James Hewitt at 250

James Hewitt was born on this day--June 4--in 1770 in England and died in 1827 in Boston. Two things stand out right away: first, he is a near exact contemporary of Ludwig van Beethoven, and second, he was in the United States when the United States was itself in its infancy.

Indeed, Hewitt was in New York by 1792, a scant ten years after the Revolutionary War ended. Though he had published a little bit in London, it was in America that he established himself as a music publisher and composer. The RISM database contains ca. 270 editions published by Hewitt in places including New York and Boston (search for James Hewitt in the Advanced Search under Publisher, or follow this link and filter by Publisher). British composers played a large role here: Charles Dibdin, James Hook, William Shield, Stephen Storace comprise 40% of his publishing output in RISM.

Yet it is in his own compositions that Hewitt seems to embrace the character of his adopted homeland. I'm not sure what it would have been like for an English composer to try to make a name for himself in what used to be enemy territory. But compositions with titles such as "The Battle of Trenton" (an American victory in the Revolutionary War), "The Federal Constitution and Liberty Forever" (image), "New Yankee Doodle," and "The Patriot" align Hewitt fully with symbols of the young country. Hewitt even dedicated his sonata "The Battle of Trenton" to the first president, George Washington (and also named his third son after the man). The piano music is peppered with programmatic elements that come out in performance: "The Army in Motion," "Drums beat to Arms."



The works of James Hewitt are only incompletely in RISM, most of them printed editions. Though he wrote as many as 92 vocal and 75 instrumental works, Hewitt's birth year of 1770 falls right at the cutoff point for the original A/I project that documented printed music. As our contributors add more music from the 19th century, we can look forward to more printed music from that time in RISM, and to rounding out Hewitt's musical offspring: pianist Sophia Henrietta Emma Hewitt (1799–1845), composer John Hill Hewitt (1801-1890), publisher James Lang Hewitt (1803–1853), and composer George Washington Hewitt (1811–1893).

Image: First page of James Hewitt's "The Federal Constitution & Liberty Forever," 1798. US-PIlevy Box 002, Item 011. RISM ID no. 991020567. Courtesy Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection, The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.  Available online (public domain).

 

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