Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Fry, William Henry

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FRY, William Henry, musician, b. in Philadelphia, Pa., 10 Aug., 1815; d. in Santa Cruz, West Indies, 21 Dec., 1864. He was educated in the schools of his native place and at Emmettsburg, Md. In 1839 he became editorially connected with his father's newspaper, the Philadelphia “Gazette.” Soon afterward, in 1835, he went through a course of musical study and wrote four orchestral overtures, which were publicly performed. While he was partly occupied as a writer for several newspapers, and as correspondent for eastern journals, he produced in 1845 an English opera, entitled “Leonora.” This was given in Philadelphia, and later in New York city, and much discussed. The general public commended the composer for his ambition and energy, but musical people were chary of approbation and withheld their patronage. In 1846 Fry went to Europe for study and observation, being engaged as a regular correspondent of the New York “Tribune” and other newspapers. He remained abroad six years, and on his return to New York city, in 1852, became musical editor of the “Tribune.” Soon afterward he wrote the music to an ode for the opening of the New York industrial exhibition of 1853, and delivered a course of ten lectures on the history of music, with illustrations on a gigantic scale, which were pecuniarily unsuccessful. On this occasion Fry brought forward two of his own symphonies, “The Breaking Heart” and “A Day in the Country.” In 1854 and 1855 were also written other symphonies, a “Stabat Mater, and “Eleven Violin Quartets.” In 1858 the Italian opera company in New York city unsuccessfully produced a reconstructed Italian version of his “Leonora.” Another opera, “Notre Dame,” brought out in 1864, won no attention. Fry was an occasional political speaker, a lecturer on topics of the day, and altogether an accomplished man. For several years he suffered from lingering consumption and unsuccessfully sought relief in a milder climate. When he was lying bedridden in a house near the New York Academy of Music he asked permission to have a “lover's telephone” placed so that he could hear something of the music. During the last two years of his life he was accustomed to sit propped up in bed while opera was going on at the Academy, his telephone in one hand and the libretto of the opera in the other. At the foot of the bed, standing against the foot-board, were the photographs of the chief singers engaged in the performance. He was one who thoroughly believed in himself, but he had not the divine faculty in music; his compositions neither charmed the many nor satisfied the demands of a just criticism. As a musical reviewer he was a determined, honest partisan, an acute analyst, and trenchant writer. He held the theory that all true melody was evolved only in the minds of Italians, that the voice should always be paramount in operatic representations, and the orchestra serve as an accompaniment to the singers. These convictions, ably presented and partly justified, were caused by the reaction against the poverty of melodic invention and overloaded orchestral devices of Halevy, Meyerbeer, Spohr, and Spontini. Fry published a volume entitled “Artificial Fish Breeding” (New York, 1854). — His brother, Joseph Reese, banker, d. in Philadelphia, Pa., in June, 1865, wrote the words of his brother's opera, “Leonora,” and translated others. He was largely instrumental in organizing the Union League brigade of Philadelphia during the civil war. Jointly with Robert T. Conrad he wrote a “Life of Zachary Taylor” (Philadelphia, 1848).