February 5, 2014

About Howard Hanson’s "Merry Mount"

One of the most revered figures in American music of the twentieth century, Howard Hanson earned enormous acclaim as composer, conductor, and educator, serving for 40 years as director of the Eastman School of Music. He was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to write the music for Merry Mount, setting it to a libretto by Richard L. Stokes.

Loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Maypole of Merry Mount,” this lushly romantic opera is set in Massachusetts in 1625 during a conflict between the Puritans and the pleasure-seeking Cavaliers. The full opera Merry Mount premiered at the Met in February 1934, and Hanson dedicated it to the recently deceased George Eastman.

Despite the fiscal frugality imposed by the Great Depression, the production was a lavish one, receiving over 50 curtain calls and its share of critical acclaim as well. The front page of the New York Times read, “A stirring ovation … reception of Hanson/Stokes opera most enthusiastic of 10 years at the Metropolitan.”

This important American work has been under-performed since its premiere. In 1955, Hanson staged a student production of Merry Mount for capacity audiences at the Eastman Theatre during the 25th annual Festival of American Music. There were also performances by the San Antonio Opera (with Beverly Sills as Lady Marigold) in 1964, Rochester’s Opera Under the Stars in 1976, and a concert version by the Seattle Symphony in 1996 (listen to excerpts). This project will mark a notable revival of the piece on a national stage.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performs Merry Mount at the Spring For Music Festival at Carnegie Hall in New York City on May 7, 2014, with guest conductor Michael Christie; four acclaimed soloists; talented area singers; the Eastman-Rochester Chorus, directed by Dr. William Weinert; and Bach Children’s Chorus of Nazareth College, directed by Karla Krogstad.

Click here to read biographies of the conductor and soloists. For more information on Merry Mount and to read the synopsis, click here.