September 14: Mary Wortham Carlisle Howe (1964)

Mary Howe was an American composer, pianist, and patron of music in Washington, D.C., where she grew up and lived all her life. Born Mary Carlisle, she was the middle child of Calderon and Kate Carlisle. Mr. Carlisle was a prominent Washington lawyer, who served as counsel to the Spanish Embassy. In the latter 19th Century, Calderon Carlisle and several family members were associated with Epiphany, where he served as a vestry member. Here Mary and her siblings were baptized. Mary received training in piano from Richard Burmeister in Germany. By the time she was 18, she was performing publicly and was accepted into Baltimore’s Peabody Institute. Her studies with Gustav Strube and others led to a diploma in composition. She toured in a two-piano team with Anne Hull and in 1933 went to Paris to study with the famous French pianist Nadia Boulanger.

A prolific composer as well as pianist, Howe worked in many genres: songs for voice and piano, solo piano, piano duo, organ, carillon, violin, cello, flute, chamber music, chorus, ballet, chamber orchestra, and full orchestra. Later in life, she developed a passion for singing and wrote many songs. In support of her country during World War II, she composed vigorous pieces in support of the troops.  Howe and her husband, Walter Bruce Howe, a lawyer, were prominent Washington socialites and were among the co-founders in 1931 of the National Symphony Orchestra. Howe also helped found the Chamber Music Society of Washington (later the Friends of Music of the Library of Congress) and the Society of American Women Composers. Toward the end of her life, she was on the board of the National Cultural Center (later renamed the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts).

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