Together with Charles Wakefield Cadman and Deems Taylor, John Alden Carpenter was considered one of the foremost "modern" composers of the 1920's and 30's. Born into an affluent Chicago shipping family, Carpenter traced his ancestry back to the Pilgrims. His musical studies began with his mother, a passionate amateur singer, and continued with John Knowles Paine at Harvard and in later life with Elgar in Rome and Bernard Ziehn in Chicago.
After his graduation in 1897, he entered the family business, and, like Ives, for the rest of his career worked as an executive by day and a composer in his leisure hours. Unlike Ives (who hurled invectives at Carpenter's early work PERAMBULATOR), however, his music was far-more mainstream and accessible. In 1915 Carpenter became interested in incorporating elements of popular music--Tin Pan Alley and jazz--into his works.
His 1921 musical pantomime KRAZY KAT, with its dazzling orchestration that influenced Gershwin, enjoyed a great success and resulted in a commission from Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev for an American ballet. Carpenter's resulting composition, SKYSCRAPERS, eventually was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1926, greatly enhancing his reputation as a composer. Until his death in Chicago in 1951, he devoted the rest of his life to creating two symphonies, a violin concerto, several tone poems, and over fifty songs. Carpenter's vocal literature is enlivened by his impeccable taste in poetry, his luxuriant melodic inspiration, and his fluid settings of text. His most famous songs included his cycle of Rabindrinath Tagore poems, GITANJALI, his FOUR NEGRO SONGS to Langston Hughes texts, and his FOUR POEMS BY PAUL VERLAINE.