September 12, 2009, Albany Times Union: Who Is George Bristow?

Project 1: Bristow

If you are still with me in this music geeky blog — we left the other day at “Who is George Bristow?”...


Bristow was a NYC composer.  That’s as close to Albany as I could get, but in fact Bristow was in some ways a quintessential NY composer.  He lived in the second half of the 19th century, played violin in the NY Philharmonic  (some sources say he was concertmaster as some point, but this isn’t clear), was a church choir conductor, and also conducted a community chorus called the Mendelssohn Union, the Albany Pro Musica of its day, no doubt.

Bristow was a prolific composer.  In addition to many small pieces for his church choir, he wrote several large-scale works, and New York was often his theme.  He wrote a full opera titled Rip Van Winkle, which I really think Glimmerglass Opera should do (I tried to interest them in doing it for the Hudson 400 celebration, but, alas…).  He also wrote a long symphony on the model of Beethoven’s 9th, called the Niagara Symphony, which celebrates that amazing waterfall.  And in a moment of tongue-in-cheekness, quotes the Hallelujah Chorus.

Now how can you get more New York than spanning Rip Van Winkle of the Catskills to Niagara Falls?

He also wrote some more generally American pieces, including The Pioneer and The Great Republic. Thurston said that in his opinion, the best American piece ever written (and not known) was The Oratorio of Daniel.  And, in fact, there are published reviews from the end of the 19th century that say just that, the best American oratorio ever, and one states that with this oratorio, American composers are finally on a par with their European counterparts.

Now comes the detective story.

If anyone wants more information, there’s a wonderful Wikipedia page on Bristow.  Now I wonder who wrote that…

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