Maurice Arnold Strothotte (1865-1937) was born in St Louis, Missouri. He later shortened his name to Maurice Arnold. His father was a physician and his mother a prominent pianist and his first teacher. At 13 he went to Cincinnati to study at the College of Music. 5 years later he studied counterpoint and composition with Georg Vierling and Heinrich Urban in Berlin. Urban attempted to discourage him when Arnold began to incorporate African-American "plantation" dance elements into his music. Some of Arnold’s compositions written just after his Berlin years show the influence of his travels through the neighboring countries of Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. On his return to Germany he entered the Cologne Conservatory of Music where his first piano sonata was written and performed. He next went to Breslau, where, under the instruction of Max Bruch, he wrote one of his first major works, the cantata "The Wild Chase." Returning to Saint Louis he worked as a solo violinist, teacher, and opera conductor.
Maurice Arnold was one of many African-American students of Antonín Dvořák (William Dawson, Harvey Loomis, William Fisher, Will Marion Cook, Harry Burleigh) during the Bohemian composer's stay in the United States as director of the newly formed National Conservatory of Music of America in New York. Some sources say Arnold was the student for whom Dvorak had the highest hopes. We know Dvorak had made it his mission to raise awareness about African American and Native American music to the point of elevating it as the basis for the United States’ own musical nationalistic identity. A quote by Edward MacDowell, the so-called “Dean of American composers” of the day: “In spite of Dvořák’s efforts to dress up American music in Negro clothing, it is my opinion that foreign artistry should have no place in our music, if it is to be worth of our free country.” (!!) In another post I talked about the patronage that MacDowell’s mother bestowed upon Harry Burleigh to support his tuition at the National Conservatory. One can only hope she did not share her son’s views.
Arnold participated in Dvořák's famous January 23, 1894 concert about which the New York Herald wrote "It was a remarkable event. Each soloist with one exception belong to the colored race. Bodies had been liberated but the gates of the artistic world were still locked. (Conservatory founder) Jeannette Thurber's efforts in this effort were ably seconded by Dr. Dvořák." And while the program included Arnold's four "American Plantation Dances" the main attraction of the evening was Dvořák's arrangement of Stephen Foster's "The Old Folks at Home" for chorus and orchestra. "Plantation Dances." Op. 32, was nonetheless performed afterwards with frequency and was published for full orchestra as well as in arrangements for piano duet.
Arnold also wrote works for pianos, pianos multiple hands, violin and piano, six duets for violin and viola, other orchestral works, works for ballet, string orchestra, a symphony and two comic operas. Among his many vocal works is his setting of the poem, "I Think of Thee in Silent Night." He was also the author of the textbook "Some Points in Modern Orchestration."
I have had this post sitting on my computer for a while; it seems inconceivable to me that I cannot find a single recording (and only dubious sheet music on IMSLP, that may be from another composer) of any work by Dvorak’s “best hope.” On another website, I find mention that Dvorak’s “Piano piece #7 (in G flat Major) from his Humoresken, op. 101” (originally for violin) uses substantial parts of the American Plantation Dances written by Maurice Arnold Strothotte, one of Dvorak's 'most promising and gifted' American pupils.” This is the “Humoresque” that we of classical music know so well. Neither can I find a single image of him. I decided to post it today to see if anyone out there could help shed some light, or share recordings, of this neglected composer. #blackcomposers #mauricearnoldstrothotte #dvorakstealingtunesagain