Arthur Shepherd (1880-1958) was one of the finest musicians ever to come from the Rocky Mountain region, a man of prodigious talent who moved in the highest circles of American music during the first half of the 20th century.
A remarkable pianist, conductor, writer, and revered teacher, he lives largely in the memory of a rapidly diminishing few who knew who him personally, and others who, in various ways, have felt his influence posthumously. A pioneer lad from the isolated Mormon village of Paris in southeastern Idaho’s Bear Lake Valley, Shepherd graduated from the New England Conservatory as president of his class at the tender age of seventeen. He became a moving force in the musical life of Salt Lake City, Boston, and finally Cleveland, where in 1920 he was named assistant conductor of the newly-established (1918) Cleveland Orchestra, later serving as chair of the Music Department at Western Reserve University and music critic for the Cleveland Press.
During his twelve-year apprenticeship in Salt Lake City (from 1897 to 1909, following graduation from the New England Conservatory), Shepherd left an indelible mark on the musical life of the Mormon capital, serving as conductor of the Salt Lake Theatre orchestra, playing chamber music, and teaching theory and piano privately. There, also, he began his career as a composer. But perhaps his most important contribution was the revival of the off-again-on-again Salt Lake Symphony in one of its many incarnations as forerunner of the Utah Symphony. (His role in helping to establish a permanent, professional orchestra in the city was ultimately rewarded when he returned to conduct his orchestral magnum opus Horizons with the Utah Symphony in 1952.) In 1905 Shepherd’s Overture Joyeuse won the Paderewski Prize—$500 and a performance by Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony. At this point, Arthur was 25 years old, with no reputation except his distinguished record at the New England Conservatory. When the brilliant New York music critic Lawrence Gilman asked, “Is Shepherd a Bostonian?” the reply was, “No, he’s a Mormonian.”
As the result of contacts made in New York, Shepherd became involved with the somewhat radical American Music Society and Arthur Farwell’s colorfully-named Wa-Wan Press, which, dedicated to the promotion of American composers, published several of his works. As Salt Lake City proved more and more confining to a man of his talents, he decided to strike out for bigger things. Returning to Boston in 1909, he became directly involved with the activities of Farwell and the Wa-Wan circle. But philosophical differences gradually dissolved his interest, and he could not refuse an invitation in 1910 to join the faculty of his alma mater. The New England Conservatory was a bastion of European tradition, values more in line with Shepherd’s conservative nature, and the Boston years were given to teaching in this mecca of American intellectual life, a period in which his aesthetic sensibilities were firmly, if not finally, shaped. War interrupted this pleasant experience. Arthur felt it his duty to enlist, and he spent the war in France as a bandmaster. Returning to Boston afterward, he found the musical life of the city in decline. When Nicolai Sokoloff came to him in 1920 with an invitation to become assistant conductor of the newly formed Cleveland Orchestra, he was ready for the challenge.
The move to Cleveland precipitated the end of Shepherd’s troubled first marriage, but not long after he assumed his post with the orchestra a remarkable young woman brought renewed happiness to his personal life. Grazella Puliver was a sales representative for the Victor Company, a marvelous organizer and communicator who loved conversation and music, with a passionate interest in learning and an instinctive ability to draw the best out of people. The match was a perfect fit and marriage followed in 1922. With so much to offer, Arthur and Grazella found many social opportunities in Cleveland and moved easily among the city’s musical patricians, who in turn provided them with material comforts including a beautiful home in the suburbs, where surrounded by music, nature, and cultured friends, they built a life based on the rock-solid values of integrity, compassion, humor, and (as Grazella would often later say) talk—endless, delightful, rewarding talk.
A prolific composer, Shepherd worked in all major genres except oratorio and opera. Although he won several important prizes early in his career (e.g., the Paderewski Prize (Overture Joyeuse, 1905), first prize of the National Federation of Music Clubs (Sonata for the Pianoforte, Op. 4, 1909), another from the same group for his song “The Lost Child,” and again in 1913 for his cantata,The City of the Sea. His most important works of later years superseded these earlier prize winners in quality. Shepherd regarded his symphonic Horizons of 1926 (one movement of which is built on the Mormon hymn “The Spirit of God like a Fire Is Burning” ) and his Triptych for soprano and string quartet (1925) as perhaps his finest extended works. To these must be added the outstanding Violin Sonata (1916– 1920) and the Quintet for Pianoforte and Strings (1940).