Mozart and the Founding Fathers


In honor of Mozart's birthday on January 27th, we look to a curious Mozart connection or two crossing the Atlantic.


Mozart was a son of Austria and toured central and western Europe, but never left the continent. Mozart’s music, though, made its way across the Atlantic and was familiar in at least some circles at the birth of the republic. His symphonies weren't commonly performed in the United States into the mid-1800’s, but the founding fathers certainly heard Mozart works for smaller ensembles or solo pieces.


George Washington had sheet music of Mozart works, and presumably heard performances of Mozart sonatas and minuets, and attended, it would seem, the first Mozart symphony performed in the U.S., in 1784, the Paris Symphony in D Major.


Thomas Jefferson is said to have met Mozart in Paris, and certainly loved his music. He appears to have discussed commissioning a work on behalf of his deceased wife, though it did not come to pass- Jefferson commented on Mozart's "ineptness and lack of grace […] The gentleman is socially uncouth and frivolous"; perhaps that is what ended the possible commission.


Benjamin Franklin on the other hand not only met Mozart in Paris, but Mozart even composed several pieces for the musical Franklin had invented, the glass harmonica or ‘armonica’.




Here is Mozart's Adagio K 617a for the Franklin glass armonica. The video even shows a (1926) painting of Benjamin Franklin playing one.


If Europe would not go to America, Americans could go to Europe.

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