Bertram Shapleigh

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Bertram Shapleigh and his wife in their English home, "Weird Wood", from a 1907 publication. In the background, his library, which was lost in a fire some years later.

Bertram Lincoln Shapleigh (15 January 1871 – 2 July 1940) was an American composer, heavily interested in the culture of Asia.


He studied composition with G.E. Whiting and George Whitefield Chadwick at the New England Conservatory; graduating in 1891. He continued his studies with Edward MacDowell in the United States, and gave piano recitals and accompanied singers in the Boston area.[1][2][3] He also studied in France and Germany.

A man of wide interests, he entered the Vermont Medical College, graduating with an MD degree in 1893.


He became a lecturer on the arts, but a developing concern with South Asian music that led him to give his attention fully to music and to composition. He played the piano and cello, and gave lecture-recitals on music history, Eastern music and Wagner’s operas.[4] In 1898 he left the United States for Europe, living in Cologne and Brussels,[5] eventually settling in Longfield, Kent in his home he named "Weird Wood".[6][7] He became an editor for Breitkopf & Härtel. However, after his house, with his library of 7000 volumes, had been destroyed by fire, he returned to the USA in 1917, settling in Chicago and then Washington DC,[8] to serve as an adviser to Breitkopf & Härtel and editor of the Concert Exchange. He lectured widely, wrote for magazines and newspapers, published three books of poetry and a novel, and composed numerous pieces in various forms. His works are in a Romantic style, sometimes using themes and timbres imitative of Indian music.

He was a Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music, Associate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He advertised for Dresden's Paul Werner pianos.[9]


In 1887, as a satirical response to a rise in Baconian theory of Shakespeare authorship, Justin Winsor wrote a pamphlet titled "Was Shakespeare Shapleigh? A Correspondence in Two Entanglements". This pamphlet lampooned Ignatius Donnelly's The Great Cryptogram by proposing a fictional Sir William Shapleigh as author, who moved to America in 1636.[10] Winsor's joke was given accidental credence and media attention when Bertram Shapleigh was mistaken for Shakespeare (and also Hall Caine) while vacationing in Morocco in 1904.[11]

After his death in 1940, a Bertram Shapleigh Foundation was established in Washington, DC, and his manuscripts are deposited there. Cellist Paul Olefsky was its musical director; through it the foundation purchased Marie Roemaet Rosanoff's Stradivarius cello for Paul Olfesky's lifetime use,[12] and sponsored many musical performances (including of Shapleigh's music), including the first Emanuel Feuermann Memorial International Cello Solo Competition.[13][14]

Selected compositions[edit]

Shapleigh wrote a number of orchestral works, some including choir; several operas; church music; many songs, and a string quartet, among other chamber works.

  • Eldorado (published c.1900 by Edwin Ashdown), song setting of the Edgar Allan Poe poem[15]
  • Fitne's Song (Fitnes Gesang), words translated from German by Shapleigh's wife.[16]
  • Home Thoughts from Abroad, song setting of Robert Browning's poem.[17]
  • Metamorphosis for orchestra
  • A Night in Kamtchatka (Eine Nacht auf Kamtschatka), words translated from German by Shapleigh's wife[16]
  • Ramayana, an Indian suite for soloists, iano, and orchestra[18]
  • The Raven, a cantata on Poe's poem[19]
  • The Regiment Passes (published c.1900 by Edwin Ashdown), words by Robert W. Chambers[20]
  • Rhapsody, for cello and piano
  • Romance of the Year, op. 53 for four solo voices and piano, words by Shapleigh's wife.[21] Twelve stanzas in the mood the twelve months of the year, in solo, duets, and quartets.
  • The Song of the Dervishes, for chorus and orchestra, premiered in 1907 by the Wolverhampton Festival Choral Society.[22]
  • Three English Songs, op. 49. Settings of Hugh Clough's "Green Fields o' England" and Robert Browning's "O to be in England", and Wordsworth's "I travelled among unknown men"[23]
  • Three Little Songs[24]


  • Howard, John Tasker (1939). Our American Music: Three Hundred Years of It. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.
  1. ^ "SOME ERRORS POINTED OUT. Remarkable Assertions by Members of the Facts Social-Subtle Subjects Discussed at Last Evening's Meeting". The Boston Globe. April 19, 1888. p. 5.
  2. ^ "Lectures and Readings". Boston Evening Transcript. March 9, 1892. p. 5.
  3. ^ ""Pygmalion and Galatea" - Performance of Professionals in Aid of Vincent Hospital". The Boston Globe. December 7, 1894. p. 9.
  4. ^ "Japanese Tea Coming; Playgoers' Club Will Give an Entertainment on Thursday". The Boston Globe. April 7, 1896. p. 1896.
  5. ^ "American Musician-Composer and Wife Who are Living in England". Los Angeles Herald. November 8, 1908. p. 15.
  6. ^ "Correspondence". The Birmingham Post. June 28, 1907. p. 11.
  7. ^ "Bertram Shapleigh, Composer" Musical Courier (February 6, 1907): 32.
  8. ^ "Bertram L. Shapleigh, 69, Famed Composer, Dies". The Evening Star. July 6, 1940. p. 6.
  9. ^ "Nicholson's For Pianos". The Sydney Morning Herald. July 14, 1906. p. 2.
  10. ^ "The Shakespeare-Shapleigh Entanglement". The Atlantic. 1887-05-01. Retrieved 2024-02-15.
  11. ^ "A Shakespeare Joke Which is Often Regarded as Truth". The Akron Beacon Journal. October 1, 1904. p. 8.
  12. ^ "Olfesky New Caretaker of Rare Cello". Hartford Courant. May 19, 1974. p. 168.
  13. ^ "2 UT Cello Students Earn Cash Awards in Solo Competition". Austin American-Statesman. December 25, 1987. p. 62.
  14. ^ Young, Jerry (November 1, 1985). "Austin symphony cellist inundates himself in classical music". Austin American-Statesman. p. 44.
  15. ^ "Music". Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper. June 3, 1900. p. 8.
  16. ^ a b "Breitkopf and Hartel". The Daily Telegraph. July 29, 1905. p. 10.
  17. ^ "New Music - Songs & Instrumental Pieces". Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. December 18, 1909. p. 11.
  18. ^ "Public Notices". Staffordshire Evening Sentinel. January 15, 1908. p. 1.
  19. ^ "Bishop Auckland Musical Society". North Mail, Newcastle Daily Chronicle. November 30, 1907. p. 8.
  20. ^ "Music". Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper. April 15, 1900. p. 8.
  21. ^ "New Music". Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. May 3, 1907. p. 10.
  22. ^ "North Staffordshire Orchestra - Notes on MOnday's Programme - Production of an Orchestral Work". The Staffordshire Sentinel. January 15, 1908. p. 3.
  23. ^ "New Music; Vocal and Instrumental". Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. August 14, 1907. p. 9.
  24. ^ "Recital at the Seminary". Pittston Gazette. February 6, 1902. p. 5.

External links[edit]