In the midst of the Revolutionary War, General George Washington attended the 1776
New Year’s service at Christ Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The church’s organ had recently been dismantled so its lead pipes could
be recycled for ammunition, so a soldier accompanied the singing on the “bass
viola” instead./1/ This
instrument, now widely known as the “American” or “Yankee” bass, is
essentially a large, crudely-made cello, manufactured from the mid-18th
century in Boston and New Hampshire to serve as a church bass in communities
where organs could not be afforded. Extant
examples of the Yankee bass are now in the musical instrument collections at
Yale University and Boston’s Museum
of Fine Arts, and the director of the Yale collection reports that other such
instruments continue to turn up in the basements of New England churches./2/
century colonists referred to the Yankee bass as the “bass viol”, “bass
viola,” or “bass violin,” although “real” bass violas da gamba had
been brought to America by the original Puritan colonists during the first half
of the 17th century./3/
18th century written descriptions of concerts and advertisements for
lessons in colonial cities, “bass viol” and “violoncello” seem to have
been used interchangeably. For
example, an 1765 announcement for a public concert in Charleston, then among the four largest
cities in what would become the United States of America, mentions a “Solo on
the Violincello”[sic]/4/, but seven years later an account of a similar
Charleston concert describes the “grand” effect of the “two bass
members of the Renewed Moravian Church came to America and settled at Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania in 1741, they most likely brought string instruments with them from
Europe. Many of the church’s
elders were accomplished composers, and musical style in the American Moravian
settlements kept up with developments in central Europe.
Moravian musicians copied and preserved for posterity works by the
Stamitzes, Haydn, Mozart, and the Bach family, and performed these works in the
settlements long before they were heard in the colonial cities. Some of the
earliest chamber music composed in the New World, such as the string quintets of
Johann Friedrich Peter (1746-1813), came from the Moravian communities, where
instrumental music was just as important a part of everyday life as the hymns
for voices, organ, and strings composed for church services.
One such hymn, “Lobet Gott den Herrn” by Johann Ludwig Freydt, is of
particular interest to cellists, for it contains a mildly challenging part for
“Violoncello vel Violino obligato.”/6/
is slight but encouraging evidence that Thomas Jefferson played not only the
violin, but our instrument as well.
One of Jefferson’s college friends was future Virginia governor “John
Tyler...whose cellist’s bow arm Jefferson admired.”
Based on this information, gleaned from a letter in the Tyler family
archives, Helen Cripe suggests in her book Thomas
Jefferson and Music that the writer of the Declaration of Independence and
third U. S. President was himself a cellist./7/ Another American founding father
with special feelings toward the cello and a particular player was Benjamin
Franklin, who aside from his work as a statesman had been active in Philadelphia
as a composer, music publisher, and inventor of musical instruments since the
1730’s. Franklin greatly admired
the Scottish cellist and composer James Oswald, whom he had apparently heard in
London. Arguing against the
“tricks” of contemporary composition and performance practice in an 1765
letter, Franklin gives a nod of approval to Oswald’s approach: “Whoever has
heard James Oswald play [the old Tunes] on his Violoncello, will be less
inclin’d to dispute this with me. I
have more than once seen Tears of Pleasure in the Eyes of his Auditors.” /8/
in other colonial cities, European musicians had been teaching and performing on
the cello in Philadelphia as early as the 1750’s, when advertisements for
cello lessons and cellos for sale first appeared in New York and Philadelphia
newspapers. In mid-eighteenth
century Philadelphia, the cello was used in public concerts such as those
organized by the Italian immigrant violinist and composer (also a wine merchant), John
(formerly Giovanni) Gualdo,
and by the locally-born harpsichordist and composer (also a lawyer who would
later sign the Declaration of Independence),
Francis Hopkinson. It was also found in the house orchestras of the city’s
musical theaters. This form of
entertainment enjoyed unrivalled popularity until it was outlawed during the
Revolutionary War. Musical theater
was reintroduced (legally) to Philadelphia in the 1780’s, when a new influx of
European musicians helped revive the musical activities of the city./9/
Reinagle-Schetky Cello Axis during the Federal Period
of these musicians was Alexander Reinagle, of Austrian ancestry and Scottish
birth, whose stature as a composer had already been acknowledged by
C. P. E. Bach. Alexander (I refer
to him by his first name for reasons that will soon become obvious) was born in
the same year as Mozart and died in the same year as Haydn, and gave his first
American performance at New York City’s Assembly Room in July of 1786. The program of this concert identifies him as the composer
and performer of a piano sonata, and as the cellist
in a duet with violinist Philip Phile, who had been concertmaster of the Old
American Company in Philadelphia since 1784./10/
isolated reference creates a situation similar to that of Jefferson’s
suspected cello playing. In
Alexander’s case, family circumstances make it plausible for him to have
performed on the instrument: at least four family members—two brothers, a
brother-in-law, and a nephew—were professional cellists.
Shortly before sailing for America, Alexander had been in Lisbon for the
funeral of his brother Hugh, who had been such an accomplished cellist that
their older brother Joseph had given up the cello in favor of the violin./11/
But when Hugh died, Joseph felt “a great desire to support the name his
brother had so justly acquired as a violoncellist, [and] resumed the study of
the violoncello, which he has ever since professed.” Joseph, who later enjoyed
“Haydn’s intimate acquaintance and friendship” as principal cellist at
Salomon’s concerts in London, had studied cello in Edinburgh with the
Reinagles’ brother-in-law, J. S. C. Schetky (1737-1824),
a German-born cellist then reputed as one of Scotland’s leading composers./12/
1792, their nephew J. George Schetky (1776-1831), one of Schetky and the
Reinagle sister’s eleven children, joined uncle Alexander in Philadelphia,
where Alexander had become the music director of the Old American Company.
George, also a cellist, would soon enjoy success as a music publisher in
partnership with another important Philadelphia musical theater composer,
Benjamin Carr. The younger Schetky
had probably come to the US with Alexander’s composition teacher, Rayner
Taylor(1747-1825), who as a youth had sung at Handel’s funeral and had been
the music director at Sadler’s Wells in London before emigrating./13/
Misplaced Cello Solos
first in Annapolis, Taylor eventually established himself as a composer and
organist in Philadelphia. Although
best remembered for his stage works, Taylor also composed instrumental works
which are recognized as “attractive examples of the “London style.”
Taylor’s set of Six Solos for
violoncello may be the earliest cello sonatas composed in the United States, and
were perhaps written for Alexander Reinagle’s nephew George, the “American
1936, conductor and former Philadelphia Orchestra principal cellist Hans Kindler
gave the unpublished manuscript of the Solos to the Library of Congress for safe-keeping.
Ironically, the Taylor cello manuscript was promptly mislaid, or more
accurately, misbound, inside a set of the elder Schetky’s Sonatas (another
Kindler gift) and cataloged under Schetky’s name./15/
It has since been relocated at least three times: in the 1950’s, when
Italian-American cellist Luigi Silva recorded selections on an LP release; in
the 1970’s, when Elizabeth Cowling reported its whereabouts in her book, The
Cello; and in 1996, when two Arizona State University faculty members sent a
graduate student to Washington, D.C. to track it down yet again in preparation
for a modern edition of the sonatas./16/
the year 2000, with the help of pianist Martin Buchvarov and a photocopy of the
manuscript from the Library of Congress, I prepared a performing version of Solo
No. 2 in D Major./17/
Martin’s imaginative realization of the figured bass introduces
figuration and motivic imitation derived from the cello line to bring an equal
share of the musical interest to the keyboard part.
Solo No. 2,
with three compact and highly contrasting movements, is in my opinion the
most effective of these sonatas. The first movement is quite classical in its
symmetrical phrase lengths and semblance of an exposition with two themes,
although the development is a minor-key episode rather than a true working out
of the themes. The almost tragic
slow movement in the relative minor leads with a Phrygian cadence to a lively
perpetual motion “jigg” in 6/8
time. Throughout this sonata, Taylor takes
advantage of the cello’s upper-tenor register and of various string-crossing
effects, often alternating melody notes with the open A or D string. Taylor’s Solo
No. 2 is in my opinion just as “American” as a fuguing tune or a Yankee
bass, and together with the rest of the set is
a satisfying musical culmination to this chapter of American cello history.
Contemporary letter quoted in
Ellinwood, Leonard Webster. History
of American Church Music.
New York: Morehouse-Gorham Co., 1953, pp. 57-8.
Conversation with Nicholas Renouf, Director,
Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, New Haven, Connecticut, June
2001. See also A Yankee Lyre: Musical
Instruments by American Makers, Yale
University Collection exhibition catalogue, 1985.
Chase, Gilbert. America’s Music, From the Pilgrams to the Present.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955, 1966 (revised edition).
Music in the New World.
New York and London: W. W.
Norton and Co., announcment reprinted on p. 84.
Knouse, Nola Reed and Crews, C. Daniel. Moravian
Music: An Introduction. Winston-Salem:
Moravian Music Foundation, 1996, pp. 1-10. The
first page of the Freydt hymn obbligato part is reproduced on p.9.
Cripe, Helen. Thomas Jefferson and Music. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of
Virginia, p. 14,
based on information from Lyon G. Tylor, Letters
and Times of the Tylers (Richmond, 1884, II, p. 55).
Letter to Lord Kames of June 2, 1765, quoted in
Chase, pp. 80-81 (see note 3).
Sonneck, Oscar G. T.
Francis Hopkinson and James Lyon.
New York: Da Capo Press, 1967 (reprint
of first edition, Washington, D.C.,
pp. 10-25, 40-58.
Drummond, Robert Rutherford. Early
German Music in Philadelphia. New
York: Da Capo Press, 1970 (reprint
of University of Pennsylvania/D. Appleton & Company, 1910), pp. 57-61.
Assembly Room program quoted in Hamm, p. 97 (see note 4).
Sainsbury, John S., ed.
“Reinagle, (Joseph.)” in
Musicians from the Earliest Times. New York: Da Capo
Press, 1966 (unabridged
republication of the first edition
published in London in 1825), vol. 2, pp. 348-9.
Hamm, p. 106.
The spelling of Taylor’s first name, inconsistent even during his
lifetime, continues to incite debate. See
Clark, Bunker and Hermann, Myrl Duncan, “On “Raynor” vs. “Rayner”
Taylor” in The Bulletin of the Society for American Music, Vol. XXVIII, Nos. 2
and 3, 2002, pp. 28 and 41.
Cowling, Elizabeth. The
Cello. New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1983 (second expanded edition),
Metz, John and Bailey-Metz, Barbara, ed. Raynor Taylor Chamber Music. Middleton, WI: A-R
Editions Recent Researches in American Music (A43),
17. Taylor, R. Six
Solos for Violon Cello. Manuscript
held in Washington, D. C., Library of Congress Music Division, undated.
Results from a watermark analysis initiated by the Metzes indicate that
the manuscript was copied in the United States, not in England.
Our version of Solo No. 2 was first performed in December 2003 as a
recital opener in Kazanluk and Sofia, Bulgaria.