“Monday Musings” for Monday June 29, 2015
Volume V. No. 26/234
Happy July 4th! Natal Anniversary of America and Mortal Anniversary of John Adams Thomas Jefferson -What Kind of Music Uncle T.J. Liked?
By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*
(Editor’s Note: This Monday, we had a conflict of content: two important events both worthy of observance are taking place. One, of course, is the forthcoming 239th natal anniversary of our beloved nation, the blessed and exceptional America. The other is the latest papal encyclical issued by Pope Francis. America won the context. We are devoting today’s ‘MM’ to the America’s birthday, and the ‘MM’ for Monday July 6, to the Pope.”
Happy 239th birthday to our beloved nation. We thought it is fitting to honor the US flag by flying it in today’s Monday Musings. On July 4, 1826, on the 50th golden anniversary of signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams died. Historians put his death at around 9:00 AM. Adams and Thomas Jefferson, political arch enemies for decades, had reconciled and become good friends and pen pals in the last two decades of their lives. They exchanged more than 300 letters before that fateful day, July 4 1826. According to reliable history, Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives…” not knowing that Thomas Jefferson too had died that morning at age of 83.
Tuesday July 4, 1826 was a very hot day. The sun seemed to have a notion of what was happening, since it hurriedly rose and climbed to the top of the sky in mid morning. No wonder, two US Presidents, both belonging to the super exclusive club of the “Founding Fathers of America”, both signatories to the Declaration of Independence, and one the actual author of that sacred document, died that morning on the same day.
Faithful readers of this space recall that we have examined the books the founding fathers read. In this essay and subsequent ones we will examine the music they loved and played. We will start with Thomas Jefferson. In a way, we celebrate July 4 by getting to know the musical taste of staggeringly curious and intellectually superior polymath of all time, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of our beloved nation.
Thomas Jefferson was an accomplished violinist. He even bought a pocket fiddle that accompanied him wherever he went. He was an active member of chamber music ensemble that played for the royal governor of Virginia. According to musicologist and former Meymandi Fellow at the National Humanities Center, the learned author and researcher, Professor Stuart Isacoff, Jefferson loved and admired Corelli, Haydn, Gluck, Handel, Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Boccherini, Stamitz, Clementi, and J. C. Bach (J. S. Bach’s youngest son). The 6500 volumes that Jefferson sold to the government which formed the nucleus of the Library of Congress, in addition to work of the above composers, contained sheet music by lesser known composers such as Padre Martini, Gaetano Pugnani, Ignaz Pleyel and Italianized German composer, Giovanni Adolfo Hass. Thomas Jefferson fell in love with a patrician beauty, a rich young widow, Martha Wayles Skelton whose favour he won in a competitive race with two other suitors by playing his violin when he courted her. Jefferson continued to practice daily and play his violin which Martha thoroughly enjoyed. He wanted to commission a piece to honor his beloved wife after her death. He was aware that Mr. Goldberg paid JS Bach to compose the Goldberg Variation. He even had a brief meeting with Mozart to discuss the matter, but somehow the commissioning never materialized. Jefferson’s not being fond of Mozart, because of Mozart’s “conduct” may have had something to do with the project not materializing. However, Jefferson recognized Mozart’s genius and loved his music.
Also, Jefferson liked Handel’s Messiah, Hayden’s solo cantatas, John Gay’s “the Beggar’s Opera” and many American folk songs and music of emerging American composers such as his fellow Declaration signer, Francis Hopkinson. In the writings of Jefferson’s grand daughter, Ellen Coolidge, who lived in Monticello, there are many references to Jefferson’s love for music. As the former president became older, he wrote more about music and spent more time collecting, humming and playing his various favorite composers.
Happy 4th to All. There is no place on earth like America, where the beacon of freedom continues to shine, where the flame of liberty continues to illuminate the landscape of humanity, where the rule of law and not the whim of Shahs, Mullahs and dictators is supreme. God Bless America.
*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).