Howard Hanson (1896-1981) was a distinguished American composer, educator and preeminent advocate of American music. He belonged to that select group of American composers born in the last decade of the 19th century – Walter Piston (1894), Roger Sessions (1896), Randall Thompson (1899), Roy Harris (1898), Virgil Thomson (1896) and Aaron Copland (1900) – who personified the emergence of American classical music as a distinctly national, as opposed to European, cultural force to be taken seriously. He was the leading practitioner of American musical Romanticism, much in the tradition of Jean Sibelius, Edvard Grieg and Carl Nielsen in Scandinavia.
Hanson dedicated his professional life to the encouragement, creation and preservation of beauty in music, believing it to be an art form possessing unique power to ennoble both performer and listener, and, by extension, mankind:
“Music has a strange physiological and psychological power. We rediscover music not only as a tremendous emotional force in the lives of men but also as a sociological force in education. We realize that these simple vibrations which proceed from the elastic string of the violin are potent, potent both for good and ill. We ponder upon the intricacies of the human mind and the unfathomed depths of the human soul. We salute music not as an abstract art but as a great social force. We call upon ourselves to utilize this force for the benefit of mankind. We call upon the spirit of beauty to make clean our hearts that we may be fit servants of so great an art... a divinely great art. We study an art which is a part of infinity itself. It is tangible, it is intangible. It is science, it is art. It is emotion, it is intellect. It is a part of society, yet it carries us to heights where we exist for a moment in the fearful and awesome isolation of interplanetary space. It calls for our deepest emotional development, the greatest use of our intellectual powers and a supreme devotion to beauty.”
-Howard Hanson, speaking at an Eastman School Convocation in 1936