“We hold these truths to be self-evident, – that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Declaration of Independence,
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Tonight Florilegium celebrate a special Fourth of July, performing works from the music collection of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States of America and author of the Declaration of Independence.
Whilst our programme is not a pure reconstruction of an evening at Monticello, the family home Jefferson designed himself, it offers a juxtaposition of European baroque masterworks with a burgeoning American breed of popular music, with all of which Jefferson’s inner circle was acquainted.
As a young law student in his native Virginia, Jefferson, an accomplished amateur violinist, regularly played in an ensemble of two violins, German flute and harpsichord at the Governor’s Palace with some of the southern colony’s more powerful legislators. Members of this Virginian genteel society lived in a classical, rational world reflected in the architecture of their plantation homes. Jefferson’s vast music library, which he catalogued in 1783, contained many theoretical, critical, historical texts as well as vocal and instrumental compositions. Congress purchased thirteen of its books on music literature and theory in1815, forming the basis of the Music Division of the Library of Congress.
He was well-versed in instrumental tutorials such as Francesco Geminiani’s groundbreaking The Art of Playing the Violin (1751). He had a particular penchant for Italian art music, as some of the more influential musicians who journeyed across continental Europe and the British Isles were Italian. He went to great lengths to purchase music from England, owning one of the forty-two J. Walsh editions of Archangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Opus V violin sonatas published in the eighteenth century.
Additionally his duties as Minister of France in 1784-87 greatly satisfied and broadened his enthusiasm for European musical trends. When his family lived in Paris, his two daughters studied harpsichord with the illustrious Claude-Benigne Balbastre (1727-99). He ordered several harpsichords to be transported to Monticello, no small task in the time period, as well as introduced his native land to gastronomic luxuries such as tomatoes and love apples!
Throughout his life, Jefferson collected enough instruments to have the necessary forces to entertain guests at his home with popular orchestral and chamber works by Purcell, Rameau, Händel, Vivaldi, Arne and Haydn to name but a few.
“God grant, that not only the Love of Liberty, but a thorough knowledge of the Rights of Man, may pervade all Nations of the earth, so that a Philosopher may set his Foot anywhere on its Surface, and say, “This is my Country.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)
Jefferson and his contemporaries, the founding fathers of the United States of America, were very much a product of their time: the Age of Reason. These classically educated gentlemen identified with the principles of rationalism, harmony and the natural order of things. Increasingly, the will to gain political liberty from the British crown became the most respected American trait.
With strength of character, dignity and good judgement the beloved first President, Commander-in-Chief George Washington, came to symbolise the Revolutionary cause as he led the Americans to overcome seemingly enormous obstacles. The young nation’s love of liberty was cemented on the Fourth of July, the specific date in which numerous marches were written for and first performed in Washington’s honour.
“We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions – bound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality. Whoever seeks to set one nation against another, seeks to degrade all nationalities…”
Franklin Delanore Roosevelt (1882-1945)
The American Revolution served as vital musical inspiration in the emerging nation’s cultural development. Patriotic airs were a musical focal point in towns and villages, and rang throughout the battlefields. They allowed the sentiments of the rebellion to become alive in song. Displaying an ease of adaptation, their words of struggle for freedom were often set to familiar British melodies that had travelled to the colonies. For instance, the anthem “God Save the King” transformed into “God Save the Thirteen States” or, as it now is sung, “Our Country, Tis of Thee.”
Martial music, a couple of arrangements by Alexander Reinagle (1756-1809) that we will present this evening, reflects a popular trend in composition in the Thirteen Colonies from 1770. Reinagle was born in Portsmouth, England, the son of Austrian parents, and one of the more gifted composers who emigrated to the United States. He studied composition with the Englishman Raynor Taylor (1747-1825), a chorister at King’s Chapel Royal who sang at Händel’s funeral in 1759 and also eventually sailed to the USA.
The ragtag American military bands were normally limited to fifes and drums, while the British camps boasted the more regal oboes and bassoons. One of the most famous revolutionary songs was “Yankee Doodle,” the tune of which migrated from the Old Country already in the 1750’s. The origin of the song’s title is not clear, however one theory claims that “doodle” stems from “tootle” as in “tootling” the German flute that was such a popular musical instrument amongst the gentlemen folk of that era. In fact, British soldiers first taunted the Yankees in Massachusetts with this air. The patriots appropriated the song, altering the words and quickly it became forever synonymous with American nationalism. At the final surrender of the British forces at the Battle of Yorktown, Lord Cornwallis is quoted as uttering, “I hope to God I’ll never hear that damned tune again!”
“The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are in much need of one…”
Public address during the Civil War, 18 April 1864
Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865)
It is very revealing, especially in the times in which we now live, to read such resonant words from former US Presidents and Statesmen on the subjects of liberty and freedom. Thomas Jefferson believed in the natural harmony in society, so much so that he hoped it would eventually replace the need for governmental authority. After the chains of the monarchical government had been removed, he along with similar optimistic thinkers in America believed the good in society would be solid enough to bind the communities together and prosper freely. For a moment, in the midst of their struggle for independence, the young nation sought a place of “greater perfection and happiness than mankind has yet seen.”
“All eyes are opened…to the rights of man.”
Thomas Jefferson, shortly before his death on 4 July 1826,
50 years after adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
© Jennifer Morsches, 2007