Arthur Fickenscher (March 9, 1871 in Aurora, Illinois – April 15, 1954 in San Francisco, California) was an American composer and academic. The first head of the music department of the University of Virginia, and director of the Virginia Glee Club from 1920 to about 1933, he is credited with being an early twentieth century pioneer of microtonal music.

Fickenscher studied music in Munich under Joseph Rheinberger and lived then as a teacher in Oakland, California, and Charlottesville, Virginia. From 1911 to 1914, he was a vocal teacher in Berlin. From 1920 until his retirement in 1941[1] he was the first head of the music department at the University of Virginia.[2] From 1922[3] to 1933 he was the conductor of the Virginia Glee Club, a male choral ensemble at the University of Virginia.[4]

He composed a Mimodrama, orchestral variations in the medieval style, a Dies Irae, visions for voice and orchestra, church works, a piano quintet, and various songs (including the song cycle Willowwood). His first major work, Visions for dramatic soprano and orchestra, received its premiere at the Royal Conservatory in Berlin in 1913 to acclaim from the New York Times.[5] Recordings have been made of his song cycle Willowwood and his piano quintet From the seventh Realm;[6] of the latter, Percy Grainger wrote, "While I am a reverent admirer of the piano and string quintets by Bach, César Franck, Brahms, Cyril Scott and others, I must confess that this American work by Fickenscher out-soars them all, for my ears, in point of spiritual rapture and sensuous loveliness."[7]

Fickenscher also invented the Polytone, a keyboard instrument that could produce sixty distinct tones within the scope of an octave.[8][9]


  • Visions, symphonic seal for dramatic soprano and large orchestra, 1912
  • Willowwood and Well Away, 1925
  • Day of Judgement, 1927
  • Out of the Gay Nineties, 1934
  • From the seventh realm, Piano Quintet, 1939
  • Aucalete, symphonic poetry, 1945
  • Lament for organ, 1951
  • Improvisational Fantasy for organ, 1954
  • Aucassin and Nicolete, symphonic poetry for chorus and orchestra
  • The Chamber Blue, poetry for chorus and orchestra
  • The Land East of the Sun, symphonic poetry for chorus and orchestra
  • Old Irish Tune for chamber orchestra
  • Evolutionary Quartet, String Quartet
  • Willowwood for alto, viola and piano


Fickenscher is confirmed as leading the Glee Club from 1921 to 1933.


  1. University of Virginia (1941-02-15). "Minutes of the Board of Visitors".;;toc.depth=1;;brand=default;query=fickenscher#1. Retrieved 2016-08-28. 
  2. "Special Collections: Arthur Fickenscher Papers, Accession # 5121-a". Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  3. University of Virginia Record: Department of the College. 1924-1925. pp. 32. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  4. The University of Virginia Record. XX. Charlottesville: University of Virginia. 1934. 
  5. "Our Musicians Score: German critics praise works of Fickenscher, White, and Gittelson". New York Times: pp. C3. 1913-11-23. 
  6. "Arthur Fickenscher (in Miscellaneous recommendations of unfairly unknown composers)". Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  7. Grainger, Percy (1999). Grainger on Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 250. ISBN 0198166636. 
  8. Nemec, Belinda Jane (2006) (PDF). The Grainger Museum in its Museological and Historical Contexts. The Australian Centre of the University of Melbourne. 
  9. Fickenscher, Arthur, "Polytone keyboard", US 2232600, published 1941-02-18

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