George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931), along with Horatio Parker, Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, and Edward MacDowell, was a representative of what can be called the New England School of American composers of the late 19th century—the generation before Charles Ives. Chadwick's works are influenced by the Realist movement in the arts, characterized by a down-to-earth depiction of people's lives. Many consider his music to portray a distinctively American style. His works included several operas, three symphonies, five string quartets, tone poems, incidental music, songs and choral anthems. Along with a group of other composers collectively known as the Boston Six, Chadwick was one of those responsible for the first significant body of concert music by composers from the United States. The other five were Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, John Knowles Paine, and Horatio Parker.
He received some early musical training from organ lessons given by his older brother, Fitz Henry, and developed an independent, self-reliant character early in his life. Dropping out of high school in 1871, he entered the New England Conservatory as a "special student" in 1872, where he could study with the faculty without satisfying the rigorous entrance or degree requirements. Chadwick studied organ with George E. Whiting, piano with Carlyle Petersilea, and theory with Stephen A. Emery. He also pursued studies with Eugene Thayer. He headed to Germany in 1877, and studied in Leipzig at the Royal Conservatory of Music under Carl Reinecke and Salomon Jadassohn. After a period in France he resumed his compositional studies with Josef Rheinberger at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich.
In 1897, he was appointed Director of New England Conservatory. An inspiring teacher himself, his students described him as "demanding, though fair-minded and witty". Among his pupils were Horatio Parker, Arthur Whiting, Wallace Goodrich, Frederick S. Converse and Henry Hadley.