Like many of her contemporaries, Harriet Ware was educated as a pianist and vocalist. Her 1913 duet "Good Night" (published by the John Church Company) shows the work of a composer closely acquainted with the techniques and expressive capacity of instrumental and vocal idiom. Built along the lines of an elegant serenade, the melodic lines are lyrical but not opulent, gentle but not sentimental. In the piano part, the accompanying figures are sometimes chordal and sometimes arpeggiated, requiring both sensitivity and confidence. Over the course of her career, Ware composed several cantatas and operettas, piano music, and a considerable collection of art songs.
Ware's musical talent was, so it goes, recognized from an early age; one anecdote describes her childhood attachment to a toy piano that was a gift from her father. In the early 1890s, she attended the Pillsbury Academy in Minnesota and graduated with a diploma in piano performance before embarking on further studies in Europe.
Ware spent a few years studying piano and composition under mentors like Zygmunt (Sigismond) Stojowski and Hugo Kaun, continental composers and pedagogues who would later relocate to the United States. By 1900, Ware and her parents were living in New York, where she began developing her career as a composer and pianist.
In a bold move for a female composer of the time, Ware organized an exclusive concert of her works at Carnegie Hall in April of 1913. Reviews were mixed, but this was a significant step to increase the visibility of American women composers in a field that was still dominated by European men.
Later in 1913, Ware married Hugh (Lengle) Krumbhaar, a civil engineer from New Jersey. While it was not unheard of, it was still noteworthy that Ware had already made her name as a composer by this time, and thus continued to publish under her maiden name for the rest of her career. This was not usually the case for other women, who often wed earlier and took their husbands' last names before becoming established as composers. (Among the documents showing their legal marriage, two sources show Ware's age as 36, and one shows 26. It is not clear what might have caused this discrepancy.)
The wedding ceremony on December 8th 1913 featured several of her own compositions, one of which was her setting of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "How Do I Love Thee?" performed by one of her favourite singers, David Bispham.
Click here to listen to Jenni and Julie Frost's rendition of this song.
A member of the Manuscript Society as well as the League of American Pen Women, Ware joined others like Mary Turner Salter, Gena Branscombe, and Amy Beach in organizing and attending performances of their work. Several of Ware's songs were featured on the 1924 concert of the League of American Pen Women; Library of Congress Music Reference Specialist Melissa Wertheimer identified Ware in a photograph taken to commemorate the occasion.
One of these songs, "Stars" (published in 1921, G. Schirmer)--dedicated to Ernestine Schumann-Heink, the same contralto who had a fondness for Salter's song "The Cry of Rachel"--connects the imagery of nature and Christianity with a powerful vocal line set over vivid and varied piano figurations. As Joyce Kilmer's text compares stars in the night sky to a series of religious images (the Virgin's hair, cherubs' eyes, the nails of Christ's crucifixion, sparks from a holy crusade), the musical setting paints by turns with brilliance, delicacy, reverence, and dramatic gesture. Ware's setting of this text provides a multi-faceted overview of both religious faith and musical imagination.
Although she had trained abroad and maintained that compositions of quality are often proven by their classic appeal, Ware was a champion of American composers. In a 1917 interview with Musical America, she argued that performers and audiences should not differentiate musical works on the basis of their origins, and lamented that performers still favoured continental composers over their fellow Americans.
One of her best-known works, "Boat Song" (published in 1908, John Church Company), became a testimony to her conviction when it was featured in London concerts and radio broadcasts. The lilting piano part and carefree yet wistful vocal line show an artful balance of expression and restraint, a style that recalls the simplicity and elegance of Classical and early Romantic art song.
Click here to hear Ware accompany tenor John Barnes Wells on "Boat Song."
While Ware sometimes wrote her own lyrics, she was also on friendly terms with the poets whose verses she set to music. One of her particularly close and fruitful friendships was with acclaimed American writer Edwin Markham, whose words furnished the lyrics for Ware's operetta Undine, as well as a substantial number of art songs including "The Cross," "Love's Vigil," and "April."
In "Joy of the Morning" (published in 1906, G. Schirmer), a two-stanza poem by Markham is set in an ABA form by returning to the first stanza after the second. Once again, Ware's piano accompaniment contrasts the reverberation of repeated chords with whimsical flourishes that open and close the song. Occupying an emotion somewhere between joy and yearning, the rippling echoes of "if I could" provide a pensive ending.
Click here to hear Ware and Wells perform "Joy of the Morning."
This notion of ambivalence is woven throughout another song that views the same steadfast religious faith of "Stars" through a lens of quiet solace. "Consolation" (published by Harold Flammer Inc., 1917) places the vocal line in the middle register, between the low chordal support and delicate meandering melody of the piano accompaniment. Its words, written by one A.D.T. Whitney, run as follows:
God does not send us strange flowers every year,
When the spring winds blow over the pleasant places,
The same dear flowers lift up the same fair faces,
The violet is here.
So, after the death-winter, it will be.
God will not put strange sights in heavenly places,
The old love will look out from the same dear faces.
Darling, I shall see thee.
Ware's sensitivity to poetry and talent for elegant simplicity shine here. There is no need for extravagant declamation, no bold and striking piano fingerwork, only a small vocal range with speechlike repeated notes within a straightforward harmonic progression, gently proclaiming an unwavering faith in a love that lasts through eternity.
Ware passed away unexpectedly in 1962 after spending the previous months recovering from a fall. The Courier News of New Jersey, where she and her late husband had maintained a suburban residence, lauded her as a leading composer, celebrated musician, and music publisher.
Click here to view all the scores of songs by Harriet Ware currently housed in the AMRC Digital Sheet Music Collection.