Born: June 4, 1770
Died: August 2, 1827
Country: United States of America
Like most early American pioneers of serious music, James Hewitt was not born an American. Hewitt, who during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries established himself in both New York City and Boston as a successful composer-conductor and also a keen-minded publisher, was born in England on the fourth of June, 1770. He learned the violin and the organ as a young man, and after arriving in the United States in 1792 he organized aRead more series of concerts whose programs announced that he had previously played violin in the London court orchestra under Franz Joseph Haydn. The validity of this claim has been questioned, but it certainly served its purpose: very soon after arriving in the New World, Hewitt landed a job directing music activities at the Park Street Theatre in New York. He remained with that theater until 1808, dividing his time between his conducting and composing duties and the running of a music store. In 1811 Hewitt moved to Boston, where he played organ at the Trinity Church and oversaw the music and musicians of the Federal Street Theatre. In 1817 or so it was back to New York for good, though he did travel often during his last years. He died while visiting Boston in 1827, but his musical spirit lived on through the successful musical careers of some of his children.
James Hewitt might or might not have ever played under Haydn. He definitely did, however, have a taste for the man's music, performing and conducting it often during his early days in New York; in 1893 he presented the American premiere of Haydn's Seven Last Words. As a composer, Hewitt was constrained by the commercial necessities of his time, and even if he had been skilled enough to compose large-scale concert music of a deep and serious kind, he never could have sold it. So the music that he did compose is largely of lighter build: stage works like the Indian Chief (1794) and the Tars from Tripoli (1807) and programmatic instrumental compositions like the Overture in Nine Parts, Expressive of a Battle (1792), represent the taste of the time. Hewitt did, however, compose a series of piano sonatas that, though hardly comparable in ingenuity with their European models, are better fare than most Americans of the day might have drawn up. He also penned several dozen songs and dances. Read less