Anthony Philip Heinrich


Born: March 11, 1781; Schönbüchel, Bohemia   Died: May 3, 1861; New York, NY  
Anthony Philip Heinrich was an emblematic success story of the early United States. Aside from some childhood piano and violin lessons, he was largely a self-taught immigrant musician who rose to prominence as America's first recognized professional composer, grandly hailed as "the Beethoven of America."

Heinrich was adopted into an affluent branch of his German-Bohemian family, and inherited a successful
Read more business. Unfortunately, he lost his inheritance in the course of the 1811 Austrian financial crash. He tried twice to reestablish his business in the United States, without success; by 1820 he had resolved to give it all up and turn to a career in music. Before writing his own first composition (in 1818), Heinrich undertook two major treks: a 300-mile wilderness journey on foot from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and a 400-mile trip down the Ohio River to Kentucky. Heinrich would recount his personal experiences in America's wild places in his music. Among his earliest works are found such titles as The Dawning of Music in Kentucky, or The Pleasures of Harmony in the Solitudes of Nature (a collection of songs and violin and piano pieces) and The Sylviad, or Minstrelsy of Nature in the Wilds of N. America. He presented himself as a log-cabin, frontier composer (he wrote his first pieces under Walden-like conditions in Kentucky), and his works are preponderantly programmatic pieces inspired by America's nature, history, and peoples (he sympathetically evoked Native Americans, for example, in his first orchestral piece, Pushmataha).

Although his orchestral music was too complex for the limited abilities of the period's home-grown ensembles, the orchestras of America's principal cities frequently made valiant efforts on Heinrich's behalf. He helped organize the New York Philharmonic Society in 1842, he played his own music for President Tyler, and he made several extended trips to Europe, where the music of this unschooled American savage made a tremendous impression (the fact that he was born and bred in Europe no doubt improved his reception). Despite such acclaim on two continents, Heinrich ended his long life in poverty.

Heinrich's compositions are rough, perhaps needlessly complex in texture yet formally undeveloped, oddly chromatic, and beholden to Haydn, Italian opera (even though he wrote little vocal music), and classical dance forms. He also quoted popular tunes liberally. His music is eccentric but striking, and in different ways Heinrich may be seen as a forerunner to both Gottschalk and Ives. Read less

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