any unusual precocity in music, Daniel Pinkham nevertheless
recalls the routine of childhood piano lessons and his
innocent first attempts to peddle to parents and friends
the melodies he had copied from his keyboard exercises.
When it was duly pointed out to the six-year-old that
saleable music needed to be original, he quickly adapted,
and the composer Pinkham was born.
The oldest of three boys, Daniel Rogers Pinkham had come
into the world on June 5, 1923, in Lynn, Massachusetts,
bearing a surname that was nationally as well as locally
famous. Three generations earlier the Vegetable Compound
and other patent remedies of Lydia E. Pinkham had become
household standbys, and though the founder of the firm
realized only limited wealth, her children and grandchildren
had made "Lydia Pinkham" into an eminently profitable
industry. Daniel's father, who was to rise to the presidency
of the company in the 1960s, was in a position to provide
his sons with a private education, which for Daniel meant
continuing a family tradition by attending Phillips Academy
in Andover. Pinkham recalls his father's view that wrestling
and exposure to Old Testament narratives were the most
meaningful parts of an Andover education; for Daniel however,
it was to be music, though not without a similar exposure
to the cadences of Scripture.
At age sixteen the young musician experienced a musical
revelation, a kind of musical epiphany as Pinkham describes
it. This occurred at a concert in Andover by the Trapp
family, one of the very first appearances in America by
the Austrian emigre ensemble that was to go on to such
celebrity in the 1950s. With their unfamiliar instrumentsviola
da gamba, virginal, and a quartet of recorders, together
with the timbre of children's voicesthe Trapps produced
a spare, clean sound that spoke to the young Pinkham as
no music had before, becoming "a part of my way of
looking at things."
a first result of this encounter, Pinkham began to read
everything the Academy library owned on 17th- and 18th-century
music ("The Dolmetsch book on interpretation I simply
memorized; it was my Bible at that time,") and soon
acquired a Neupert tabletop clavichord from Germany to
compete for his practice time. When opportunities arose
at the Academy, Pinkham composed his first choral music,
even then "strictly for performance," so the
pragmatic young musician could hear and judge the result
for himself. Finishing at Andover a year early as the
result of an accelerated program of studies, Pinkham was
able to enter Harvard College in 1940 as a music major.
Harvard Pinkham pursued choral composition with Archibald
"Doc" Davison (1883-1961), a man he remembers
as an inspired organist and conductor. Beginning in his
second year he studied composition with Walter Piston,
who emphasized consistency of style and filled the younger
musician with practical ideas on "what works and
what won't" in actual performance.
A medical deferment enabled Pinkham to remain at Harvard
to complete his B.A. in 1943, with his Masters following
a year later. Staying on in Cambridge, he continued compositional
studies in seminars with Piston and with Aaron Copland;
the next logical step for the young composer was to approach
Nadia Boulanger in 1945. He had met the eminent French
musician and teacher as early as 1941 when he loaned his
budding "voix de compositeur" to a weekly
madrigal group she conducted at the Longy School. Now,
however, he enrolled for private lessons, working intensely
for the next two years, after which he had become so self-critical,
"so concerned for where each note goes," that
for the space of a solid year he "could not compose
In the summer of 1947, he had the opportunity of studying
with Arthur Honegger at Tanglewood. The Swiss composer-in
residence spoke little English, so Pinkham became his
translator and chauffeur, remaining at his side for days
at a time while learning and absorbing the older man's
ideas on the teaching of orchestration. This ideal situation
was cut short by Honegger's heart attack and subsequent
return to Switzerland at midsummer. His replacement, Samuel
Barber, was a much less effective teacher in Pinkham's
view; but if he did not learn a great deal from their
formal sessions, he found Barber all the more inspiring
in his afterhours devotion to songwriting and "the
music of English."
Throughout his Harvard years Pinkham was continuing to
prepare himself as a performer on the harpsichord and
organ. He studied the former with Wanda Landowska and
her pupil Putnam Aldrich (1904-1975). His organ teacher
was E. Power Biggs, with whom he learned repertory and
developed a working collaboration, replacing Biggs on
occasional broadcast concerts from the Germanic (now Busch-Reisinger)
Museum at Harvard. It was Biggs who gave the first professional
performance of a Pinkham work, presenting his Sonata No.
1 for organ and strings (with Arthur Fiedler) in 1944.
As the only professional harpsichordist in the Boston
area in the days before what he whimsically calls the
"earlier than thou" movement took hold, Pinkham
was soon called on to provide the keyboard continuo in
performances of the Bach Passions and other works with
the Boston Symphony under Munch and Markevitch. In 1948
came the chance to pursue the performing side of his musicianship
on a regular basis as half of a violin-harpsichord duo.
Joining with Robert Brink (b. 1924), "a fine player
with unlimited technical ability and an elegant, beautiful
tone," Pinkham began a 10-year performing career
which took the duo through parts of the United States
and Canada and on two State Department-sponsored tours
to postwar Europe. Their choice of repertory reflected
a mutual interest in early music, in chamber music sonorities,
and in experimentation: the two performed all the Corelli
sonatas, as well as works of Marini, J.S. Bach, and Mozart
"up to the limits of the harpsichordist's ability"
as Pinkham acknowledges. He recalls, with understatement,
that Brink possessed "a sensitivity to ensemble style
which would make the delivery of 18th-century pieces really
quite reasonable." Among their contemporaries they
commissioned and played music by Henry Cowell, Alan Hovhaness,
and others; and it was for Robert Brink that Pinkham composed
his violin concerto (1958).
Pinkham also concertized alone during this time, transporting
his harpsichord thousands of miles by station wagon to
keep engagements in remote parts of the U. S. and Canada.
Award of a Fulbright grant in 1950 offered a tempting
alternative, but Pinkham turned it down because he feared
losing the momentum of his performing career.
For the performance of larger ensemble works, Brink and
Pinkham founded the Cambridge Festival Orchestra in the
mid 1950s, a somewhat ad hoc organization made
up of freelance and retired musicians from Boston's various
orchestras. Brink served as concertmaster and Pinkham
conducted the group, formed initially to produce a recording
of Purcell's Fairy Queen. About this time, however,
Pinkham was experiencing a gradual shift in his interests
in the direction of Renaissance music, and the Brink-Pinkham
duo finally curtailed its activities after Brink developed
a hand affliction ("trigger finger") which necessitated
refingering of the violinist's music, with a corresponding
loss of tone and intonation. Brink moved over to a second
career as professor of violin at the New England Conservatory
where the two have remained close friends. For Pinkham,
a similar caesura intervened in 1961 in the form of a
broken finger, followed the next year by a life-threatening
attack of hepatitis. After a slow recovery, the composer
was strongly advised to abandon travel and concertizing
in favor of his teaching career at the Conservatory and
his two-year-old position at King's Chapel.
Teaching, indeed, had been a concomitant of much of the
previous fifteen years, beginning with his appointment
at age 23 to the Boston Conservatory of Music. Subsequently
Pinkham was named special lecturer in music history at
Simmons College in Boston in 1953. He was lecturer-recitalist
in Devon, England, in the summer of 1954, before being
appointed teaching associate for the harpsichord at Boston
University later that year. He returned to Harvard as
visiting lecturer in 1957-58, joining the faculty at the
New England Conservatory of Music the next year to teach
undergraduate music history, theory, and composition,
as well as harpsichord.
The guest professorship at the New England Conservatory
became a permanent appointment a year later and from that
point forward has been his mainstay, absorbing nearly
all his teaching activity since then. With the arrival
of Gunther Schuller as director in 1967, Pinkham petitioned
for a restructuring of the curriculum to enable him to
create and chair his own Department of Early Music Performance,
a highly congenial arrangement.
views of the organ at King's Chapel
the fall of 1958, Pinkham had also been alerted to an
imminent opening to succeed Elwood Gaskill as organist
and choir director at King's Chapel, Boston's most venerable
musical institution. The decision to seek this position
was to be decisive for shaping the balance of his career.
Founded in 1686 (the present building was completed in
1758), King's Chapel had housed the first pipe organ in
an American church (1713), and was the scene of the first
known music festival (1786) in the new United States.
Today the diminutive Chapel remains a landmark in downtown
Boston, where a slender iron fence still protects it from
the highrise resealing of the city center. Prominent among
earlier organists and conductors at the historic site
were William Selly in the 18th, B. J. Lang in the late
19th, and, for a brief period, Virgil Thomson in the present
Under its most recent music directors, King's Chapel had
employed a sixteen-voice male choir exclusively. When
asked, as part of the interview process, what operational
changes he might make at the Chapel, Pinkham proposed
several things: greater involvement of the Chapel's Music
Committee in handling nonmusical matters and providing
liaison with the parishioners, and replacement of the
all-male choir with a smaller, mixed choir, to be augmented
by volunteers and conservatory students, thus saving costs
while permitting greater versatility in programming. Pinkham's
ideas convinced the Committee, who chose him over others
he feels might have been superior organists.
In 1962 Pinkham received a Ford Foundation grant in connection
with his position as choral conductor. This enabled him
to commission four new works for mixed chorus and strings
(the commissions went to William Flanagan, Ulysses Xay,
Ned Rorem, and Charles Wuorinen), all of which were subsequently
performed by the Chapel Choir and commercially recorded.
Two years later he had the satisfaction of inaugurating
a new three-manual organ, the first of a number of tracker-action
organs to be built in the United States by Charles B.
Fisk. This was the result of a gift from Amelia Peabody,
whose father had donated the Chapel's previous organ in
His music, while not programmatic, is often what he ealls
"affective," using titles or narratives to provide
an extramusical continuum to which the music can respond.
He is known for his meticulous setting of language to
render it as comprehensible as possible in performance.
His instrumentation is spare and translucent, showing
a preference for winds over strings, a delight in percussion
effects, and a positive predilection for high, bell-like
sonorities that still recall his fascination with the
sounds of the Trapp Family choir. A further quality is
defined by his friend, music critic Richard Dyer: "Pinkham
. . . takes the trouble to explore the basic vocality
of whatever instrumentor machinehe is writing
for. That's why no matter how advanced the idiom or how
unconventional the sound source, a certain basic, slightly
diffuse, very humane sweetness sings through."
A belated and unexpected influence on Pinkham's work arrived
in 1970 when he undertook to rehearse a score by Richard
Felciano (b. 1930), a composer he calls "a very grave
and serious thinker about music and sound." Felciano's
Pentecost Sunday is written for organ, electronic
tape, and male voices; and Pinkham found himself immediately
intrigued by the way the tape element took over the role
of providing cues and pitches for the chorus, at the same
time filling King's Chapel with new and more resonant
sounds than were possible with a conventional ensemble.
takes place in the small frame house he shares with organist
Andrew Paul Holman on a side street in Cambridge. The
work space itself is shared with the chamber organ Pinkham
acquired in the days when he performed with the Boston
Symphony. His preferred time for composing is in the forenoon
when he finds that ideas come more easily; other parts
of the day are given over to the meticulous copying of
scores and parts in an elegant hand on fine, Swiss-made
paper. Players attest to his care in providing cues and
interpretive directions in his published music. With his
pragmatic view of musical execution, the composer often
suggests alternatives in scoring to facilitate performance.
He is Past Dean of the Boston chapter of the American
Guild of Organists, and a Fellow of the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences.
In twenty-five years of ignoring his doctor's advice to
"slow down," Pinkham has criss-crossed the country
for countless premieres and honors, and for appearances
at increasingly frequent "Pinkham Festivals."
By virtue of putting down his professional roots early
in his career, however, and leaving them undisturbed,
he has remained closely identified with the region where
his musical life began. Boston, in the meantime, has become
the early music capital of the country, not least through
the efforts of Pinkham himself; and no place could be
a more suitable home for the musician and his music.
otherwise indicated, quotations derive from interviews
with Daniel Pinkham conducted by the authors in July 1986
and March 1987.
Abridged from Daniel Pinkham: A Bio-Bibliography
by Kee DeBoer and John B. Ahouse (New York: Greenwood
75th Birthday Gift of his Own
Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
Pinkham's many friends celebrated his 75th birthday in
the most fitting fashionwith a concert of new music,
written in tribute by his colleagues, 15 works for voice
and organ by as many composers. Amiably and elegantly
serving as hosts for the evening were soprano Phyllis
Curtin, who was singing music by Pinkham half a century
ago, and Carl Scovel, minister of King's Chapel, where
Pinkham has served as music director for 41 years. Curtin
rightly stressed the primacy of composition in musical
life. During the proceedings, William A. Seymour, president
of the Boston Conservatory, and a group of faculty presented
Pinkham with an honorary doctorate.
The event served as a benefit for the Daniel Pinkham Endowment
at King's Chapel, a fund created to help perpetuate the
church's distinguished musical tradition and presence.
In a characteristically witty speech, Pinkham said it
is hoped that the fund will endow the music director's
chair, "in which case," he added, "I hope
it will be lavishly upholstered."
The piece de resistance was the premiere of a new work
by Pinkham himself, "Three Latin Motets," composed
to commemorate half a century of friendship with Ned Rorem,
who had contributed a new work of his own to the event.
The presence of these Motets on the program, Pinkham said,
resulted from a "deception engineered" by the
organist James David Christie, one of the prime movers
of the concert.
The Motets are prime Pinkham and a catalog of his virtues
as a composer: literary discrimination in the choice of
texts, imagination, and utter professionalism in handling
them musically, attractive melody, clear textures, grateful
vocal lines, a sweet sincerity, and a true depth of feeling.
Pinkham's musical roots entwine English Renaissance and
20th-century French roots with something genuine and American.
His music comes from a well-stocked mind, but it is full
of surprises because of the way he makes connections among
unexpected things; his irrepressibly vital personality
expresses itself in humor and in unpretentious seriousness.
The Motets were superlatively performed.
Abridged courtesy of the Boston Globe,
June 8, 1998. Dr. Pinkham retired from King's Chapel after