Thomas Jefferson

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by


Thomas Jefferson – 

 Thomas Jefferson was a lifelong musical enthusiast. He was a keen violinist, and notated his copy of  Francesco Geminiani’s The Art of playing on the violin (1751) with quotations from Jean-Jacques Rousseau  His large collection of music including the works of the greatest composers of his day, CPE Bach, Handel, Mozart and Haydn., whose music he had heard at Les Concerts Spirituels  after his arrival in Paris in 1784.

 Later, he made a point of commissioning British instrument makers, such as the harpsichord maker Kirckman, and corresponded enthusiastically with  with like-minded enthusiasts, such as Charles Burney. Jefferson owned a number of Burney’s works on music, and later became a friend of Burney, who supervised the building of his daughter Patsy’s harpsichord.

 1801: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

 Perhaps his vision, of ‘Peace, Commerce and honest Friendship’ was partially modelled on his experiences of collective ebb and flow of chamber music, of which he was an ardent devotee, and which was the centre of daily life at his idealised home,  Monticello.

In 1785, he explained his passion for the arts to James Madison:

 ‘You see that I am an enthusiast on the subject of the arts. But it is an enthusiasm of which I am not ashamed, as its object is to improve the taste of my countrymen, to increase their reputation, to reconcile to them the respect of the world and procure them its praise.’  to James Madison, September 201785

 One might say that the only hierarchy that he was willing to accept was that based on the notion of talent essnential to artistic ability, as he explained to John Adams.

 ‘I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.’

 During his time in Paris, Jefferson was introduced to Maria and Riachard Cosway by the artist John Trumbull. He and Maria formed a passionate attachement., centred on their music-making together. Helen Cripe, in her pioneering work on Jefferson, the musician, wrote:

 ‘Shortly before Maria left Paris in October 1786, Jefferson sent her a copy of ‘Jour Heureux’, a favourite air from Sacchini’s opera, Dardnaus….it is possible that they saw the opera in Paris on 3rd October pf that year. “I send you the song I promised-bring me in return its subject, Jours heureux!’ Two months later Maria sent him the book of Italian songs for voice and harp that she had composed.’

 


Engraving of Geminiani by Lambert, 2005.2022, Foyle Menuhin

Thomas Jefferson and Music, Helen Cripe, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1974, P.10

The Age of Napoleon, J.Christopher Herold, American Heritage Publishing Co., New York, 1983, P.307

Thomas Jefferson and Music, Helen Cripe, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1974, P.10

The papers of Thomas Jefferson, 17 Volumes, Princeton University Press, 1950, VIIIm P.535,  

Letter to John Adams 28th October 1813, in PL Ford The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P.425

 Thomas Jefferson and Music, Helen Cripe, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1974,Pp.21-2

Thomas Jefferson and Music, Helen Cripe, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1974,P.79

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