chapter  1
78 Pages

Family History

Roger Sessions liked to tell a story that began with the novelist’s opening cliché: “It was a dark and stormy night.” The subject of the anecdote was his ancestry, and both a letter to George Bartlett and a diary kept by two participants reveal why this particular night would be memorable. At 4:00 p.m. on August 9, 1917, during World War I, violinist Quincy Porter and pianist Bruce Simonds gave one of their series of concerts of French and Belgian music at Amherst College.1 (Bartlett had arranged a similar concert in Webster, Massachusetts, on July 27.) These concerts were to raise money for the Red Cross; at a dollar a ticket they made $91.38 that August evening. Afterwards, 20-year-old Sessions and the two performers had a “wild time” at a dinner and musicale at Mme Bianchi’s, Emily Dickinson’s niece who lived in Austin Dickinson’s home next to where the poet had lived. Around 11:00 p.m. they “tore [them]selves away” from Amherst to leave for Sessions’s family home in Hadley. Sessions drove a horse-drawn cart powered by the family animal, Rex, with only one seat to accommodate “the three geniuses.”2 The skittish horse preferred to walk downhill and proceeded at a snail’s pace.