June 2: A Symphony for Connecticut by a Superstar Composer


Rendering of the Yale Summer School of Music and home to the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, by Vladislav Yeliseyev Architectural Illustration

Today in 1935, a packed house of 1,500 enthusiastic music lovers in Norfolk heard the world premiere of internationally renowned conductor and composer Henry Hadley’s latest work, “The Connecticut Symphony,” a piece composed to celebrate that year’s 300th anniversary of the Constitution state’s founding. Hadley, one of his era’s most popular and widely played American composers, had a special talent for bridging highbrow and popular musical cultures. His compositions were widely used in the silent film industry, and he was one of the conductors selected to lead the New York Philharmonic orchestra in its first live radio broadcast. Hadley was also hired by Warner Brothers to help introduce synchronized musical soundtracks to film. In addition to composing music for a number of Warner Brothers’ transitional films which added only music and sound effects, in 1926 Hadley conducted the musical score for Don Juan, starring Lionel Barrymorethe first motion picture with a fully synchronized soundtrack.

Hadley’s 30-minute “Connecticut Symphony” was played by a 65-piece orchestra at the Norfolk Music Shed, a venue built in 1906 by the wealthy Stoeckel family to present chorale concerts, and which later brought quality orchestral concerts to the communities of northwest Connecticut.


Interior of the Norfolk Music Shed, circa 1906.

Formally known as Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 140, it was Hadley’s fifth and final symphony. The work had been commissioned by Ellen Stoeckel, co-founder of the Music Shed, specifically to commemorate Connecticut’s 300th anniversary at the Norfolk venue.

The work consisted of three movements that echoed the long arc of the state’s documented history. They were respectively titled “1635,” “1735,” and “1935.” 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.

In addition to serving as a guest conductor for some of the world’s most famous symphony orchestras, 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. A sweeping musical celebration of Connecticut heritage was first performed and conducted, with plenty of pride, pomp and circumstance — by a superstar of yesteryear — 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