Concerts often offered standard works as well as original compositions by the performers. Such names as Stamitz, Gretry, Vanhall, Boccherini, Pleyel, Martini and Handel were usually encountered.
Haydn was represented by symphonies, piano sonatas, an occasional trio, and numerous “overtures” and “finales”, probably first and last movements, respectively, of symphonies. Mozart’s name does not appear as often as that of Haydn, but there are references to his piano sonatas and other works. Handel was performed frequently; the Messiah was first presented in New York in 1770. Many concerts in America offered selections from the Messiah, and often when a chorus was available, the “Hallelujah” Chorus would be sung, sometimes “with an accompaniment of kettledrums”. The overtures to Handel’s oratorios were favorites – such works as Samson, and the opera, Otho. The march from Judas Maccabeus was often performed.
Washington, known to be a frequent concert-goer, must have been familiar with much of the music performed in his day. O. G. Sonneck, in his essay on “The Musical Side of Our First President”, has noted a number of concerts which Washington is known to have attended, and has described their programs. Still another program is particularly interesting, for it was offered in Philadelphia in the Spring of 1787, four days after the Constitutional Convention had assembled (May 25.) Under the date of May 29th Washington noted in his diary that he “accompanied Mrs. Morris to the benefit concert of a Mr. Juhan”. The Pennsylvania Packet printed the program of Mr. Juhan’s concert:
Grand Overture Martini
Solo Violin (newly composed) Juhan
Overture to the Deserter [a ballad opera, by Monsigny]
Concerto Flute Brown
Sonato Piano Forte Reinagle
Concerto Violoncello Capron
Concert Violin Cramer
Sonata Guittar Capron
(By desire) the Overture to Rosina [ballad opera, by Shield]
The works of Reinagle on this program are of especial interest, for Reinagle was one of the most important musicians who came to America from Europe in the latter eighteenth century. Several of his works have recently been reprinted in modern editions, and it is evident that while he was no great genius, he was nevertheless a well equipped musician, possessed of taste and imagination. Before coming to America in 1786 he had been an intimate friend of Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach. It is generally supposed that he was engaged as the music teacher of Washington’s step-grand-daughter, Nelly Custis, whom Washington adopted legally when her father died.
Reinagle was important also as a theatrical manager, for in 1793, in association with Thomas Wignell, he built and managed the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, which presented brilliant seasons at the nation’s capital during Washington’s second administration. Washington was always a lover of the theatre, and attended it frequently from his early manhood in Virginia, where plays were given at Fredericksburg and Williamsburg.
The theatre and music were inseparably associated in eighteenth century America, for many of the theatrical performances were ballad-operas – plays interspersed with music, somewhat like our present day musical comedies. Often, too, the actors would sing popular songs between the acts of the drama.
The Beggar’s Opera, by Gay and Pepusch; Rosina, by Shield; The Mountaineers, by Arnold; Love in a Village, by Arne and others; No Song, No Supper, by Storace, were among the favorites. The songs from these plays were also the popular songs of the day, and many of them were traditional ballads.