MUSIC FOR THE FIRST PRESIDENT
The music in this recording is music that George Washington knew or might have heard in his home or in the streets, in taverns and theaters, on the parade ground, the battle field, or in ballrooms and concert
halls. Over half of the pieces are American compositions, two were locally composed lyrics set to older British tunes, and eight are British imports. Five were composed specifically to honor Washington.
"'Tis Washington's health, fill a bumper all round" - Francis Hopkinson's 1778 composition A TOAST reflects the conviviality that was an important part of life in early America. Music served as social glue as friends played, danced and sang together. Songs sometimes roused people to action as in the
1776 patriot lyrics beginning "Vain Britons boast no longer, with proud indignity" (GEN. WASHINGTON). Often they told stories about heros like Gen. James Wolfe at Quebec in 1759 (THE DEATH OF GENERAL WOLFE) or George Washington entering New York in 1783 (HE COMES, THE HERO COMES!).
Washington loved music and valued it for its practical as well as its emotional impact. When he arrived in Boston to take command of the Continental Army, among his first orders were to organize the
fifers and drummers who played the camp duty music and the field signals. In Valley Forge in 1778 he gave 15 shillings to members of Proctor's band of music who trudged through the snow to serenade him on
his birthday. He also appointed an Inspector of Music to bring more uniformity to the regimental musicians and their repertory. When Washington went on trips, he brought home music books as gifts for his
step-daughter, Patsy. Later in life, he listened with joy as his step-granddaughter Nellie played his favorite songs on the harpsichord for her beloved Grandpapa.
Washington's early years were spent in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His father died when he was 11 and his two older half-brothers served in loco parentis, introducing him to the modes of behavior appropriate to the gentry of Virginia and to the leaders of society. When he was 16, he was enrolled with a music master but his interest was short-lived. Washington's heart lay elsewhere-in the out-of-doors, in farming, in hunting and in military life.
When he became an officer and landowner, Washington had occasion to visit the colonial capitols of Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia, New York and Boston to meet with governors and leading citizens. Balls, assemblies, private parties and clubs were an important part of his social life, serving as venues for diplomacy and networking as well as romance. The music of these times is reflected in the music composed or arranged to amuse members of The Tuesday Club in Annapolis, several of whom were acquaintances of Washington. This was a group of local gentlemen who met regularly between 1745 and 1756 to share a meal, sing rowdy songs and tell stories. A MINUET BY THE REVERD. MR. BACON as well as the lyrics of several popular comic songs are preserved in the minutes of the club's meetings.
After his service in the French and Indian War, Washington courted and wed Martha Parke Custis and moved into his deceased brother's home MOUNT VERNON. During this time Martha ordered two collections of songs from her agent in London: The Bull-Finch (London: R. Baldwin, c.1757) and The Muse's Delight (Dublin: John Sadler, 1754). The first of these is still at Mount Vernon. Washington himself wrote his bride's new name on the title page: "Martha Washington 1759." Inside are hundreds of lyrics of popular songs, including ORPHEUS AND EURIDICE and another in a similar vein, OF ALL THE SIMPLE THINGS WE DO.
Old tunes and songs were the backbone of most British-American colonists' musical heritage. Some retained their old lyrics (THERE WAS A JOLLY MILLER), and some lost them and continued as marching or dancing melodies (SWEET RICHARD). Still others of European decent took on new American names, such as the popular dance tune JEFFERSON AND LIBERTY. New music was written locally. MARCH TO BOSTON celebrates the New England militia's uprising in support of Boston when the British took the city in 1775. LORD HOWE'S JIG, a commentary on Sir William Howe's lack of ability to put down the rebellion in America, appeared in London in 1776. STONY POINT was written on this side of the water to commemorate General Anthony Wayne's taking of that fort on the Hudson River in 1779.
GEN. WASHINGTON, also known as "War and Washington," combines political bravado with hero making. While Washington was known as a brave Indian fighter, his appointment as Commander-in-Chief over the New England troops in Boston was a source of local disgruntlement. However, his tact and personal charisma soon won support, and songs like this show the beginning of the elevation of Washington to legendary status.
THE DRUM is a typical British recruiting song. Like BRAVE WOLFE, it gives a glimpse into the life of soldiers of the times. The old lyrics of a Scottish song, WHITE COCKADE, reflected service in the army from the woman's point of view: "But now he makes our hearts fu' sad, he takes the field wi' his white cockade." LADY WASHINGTON shows the impact of military life on a wife. This song describes Martha wandering across the battle field looking for her hero, George. It was written some time after the battle of Monmouth in 1778.
A variant of Henry Carey's HE COMES, THE HERO COMES! greeted Washington and Governor George Clinton as they rode triumphantly into New York City on November 25, 1783 after the British army withdrew. Following the war, Washington went home to Mount Vernon where he and Martha settled in for what they hoped would be a life of farming the plantation and watching Martha's grandchildren grow up. But his retirement was not to be. In 1787 Washington participated in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and in 1789 he was unanimously elected first President of the new United States of America. Philip Phile, a German soldier-musician who chose to remain in America when the British left, wrote THE PRESIDENT'S MARCH to celebrate the inauguration.
Washington loved to attend the theater, and his presence guaranteed a full house. The populace crowded in as much to see him as to see the drama. Managers took advantage of advance warning by advertising in the day's newspaper: " We hear that the President of the United States will honour the theatre with his presence, this evening" (Pennsylvania Journal, January 5, 1791). On that night the comedy of the evening was The Poor Soldier (GOOD MORROW TO YOUR NIGHT CAP), and the evening included stage dances by John Durang (DURANG'S HORNPIPE). In his memoir, Durang described Washington's arrival at a theater in Philadelphia. "When Gen'l Washington visited the theatre, the east stage box was decorated with the United States coat of arms over the box. [Manager Thomas] Wignell, dress'd in black and powdered, with two silver candlesticks would wait at the box door to receive him and light him to his seat. . . . [Washington's] dress was a black velvet coat flap waisted, small clothes and shoes all of velvet, with the old fashioned cut-silver knee and shoe buckles, cocked hat, a large black stick with the Pennsylvania coat of arms on a silver head, followed by a trusty dog." THE PRESIDENT'S MARCH was often played by the pit orchestra in his honor. It may have been in the theater or perhaps at a private dancing party that Pierre Landrin Duport presented two young students to dance a FANCY MINUET for Washington in 1792.
In 1797, after two terms as President, Washington retired again to Mount Vernon. Two years later, on December 14, 1799, he died. The country was overwhelmed with grief. On the 18th, the mournful strains of a FUNERAL DIRGE by I. Decker echoed over the Potomac, played by the Alexandria band of music as the family carried the coffin to the tomb. As the news spread, memorials were held throughout the land. Peter A. van Hagen's composition FUNERAL DIRGE ON THE DEATH OF GENERAL WASHINGTON was performed during a service in far-off Boston. His lyrics summed up Americans' feelings about their loss.
Assembled round the patriot's grave,
Pity O Lord, a nation's sighs.
We mourn our chief, the warrior brave;
Low in the dust the Hero lies.
--Kate Van Winkle Keller
from George Washington: Music for the First
President -- A Companion Music Book