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Philip James (Composer, Arranger)

Born: May 17, 1890 - Jersey City, New Jersey, USA
Died: November 1, 1975 - Southhampton, New York, USA

The American composer, conductor, organist and music educator, Philip (Fredrick Wright) James, received rudimentary instruction in music from his sister. At an early age, he began piano, violin and theory lessons, and served as choirboy in several New Jersey churches. From 1904 to 1909 he studied organ with J. Warren Andrews and in 1907 began advanced harmony and counterpoint lessons with Homer Norris. He also studied composition with Rubin Goldmark, Elliot Schenk, and Rosario Scalero, and organ with with Joseph Bonnet and Alexandre Guilmant in Paris.

Philip James served in the U.S. Army during World War I. In 1918-1919 he played in and subsequently became bandleader of the American Expeditionary Forces Headquarters Band. Returning to the USA, he completed his education and held various posts as organist and choir-master in several churches in New York. Victor Herbert, who had heard his work with the band, hired him as musical director for his musical comedy My Golden Girl. Subsequently he conducted the Victor Herbert Opera Company from 1919 to 1922.

In 1922 Philip James co-founded and became the first conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1929. He also conducted the Brooklyn Orchestra Society from 1927 to 1930. From 1929 to 1936 James was conductor of the Bamberger Little Symphony, broadcast weekly over radio station WOR in New York.

In 1923 Philip James began a long teaching career at New York University (NYU), becoming chairman of its music department in 1933. He retired in 1955. His students at NYU included Milton Babbitt, Bernard Herrmann, and Marvin David Levy. In 1933 He was elected member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Philip James' compositions followed along the late Romantic lines. In 1932 he won he won the first prize of $5000 from NBC for his satirical composition Station WGZBX, which subsequently received performances by many major orchestras. Other prize-winning compositions from the 1930's include his Bret Harte Overture, Suite for String Orchestra, and Song of the Night. He suffered a heart attack in 1960 which, from then on, severely restricted his professional and social engagements, although he still actively composed music. Though he remained active as a composer until his death in 1975, James' larger-scale compositions were infrequently played after the mid-20th century. However several of his early sacred compositions, including Meditation a Ste. Clotilde for organ and the anthem By the Waters of Babylon remain in the sacred repertoire.


3 Bret Harte Overtures (n.d; 1924; 1934; revised 1938)
Overture in Olden Style on French Noëls for small orchestra (1926; revised for large orchestra, 1929; New York, February 23, 1930)
Judith for reciter & chamber orchestra (1927; New York, Februasry 18, 1930; also for reciter & piano)
Sea Symphony for baritone & orchestra (1928; Frankfurt am Main, July 14, 1960)
Station WGZBX, suite (1931; New York, May 1, 1932)
Song of the Night, symphonic poem (1931; New York, March 15, 1938)
Suite for Strings (1933; New York, April 28, 1934)
Gwalia, Welsh Rhapsody for small orchestra (New York, November 14, 1935; revised for large orchestra, 1937)
Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra (1938; New York, November 10, 1941; revised 1943)
Brennan on the Moor for small orchestra (New York, November 28, 1939; also for large orchestra, 1940)
Symphony No. 1 (1943; revised 1961)
Symphony No. 2 (1946; Rochester, New York, May 7, 1966)
Miniver Cheevy and Richard Cory for reciter & orchestra (Saratoga Springs, New York, September 9, 1947)
Chaumont, symphonic poem for small orchestra (1948; New York, May 2, 1951)
Overture to a Greek Play (1952)

Colonel Averill March (1917)
Festal March Perstare et Praestare (1942; New York, June 10, 1942; also for orchestra, 1946 )
E.F.G., Overture (1944; New York, June 13, 1945)
Fanfare and Ceremonial (1955; New York, June 20, 1956; revised 1962)

Chamber/Small Orcehstra:
String Quartet (1924; revised 1939)
Kammersymphonie (1926)
Suite for String Orchestra (1933)
Suite for Woodwind Quintet (1936)
Piano Quartet (1938; revised 1948)

Piano Solo:
Our Town, suite (1945)
Twelve Piano Preludes (1946-1951)

Organ Solo:
Meditation a Sainte Clotilde (1915)
Dithyramb (1921)
Fête (1921)
1st Organ Sonata (1929)
Pantomime (1941)
Galarnad (1946)
Novelette (1946)
Solemn Prelude (1948)
Alleluia-Toccata (1949)
Pastorale (1949)
Requiescat in pace (1949; revised 1955)
Passacaglia on an Old Cambrian Bass (1951; also for orchestra, 1956, and for band, 1957)
Sortie (1973)

Magnificat for soloists, chorus & organ (1910)
Te Deum for chorus & organ (1910)
The Victory Riders for baritone & orchestra (1919-1925)
By the Waters of Babylon
, anthem (1920)
Stabat mater speciosa for chorus & orchestra (1921; revised 1930)
Missa imaginum for chorus & orchestra (1929)
General WIlliam Booth Enters into Heaven (1932)
Psalm 150 (1940)
Psalm 149 (1959)
Chorus of Shepherds and Angels for women;s voices & strings (1959)
Missa brevis for chorus (1963; revised as Mass in Honor of St. Mark, 1966)
To Cecilia (1966)
about 13 cantatas (1916-1966); motets; anthems; part songs; songs


Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website; University of Maryland Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2009)

Philip James: Short Biography | Orchestral Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Philip James (Wikipedia)

The Papers of Philip James at University of Maryland


H. James: A Catalog of the Musical Works of Philip James (1890-1975) (New York, 1980; supplement, 1984)

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