Arthur Foote (1853-1937)

American Classical Composer

Composer Arthur Foote was born in Salem, Massachusetts on March 5, 1853. The son of Caleb Foote, part owner and chief editor of the Salem Gazette, and brother of Henry Foote, a distinguished minister at King’s Chapel in Boston, Arthur Foote showed a keen interest in music from a young age. At twelve, he began his musical training with Fanny Paine, a local piano teacher, and at fourteen, enrolled in a harmony class at the New England Conservatory.

The summer following his graduation from Harvard, in 1874, Foote began studying the organ with Benjamin J. Lang. Foote planned to pursue a career in law, however, Lang encouraged him to pursue his musical passion instead. After enrolling for another year of music study at Harvard in 1875, Foote was granted the first M.A. in music to be awarded by an American university. Foote opened a studio on Beacon Hill at which he offered private piano lessons for over half a century. In 1876 Foote became organist at the Church of the Disciples in Boston, and two years later moved to the First Unitarian Church, where he remained until 1910. Foote was a founding member of the American Guild of Organists, serving as president from 1909-12. In 1880 Foote married Kate Grant Knowlton, with whom he had one daughter, Katherine.

Foote’s most significant contributions to music were made as a composer. The Boston Symphony Orchestra performed his first orchestral work in 1887 and continued to feature Foote’s compositions for years to come. Over the course of his career, Foote authored eight pieces for orchestra, more than twenty works of chamber music, and over one hundred songs. Three of his cantatas were based on poems by Henry Wadsworth LongfellowThe Farewell of Hiawatha, The Wreck of the Hesperus, and The Skeleton in Armor. In addition to his work as composer, Foote was also a music theorist, contributing to the popular text Modern Harmony in its Theory and Practice, with Walter R. Spalding (1905). He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Recordings of his music are still available today.

Arthur Foote is buried at Mount Auburn at Lot 6201 Aspen Path.


Adapted from the research of Judy Jackson, as published in Mount Auburn’s Person of the Week: Arthur Foote, 1999., 2003.