Anthony Philip Heinrich: The Barbeque Divertimento

July 4, 2006

Appropriate to that most American of American holidaze, July 4, it seems appropriate to pull out some old American music. This composer wasn’t born here: he fled Bohemia in 1813 and settled near Bardtown, Kentucky. While convalescing in Kentucky one year, a friend encouraged him to take up composing, which he did for the last 43 years of his life. I’ve heard there are “trunkfuls” of his music. I’m referring to Anthony Philip Heinrich (1781 – 1861) who was known by his contemporaries as the “Beethoven of Louisville.” I know very little of his music but would love to know more. Prof Neely Bruce has been his “Mendelssohn” by putting out a fine LP/CD (both out of print) called “The Dawning of America in Kentucky” where we hear quirky and brilliant pieces called: “Hail To Kentucky,” “Epitaph on Joan Buff” (poor girl sneezed herself to death), and the piece you will hear now: “The Barbeque Divertimento.” Today I’ll only play the second section, “The Banjo.” Professor Neely helps us perceive the marvel of this little Kentucky jewel:

“The Banjo” is one of Heinrich’s most amazing compositional achievements. It is a nonrepetitive free form, but it bears little or no relationship to the classical fantasy and other free forms of the period. It is in the same tempo from the beginning to the end, except for the last few seconds, a procedure never followed in the fantasy. It is a rambling piece but it rambles very strictly. It gives no appearance of being improvised. Rather, it is the musical equivalent of stream-of-consciousness prose. As such it is virtually unique in the entire 19th century that composer, Charles Ives, for example, achieve similar effects over such long spans of time. This quality is not the only Ivesian aspect of “The Banjo.” It is riddled with quotiations, “Yankee Doodle,” “God Save the King,” a suggestion of “Turkey in the Straw” and perhaps some other fiddle tumes. […] His nonfunctional approach to harmony, prefering stasis or nondirected motion to classical models of harmonic movement, and the occasional retrogrades which appear in his pieces (he has at least two palindromes in his pieces)…

Here is Professor Neely Bruce performing “The Banjo” which is part 2 of “The Barbeque Divertimento.”

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