Alexander Reinagle

Biography

Born: 1748; Edinburgh, Scotland   Died: September 21, 1809; Baltimore, MA  
Although Alexander Reinagle's baptismal certificate, recorded in Portsmouth, England, gives a date of April 23, 1756, Reinagle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, between 1748 and 1750 to a Scottish mother and a Hungarian father who was a professional musician. Reinagle first studied music with his father, and later with Raynor Taylor in Edinburgh. In early adulthood, Reinagle made his living in the shipping trade, taking several voyages to the Read more American South in the 1770s. In Edinburgh, Reinagle taught keyboard and occasionally played concerts at the Edinburgh Royal Theater. By 1778, Reinagle was in Glasgow and there published his earliest music, including his Collection of Scots Tunes with Variations (1782), which was popularized in the American colonies through a Philadelphia print made in 1787. In 1784 Reinagle met his idol, Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, in Hamburg. In 1786 Reinagle decided to try his luck in the newly liberated American colonies, ultimately settling in Philadelphia. Reinagle revived Philadelphia's dormant City Concerts series and ran them on a subscription basis until 1794.

From 1791, Reinagle worked with actor Thomas Wignell in The New Company, creating ballad operas and other productions for the Chestnut Street Theater in Philadelphia and The Holliday Street Theater in Baltimore, both of which opened in 1794. The New Company presented the first native North American operas produced by a full-time theatrical concern, and Reinagle worked on some 75 New Company productions. He continued to give music lessons in Philadelphia, and one of his students was Nellie Custis, President George Washington's daughter. When Washington died in 1799, Reinagle composed a Monody on the Death of George Washington. This and practically all of Reinagle's music for the stage perished when the Chestnut Street Theater burned down in 1820. When Thomas Wignell died in 1803, Reinagle moved to Baltimore, working at the Holliday Street Theater until his own death in 1809. In 1904 Reinagle's grandson discovered the manuscripts of four piano sonatas written by the composer in the late 1780s and donated them to the Library of Congress. These works constitute the oldest known keyboard music of substance to be written in American colonies, and are of exceptional quality, strongly reflecting the influence of Carl Philip Emanuel Bach in their use of expressive nuances and unusual treatment of meter. Reinagle also published many songs, dances, and descriptive works, some inspired by the Revolutionary War. Read less