Food for Apollo: Cultivated Music in Antebellum Philadelphia

By Tomasewski, Sarah | Notes, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Food for Apollo: Cultivated Music in Antebellum Philadelphia


Tomasewski, Sarah, Notes


Food for Apollo: Cultivated Music in Antebellum Philadelphia. By Dorothy T. Potter. (Studies in Eighteenth-Century America and the Atlantic World.) Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 2011. [234 p. ISBN 9781611460025. $65.] Illustrations, appendices, bibliography, index.

Philadelphia has long been recognized as one of the United States' principal cultural centers, known in particular for its early publishing houses, musical institutions, and concert life. In her most recent publication, historian Dorothy Potter explores this rich landscape and explicitly aims to bring together historical and musicological research by focusing on musical practice and performance between 1786 and 1861. A welcome addition to the relatively small body of new scholarship devoted to antebellum music in Philadelphia, Potter's investigation draws from a rich collection of primary and secondary sources from across disciplines. Her chronological study considers the rise of what she refers to as "cultivated" music, foregrounding a series of events in Philadelphia's history that she situates within the city's changing cultural and physical landscape.

Potter begins by setting the colonial scene in 1700, broadly describing the musical opinions and practices of Pennsylvania's early Quaker, Mennonite, and Moravian settlers. She maps both the sacred and secular music of this period onto the social and political scene, while also highlighting music in relation to religious ideologies. Likewise, she discusses several leading musical figures, including psalmbook compiler Henry Ainsworth, singing masters Andrew Adgate and James Lyon, and composer William Billings. In addition, Potter underlines the cultural ties the colonies shared with England, drawing evidence from similarities between their respective repertoires and publications. She argues for the extent to which American practices came from England and explores the influence of British-trained musicians such as Alexander Reinagle, Benjamin Carr, and George Gillingham. These professionals, Potter maintains, "laid the foundations for a cultural revolution," via their "composing and publishing skills, and the many contemporary European works they imported and performed . . . which became as permanent as that which Franklin, Washington, Hopkinson, and Jefferson had launched in 1776" (p. 33).

In the remaining four chapters, Potter connects nonmusical events with some of the European repertoire as it appeared in the United States. She draws connections between the political upheavals such as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, noting for instance how they resulted in the migration of European music publishers to American cities like Philadelphia (p. 118). All the while, she paints a vivid backdrop by including detail about the streetscapes, theaters, and music stores where these musical events played out. Together, Potter uses this body of extensive and detailed research to show how nonmusical events informed musical practices in antebellum Philadelphia. Her approach- multi-faceted, wide-ranging, and detailed- intends to provide a more comprehensive understanding, but risks glossing over the information.

In her introduction, Potter carefully acknowledges the modern constructs of "popular" and "classical" music-two of the categorical distinctions that often prove problematic in discussions of antebellum music (see Ralph P. Locke and Cyrilla Barr, "Introduction: Music Patronage as a Female- Centered Cultural Process," in Cultivating Music in America: Women Patrons and Activists since 1860, ed. Ralph P. Locke and Cyrilla Barr [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997], 1-2. See also Ralph P. Locke, "Music Lovers, Patrons, and the "Sacralization" of Culture in America," 19th-Century Music 17, no. 2 [Autumn 1993]: 149-73). Although her employment of these terms is not made entirely clear, Potter seems to rely on H. Wiley Hitch - cock's earlier classification of the terms "cultivated" and "vernacular" (see H. …

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