Francis Hopkinson

Biography

Born: September 21, 1737; Philadelphia, PA   Died: May 9, 1791; Philadelphia, PA  
Francis Hopkinson, the famous American statesman and musician, was a graduate of the College of Philadelphia, the foremost educational institution in the city of his birth and death. Leaving the college (which later became the University of Pennsylvania) in 1757, Hopkinson was admitted to serve at the Pennsylvania Bar in 1761, at the age of just 24 years. With the outbreak of the Revolution, Hopkinson gave his allegiance to the patriot cause, Read more becoming a delegate to Congress in 1776, and adding his signature to the Declaration of Independence. He served as a judge from 1779 until his death in 1791. A man of keen intellect and many varied interests, Hopkinson was a talented amateur musician, singer, and composer. However, he was equally admired by contemporaries as an essayist and polemicist, and was a skilled designer. His inventions included a shaded candlestick for his music desk and a new technique for quilling a harpsichord.

Hopkinson began to play this instrument at 17. He copied music by various composers for his own study and his manuscripts indicate preferences for Anglo-Italian music popular in the mid-eighteenth century in London salons. Hopkinson played an important role in Philadelphia's musical life during the 1760s and early 1770s, often joining professional musicians in concerts. He was also active as a church musician, serving as organist at Philadelphia's Christ Church in the 1770s, when he also compiled tune books for use in congregational worship.

Hopkinson's best-known composition, the song for voice and harpsichord "My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free", of 1759, is considered to be the earliest surviving American secular composition. Almost 30 years later, Hopkinson published Seven Songs (Philadelphia, 1788), providing both texts and music. The preface contains the line "I cannot, I believe, be refused the credit of being the first native of the United States who has produced a musical composition." This claim was not based on his 1759 piece, which was never published. In addition, Hopkinson composed an anthem, two psalm settings, and several occasional pieces. He also compiled A Collection of Psalm Tunes in 1763 and The Psalms of David -- for the Use of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, published in New York in 1767. Read less

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