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Anthony Philip Heinrich

Anthony Philip Heinrich

Fact Sheet

Musical genre:Classical  
Anthony Philip Heinrich was an immigrant American composer. He was born in 1781 in Bohemia, and died in 1861 in New York City. He was the first significant American composer to write for symphony orchestra, and was also the first to conduct a Beethoven symphony in the United States (either the 1st or 3rd symphony, in Lexington, Kentucky in 1817).

Heinrich was born to a rich family in Bohemia; however his family was ruined during the Napoleonic wars and ensuing economic crash, and he chose to emigrate in 1810 in order to establish a business in the new United States. Unsuccessful, he decided to attempt a music career instead.

A formative experience for him was a 700-mile journey, on foot, into the wilderness of Pennsylvania and then along the Ohio River into Kentucky. The sights and sounds of the new American frontier inspired some of the most original, if not strange, program music of the nineteenth century. Settling for a year in a log cabin near Bardstown, Kentucky, in a curious foreshadowing of Thoreau, he began to produce a body of work unlike anything being written in Europe at the time. Some of the titles of his pieces include: The Dawning of Music in Kentucky, or the Pleasures of Harmony in the Solitudes of Nature; The Columbiad, or Migration of American Wild Passenger Pigeons; The Ornithological Combat of Kings, or the Condor of the Andes; The Minstrelsy of Nature in the Wilds of North America; The Wild Wood Spirits' Chant; The Treaty of William Penn with the Indians (a rare 19th century concerto grosso).

Stylistically Heinrich's music has more in common with other early American music than with the models of his European contemporaries. He shuns development, preferring episodic forms, especially the theme with variations, which he uses to impressive expressive effect. He occasionally writes passages of startling, even jarring, chromaticism, usually in an attempt to express an extramusical idea. Often his music has an improvisatory quality (much of his music may, in fact, be notated improvisation, especially considering its copious quantity).

Heinrich was successful in his European tours (the tours being necessary because of a lack of competent orchestras in the United States in the period before the Civil War), but he died neglected, and in the poverty he had fled.

Occasionally Heinrich's music is revived, and always with some amazement at his enthusiasm, expressiveness and eccentricity.