June 2: “Connecticut Symphony” debuts at Norfolk Music Shed


Today in 1935, a packed house of 1,500 enthusiastic music lovers in Norfolk, Connecticut heard the world premiere of internationally-renowned conductor and composer Henry Hadley’s latest work: The Connecticut Symphony, written to celebrate the Constitution State’s tercentenary.

Hadley’s half-hour-long work was played by a 65-piece orchestra at the Norfolk Music Shed, a venue built in 1906 by the wealthy Stoeckel family for the purpose of bringing quality orchestral concerts to the communities of northwest Connecticut.  Hadley himself was one of the most famous and widely-played American composers of the early 20th century, and considered a celebrity in American musical circles.  In addition to serving as a guest conductor for some of the world’s most accomplished symphonies, Hadley was the first American composer to conduct his own opera at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House, and was a founding member of what is now known as Tanglewood in western Massachusetts.  He also conducted the orchestra that provided the musical soundtrack to the 1926 film Don Juan starring John Barrymore — the first motion picture to feature a fully synchronized soundtrack.

Interior of the Norfolk Music Shed, circa 1906.

Hadley’s Connecticut masterpiece — formally known as Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 140 — was his fifth and final symphony.   The piece, commissioned by Mrs. Ellen Stoeckel to commemorate Connecticut’s 300th anniversary, comprised three movements that echoed the long arc of the state’s documented history, titled “1635,” “1735,” and “1935,” respectively. The first movement incorporates Native American musical affectations juxtaposed against the centuries-old Doxology hymn;  the second movement features slower and sweeping 18th century tunes and hymns like Ein Feste Burg (“A mighty fortress is our God”), and the final movement is an energetic display of early 20th century contemporary American music.  A sweeping musical celebration of Connecticut heritage and culture was first performed — with plenty of pride, pomp and circumstance — today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

A Century of the Music Shed,” Norfolk Chamber Music Festival website

Daniel Kerlee, “Henry Kimball Hadley Life and Career Timeline,” henryhadley.com