Gena Branscombe | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Gena Branscombe

Gena Branscombe. Composer, choir conductor, teacher, pianist, b Picton, near Kingston, Ont, 4 Nov 1881, d New York 26 Jul 1977; BA (Chicago) 1900, honorary MA (Whitman) 1932.

Branscombe, Gena

Gena Branscombe. Composer, choir conductor, teacher, pianist, b Picton, near Kingston, Ont, 4 Nov 1881, d New York 26 Jul 1977; BA (Chicago) 1900, honorary MA (Whitman) 1932. She studied 1897-1903 at the Chicago Musical College with Felix Borowski (composition), Alexander von Fielitz (songwriting), and Florenz Ziegfeld, Arthur Friedheim, Hans von Schiller, and Rudolph Ganz (piano), winning gold medals in composition in 1900 and 1901. She taught piano in Chicago 1903-7 and then became director of the piano department of Whitman College, Walla Walla Washington, leaving in 1909 to study with Humperdinck in Berlin.

Though she often revisited Canada, Branscombe lived and worked in the USA for more than 75 years. Publishers in both countries accepted her piano pieces, songs, and choral and orchestral works. An opera, The Bells of Circumstance, with a text written by the composer and treating 17th-century French settlers in Canada, was never completed, but an orchestral work, Quebec Suite, was extracted from it in 1928 and was premiered in 1930 by the Chicago Women's SO, conducted by the composer. Her large choral drama Pilgrims of Destiny, also to her own words and on a pioneering subject (the voyagers on the Mayflower), was awarded the 1928 League of American Pen Women annual prize for the finest work produced by a woman. The orchestral work A Festival Prelude, first played in 1913 at Peterboro, NH, had several later performances including one at the San Francisco Exposition.

Branscombe's greatest successes, however, were in the vocal and choral field. Coventry's Choir, with words by Violet B. Alvarez, was performed at Coventry in 1962 and several times afterwards in Great Britain and North America. In 1960 her hymn 'Arms that Have Sheltered Us' was adopted by the Royal Canadian Navy. The Introit, Prayer Response and Amen, commissioned by Riverside Church, New York, and premiered in 1973, testified to the astonishing vigour of a composer active at 92. Gena Branscombe enriched the repertoire especially in the area of short choral works for women's voices. Characteristically these works suspend vocal lines of individual shape over and within an accompaniment of shifting chromatic harmonies, though bitonality and parallelism are used occasionally. Many of her vocal works use her own texts.

Branscombe was often a guest conductor at performances of her works in Canada, England, and the USA, and was leader of various choirs in New Jersey during the 1930s and 1940s. From the former American Women's Association Choral she created in 1933 and conducted for 21 years the Branscombe Chorale of New York.. She received numerous non-academic honours, particularly from US women's organizations, many of which she had served. Beginning in 1928 she was president of the Society of American Women Composers; in 1950 she became vice-president and director of the National Association of American Composers and Conductors. Bransombe was a member of ASCAP.

Selected Compositions

The Bells of Circumstance (Branscombe). Unfinished. Ca 1928. Ms


Gena Branscombe, 'The sound of trumpets,' Showcase, vol 61, no. 3, 1962


Festival Prelude. 1913 (Peterboro, NH 1914). Orch. Ms

Quebec Suite. (Branscombe, from Bells of Circumstance). 1928 (Chicago 1930). Ten (in Prologue), orch. Ms

Baladine. 1930. Chamb orch. Ms (from Quebec Suite)

Procession. 1930. Orch. Ms (from Quebec Suite)

Elegie. 1937. Orch. (lost)

Just in the Hush before the Dawn, Pavane, Rigaudon, and Wings. (1946). All manuscript. Pavana lost.

Choir with Orchestra

The Morning Wind (Banning). 1912. Female voices, orch. Schmidt 1913, 1916

Dear Lad O'Mine (Hale). 1915. Female voices, orch. Schmidt 1915

Spirit of Motherhood (Driscoll). 1923. Female voices, orch. Schmidt 1924

A Wind from the Sea (Longfellow). 1924. Female voices, orch. Schmidt ca 1924

The Dancer of Fjaard (Branscombe). 1926. Soli, female voices, orch. Schmidt 1926

The Phantom Caravan (Banning). 925. Male voices, orch. J. Church 1926

At the Postern Gate (Banning). 1918. Male voices, orch. Schmidt 1927

Pilgrims of Destiny (Branscombe). 1919. Soli, SATB, orch. Ditson 1929

Youth of the World (Branscombe). 1931. Female voices, orch. Witmark 1932

Sun and the Warm Brown Earth (Henderson). 1935. Female voices, orch. Birchard 1935

Coventry's Choir (Alvarez). 1944. Sop, female voices, orch. G. Schirmer 1944


Publ by Schmidt: 'In Arcady by Moonlight'; 'Ol' Marse Winter'; 'Roses in Madrid'; 'God of the Nations'; 'Hail Ye Tyme of Holie-Days'

Publ by others: 'In Granada'; 'Afar on the Purple Moor' (G. Schirmer); 'Into the Light'; 'Wreathe the Holly, Twine the Bay' (Fischer); 'Mary at Bethlehem'; 'Prayer for Song' (Ric); 'Our Canada from Sea to Sea'; 'Arms that Have Sheltered Us' (GVT)

'A Joyful Litany' (Branscombe). 1967. Female voices. Ms

Introit, Prayer, Response, Amen (Branscombe). 1973. SATB. Ms

Over 100 arr of folk songs, traditional and modern works.


Publ by G. Schirmer: 'Hail, Bounteous May'; 'Love in a Life'; 'Starlight'; 'With Rue My Heart Is Laden'; 'Epitaph'; 'Just in the Hush before the Dawn'

Publ by Schmidt: 'Ould Doctor Ma'Ginn'; 'Hail Ye Tyme of Holie-Dayes'; 'A Lute of Jade'; 'The Sun-Dial'; 'Laughter Wears a Lilied Gown'; 'I Bring You Heartsease and roses'; 'Changes'; 'My Love Is Like a Tempting Peach'; 'Bluebells Drowsily Ringing'; 'Songs of the Unafraid'; 'By St Lawrence Water'; 'At the Postern Gate'; 'The Lass of Glad Gray Eyes'; 'The Great Adventure'; 'An' If I Had a True Love'; 'Within the Walls of London'; 'The Call of the Seven Seas'.

Other works published by WR, Ditson, Chappell, Galaxy, WaWan Press

21 works for violin and piano, 4 published by Schmidt (1911-20); American Suite 25 works for piano published by WR, Teller, G. Schirmer, Schmidt Cavalcade and Valse-Caprice have been reprinted in CMH vol. 6

Further Reading