The Kennedy Center

John Alden Carpenter


American composer John Alden Carpenter was born into an affluent Chicago family in 1876. He began his musical studies with his mother at age 5, and his later piano teachers included students of Brahms and Lizst. He attended Harvard College, majoring both in music and general liberal arts, and was active in performing and composing for various college musical organizations.. Upon his graduation in 1897, he entered the family shipping supply business, where he earned a comfortable living, ultimately becoming vice-president of the company. Soon after, Carpenter traveled to London to spend three months studying composition with Sir Edward Elgar.

Although, like Charles Ives,  he was a businessman, it would be a mistake to regard him as a dilettante, and his contribution to American music should not be underestimated. Often using Tin Pan Alley-type pop themes or jazz rhythmic motifs, he wrote music that reflected American life and culture.  One of his earliest orchestral successes was the 1915  "Adventures in a Perambulator" based on the antics of his daughter Genevieve.  He set to music the poetry of many American poets, iuncluding Robert Louis Stevenson, Sigfried Sassoon, Langston Hughes. These songs were performed by the leading soloists of his time. He enjoyed a wide ranging correspondence and friendship with many of the prominent performers and cultural leaders of the era.

His orchestral work "Krazy Kat" resulted in a ballet commissioned by Diaghilev. "Skyscrapers," the resulting ballet, was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1926. Carpenter's vocal compositions were probably his favorite genre, although he also wrote chamber works, solo instrumental , and orchestral works. "Dance Suite," an orchestral arrangement in which he combined three of his piano pieces, was premiered by the National Symphony Orchestra on November 3, 1943, under conductor Hans Kindler.

In addition to his composing, Carpenter was active in musical and cultural organizations in Chicago, most notably the Chicago Arts Club and the Chicago Allied Arts. He was married to Ruth Winterbotham, and after her death in 1931, to Ellen Borden. He died at his home in Chicago in 1951.
John Carpenter


  • Songs from Gitanjali (Song Offerings)
  • Dance Suite