The Second New England School or New England Classicists, sometimes specifically the Boston Six, is a name used by historians to describe a group of classical music composers who lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in New England, a northeastern region of the United States of America. They were particularly based in and around the city of Boston, Massachusetts, which was an emerging musical center. The Second New England School is viewed by musicologists as pivotal in the development of an American classical idiom that stands apart from its European ancestors.
The name "Second New England School" was applied by the music historian Gilbert Chase in 1955. The First New England School to which the name refers is, in Chase's terminology, the hymnodists of the late 18th century, of whom the most prominent had been William Billings. No actual organization or conscious association of composers existed in the Second New England School, though some male members of the group did gather socially, so its "membership" can only be approximated by musicologists who draw aesthetic and philosophical links between composers. The specific "Boston Six" are named as John Knowles Paine (1839–1906), Arthur Foote (1853–1937), George Chadwick (1854–1931), Amy Beach (1867–1944), Edward MacDowell (1861–1908), and Horatio Parker (1863–1919). Other composers associated with the group include Edgar Stillman Kelley (1857–1944), George Whiting (1861–1944), and Arthur Whiting (1861–1936).
Many of the New England composers had academic affiliations and were among the pioneers of academic music education in the United States. John Knowles Paine, who served as the first Professor of Music at Harvard University, was considered as the leading compositional authority during his lifetime and, unofficially, the leader of this group. Paine held seniority in age and experience over most of his colleagues. Horatio Parker became Professor of Music at Yale University, and Edward MacDowell at Columbia University.
During the Second New England School's years of prominence, American musical education was still in its infancy. Americans often learned music theory and composition in Europe or from European musicians who had emigrated to the United States. As a result, large portions of American classical music written at the time reflect European influences, especially from Germany. Although America lagged in composition, in the second half of the 20th century the country developed permanent and robust opera and symphonic organizations and exceeded Europe in quality of piano manufacture and piano ownership per capita.
The composers of the Second New England School are considered the artistic ancestors of later "academic" and "conservative" U.S. composers such as Walter Piston, Howard Hanson, Douglas Moore, and Carlisle Floyd. The Americanist nationalist school of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris has no direct connection except nationality. Some composers who were students of the Boston Classicists, such as Henry F. Gilbert (student of MacDowell) and Charles Ives (student of Parker), rejected much of their masters' styles and embarked in radical new vernacular directions.