Shining as a beacon to late bloomers everywhere, Foote did not begin music lessons until he was 12 years old. He made up for lost time rapidly, however, and entered Harvard five years later to study both music and law. He directed the Harvard Glee Club, and in 1875 earned the first Master of Arts degree in music awarded by an American university. After graduation he established a private studio in Boston, where he was also organist at the First Unitarian Church for 32 years, becoming a founding member of the American Guild of Organists and its president for four years.
Foote had a keen interest in German music, traveling to the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876, among numerous trips to Europe. But he also took a few lessons with Stephen Heller in Paris, and A Night Piece speaks late German chromatic Romanticism with a French accent, as if Fauré had revised Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. It was premiered as the first part of the Nocturne and Scherzo for Flute and String Quartet in San Francisco in January 1919, acquiring the title A Night Piece for Flute and Strings when it was published four years later in a version for string orchestra. (It has kept the later title even when performed in the original version with string quartet – the manuscript is untitled.) The work is a rhapsodic fantasy, formally articulate in its alternation of passages led by the flute with sections for the strings alone. Gently luxurious reveries frame darker and more urgent music – “fresh and spontaneous, plentiful in melody and colored with beauty,” as San Francisco Examiner critic Ray Brown wrote of the premiere.
– John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.