Mass., June 8, 1940) was an American composer, teacher and administrator. Converse graduated from Harvard College in 1893 where he studied with John Knowles Paine. Converse pursued further advanced studies in piano with Carl Baermann and in composition with George W. Chadwick. In 1896 Converse traveled to Munich where he studied under Josef Rheinberger at the Konigliche Akademie der Tonkunst, graduating in 1898.
Upon his return to the Boston area, Converse became deeply involved in its musical life. From 1900 to 1902 he was an instructor in harmony at the New England Conservatory; from 1903 to 1907 he taught at Harvard College, first as an instructor, later as an assistant professor, resigning in 1907 to devote more time to composition. The years between 1907 and 1914 saw Converse at the height of his career as a composer. Following World War I, Converse returned to the New England Conservatory in 1920 as head of the theory department and in 1931 was appointed dean of the faculty. He resigned in 1938 due to failing health.
Converse was one of the organizers of the Boston Opera Company and served as its first Vice President from 1909-1914. The Pipe of Desire, Converse’s first opera, became the first American work ever to be performed by the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1910. His second opera, The Sacrifice was produced by the Boston Opera Company in 1911. Today, Converse is probably best known for his orchestral works such as Flivver Ten Million, a fantasy for orchestra and the symphonic poem The Mystic Trumpeter (1904) based on the poem of the same name from Walt Whitman’s iconic anthology, Leaves of Grass.
Among the honors bestowed upon Converse during his lifetime were the David Bispham Medal, conferred upon him by the American Opera Society of Chicago for his opera, The Pipe of Desire; and his elections into the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1908) and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1937).
Converse married Emma (Tudor) in 1894, and they had two sons, Frederick S. Jr. and Edmund Winchester 2nd, both of whom died at an early age, and five daughters - Louise, Augusta, Marie, Virginia, and Elizabeth.
The Converse collection consists of two manuscript box containing seventeen folders; includes paper materials and photographs.
Music manuscripts by Frederick Converse have been cataloged individually and can be found by searching our online catalog.
The majority of these materials were most likely donated by Converse’s daughter, Virginia Cabot, in the early 1980s. Additional materials in this collection were donated by Converse’s grandson, William H. McElwain, in October 2008. Included in this gift were four photographs (each labeled as such), copies of the article entitled “Converse Banks on Mind’s Ear”, and programs. This gift also included the original 78 recordings and CD transfers of six of Converse’s major compositions, as wellas his 1939 Christmas message to his family. These audio materials are kept in Firestone Library.
A letter dated May 15, 1919 to Converse from an Emilio Ugalde was a gift to the NEC Archives from the NEC orchestra library in January 1984. This letter originally accompanied Ugalde's piano composition, Preludes, op. 93.
In February 2012, additional materials relating to Converse werer donated to the NEC Archives by Fern Meyers, who has been performing Converse's music for many years. Meyers acquired these materials in 2008 from Converse's granddaughter, Diana R. Gay. This package contained newsclippings primarily from 1905, 1912, and 1915 dealing with Converse's works "Night" and "Day" and "Ormazd". There is also a photostat of a 1940 Boston Herald article and sketch of Converse by Dwight Shepler with an accompanying letter and envelope. There were already two copies of this article in the collection. In addition there were several issues of the New England Conservatory Bulletin. Other materials included were Boston Symphony Orchestra programs for performances of "Night" and "Day"(1905) and "Ormazd"(1915), and "Ballade for baritone and orchestra"(1906) as well as a William Strong and Herbert Boardman program(1923) and a Converse College program (1939). Finally, there were 4 photographs take at Lake Sunapee and one from "Crossways" (Westwood, MA)
Access to the Converse collection is by appointment with the Archivist. There are no restrictions pertaining to this collection with the exception of the student records series.
All copyrights to this collection belong to the New England Conservatory. Permission to publish is through the Director of Libraries. This collection should be cited as the Frederick S. Converse Collection, New England Conservatory Archives. Boston, MA.
Scope & Content
The Converse collection is organized into the following seven series:
- Biographical materials
- Student records
*Note: Music manuscripts by Frederick Converse have been cataloged individually and can be found by searching our online catalog.
The one folder of Correspondence spans the years 1911-1941. Converse’s compositions which are mentioned in this correspondence include: Beauty and the Beast; Two Lyric Pieces, (Four) Gregorian Etudes, and Haul Away, Jo. There is one letter written by Mrs. Converse in 1941 to a Reverend Beardslee concerning the sermons of a Reverend James Converse (F.S. Converse’s brother?). Included at the end of this folder is correspondence pertaining to the donation of this collection.
The folder of Biographical materials contains several biographical sketches including a tribute that appeared in the NEC Alumni Quarterly in August 1940 and an article about Converse written by Edward Burlingame Hill for The Music Lovers Calendar for 1908. Also included in this folder are a Converse family tree and a flyer announcing a competition at NEC for the Frederick S. Converse Prize.
The Programs folder includes Boston Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra programs featuring performances of Converse's Two Poems, "Night" and "Day"(1905), his symphonic poem, Ormazd (1915)and his Ballade for baritone and orchestra (1906). Also included are: program notes (possibly an advertisement) for Converse’s dramatic poem, Job; a synopsis of “Romance” from Scarecrow Sketches; and a program from the Tercentenary of Harvard College (1936). Other programs in this collection include a William Strong and Herbert Boardman and a Converse College performance both featuring Converse's Two Poems, "Night" and "Day", and lastly a program including his Four Gregorian Etudes for Brass Quartet.
There are only two items in the Writings folder. One is an essay (or address) entitled “Music and Life”; the other is an address given by Converse on the Boston Opera Company, three years after its beginning.
The Newspapers/Clippings are primarily reviews of Converse’s works, Two Poems, "Night" and "Day", Ormazd and The Masque of St. Louis. These clippings date from 1905, 1912, and 1914-1915. Also included are several issues of the New England Conservatory Bulletin, dating from 1922 and 1933-1934. Also there are a few articles concerning other Converse compositions as well as a May 1940 Boston Herald feature article and sketch about Converse by Dwight Shepler. (A copy of this article is also included in the biographical materials folder). A photostat of this article along with an accompanying letter and envelope are also included.
There are four folders of Photographs arranged by subject. The first folder contains three photographs of orchestras; the second, photos from Converse’s operas, The Pipe of Desire (one featuring Louise Homer) and The Sacrifice. The third folder contains several portraits including those of Converse, Karl Muck, Gertrude Rice Lawrence, Carl Baermann, and Wallace Goodrich. The final folder contains two small photos, one featuring Converse and presumably his wife Emma; the other Converse and another gentleman at the piano. Also in this folder is a large photograph from a Hasty Pudding Show at Harvard University (for which Converse apparently composed the music). Lastly, this folder contains photographs taken at Converse's camp at Lake Sunapee and a large photograph of "The Crossways" in Westwood, MA.
The last series consists of five folders of student records from the years 1932-1934. Included are various student exams and teacher reports.
Series 1: Correspondence
Folder 1 – Correspondence
Series 2: Biographical materials
Folder 2 - Biographical materials
Series 3: Programs
Folder 3 – Programs
Series 4: Writings
Folder 4 – Writings
Series 5: Newspapers/Clippings
Folder 5 - Clippings about "Night" and "Day"
Folder 6 - Clippings about Ormazd
Folder 7 - Issues of New England Conservatory Bulletin
Folder 8 - Clippings, Other
Series 6: Photographs
Folder 9 - Photographs – Opera
Folder 10 - Photographs – Orchestra
Folder 11 - Photographs – Portraits
Folder 12 - Photographs - Other
Series 7: Student Records
Folder 1 - Exams for senior admittance, 1933
Folder 2 - Final Exams, Class of 1934
Folder 3 - Senior Exams, Class of 1934
Folder 4 - Other Examination Reports
Folder 5 - Teacher's Reports, 1932