AMERICAN MUSIC: Shakers, Moravians and Grofé by Judith Eckelmeyer
(GRACE WOODS MUSIC SESSION OCTOBER 9, 2023)
Title page of the copy of the Bay Psalm Book held by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
The early settlers in New England, Puritan separatists who fled England first to Holland and then to what is now Massachusetts, brought with them collections of Psalms (called Psalters) set to music. The Ainsworth Psalter (1612), the Ravenscroft Psalter (1621), and the Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter (1562) had been in use in their communities in England and Holland. Even though the texts were contemporary translations from Hebrew, the Puritans found them not close enough to the original, so they commissioned a group of 30 ministers to produce a new translation. This translation was set to familiar melodies from the previous psalters and printed in 1640 in Cambridge. Titled the Bay Psalm Book, it is the earliest music publication in the U.S.
Stained glass emblem of Agnus Dei at Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Understandably, music was not the focus of most new settlers; survival and land settlements were. The religious institutions were the primary sustainers of music and art well into the 18th century, when music “education” of the ordinary citizen took its first tentative steps. Many musicians were self-taught, but there were also communities of European immigrants who arrived here already trained as musicians. Among these were the Moravians, a sect from the area around the Czech Republic.
The Moravian Church’s history goes back to the reform movement headed by Jan Hus(s) (1370-1415) in the 15th century. Closely related to the Lutheran movement that emerged after 1715, the growth of this sect, called Hussites and later the Unitas Fratrum or Bohemian Brethren, was blocked during the 30-Years’ War (1618-1648) and even afterward by the suppression of Czech culture by the Catholic Hapsburgs. The Czech underground community preserved its language and Protestant heritage, but a German nobleman, sympathetic to their plight, offered his property, “Herrenhut” (the Lord’s protection) in Saxony, as a refuge in which to revitalize their church and religious practice. Once established there, the church’s major commitment was to send missionaries to support members who had settled in America, helping them in their task to convert the native people. The first American community in Georgia (1735) failed, but mission settlements after 1740 had better luck. Especially successful were their locations in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Emmaus and Lititz, Pennsylvania. In 1772, David Zeisberger founded two mission villages near each other in Ohio. The settlements were called Schoenbrunn (Beautiful Spring) and Gnadenhutten—the protection of grace. The mission succeeded for 10 years, until a massacre of the local natives and the pacifist Moravians was carried out by a Pennsylvania militia as retribution for an unrelated massacre of Europeans elsewhere.
Because of their musical training in Europe, supporting the strong presence of music in the broader Lutheran tradition, the Moravians in America continued the tradition of German music of their time. There was not only multi-part choral music and congregational singing, but also use of instrumental ensembles, brass choir being a favorite. Texts were in English or German. Principal composers were John Antes (1740-1811), Johann Friedrich Peter (1746-1813), and Christian Gregor (1723-1801), whose several hundred compositions included accompanied anthems and the editing of the church’s hymnal and chorale book. The hymn Freuen wir uns (Let us rejoice*) for the Christmas “Lovefeast” (Communion)
*Freuen wir uns: Let us all rejoice together/Give praise and glory only/ To God the Father and to the Son,/as well as the third aspect. For he has proven to us/his mercy in the time of great peril; And inscribed his wisdom and his law into our hearts. So that herafter we may all together/live virtuously in You/ And find in the end the reward of an eternal throne.
and John Antes’s anthem “Loveliest Emmanuel” are samples of Moravian music.
Antes: Loveliest Immanuel Boston Baroque | Martin Pearlman | Cyndia Sieden
Life of the Diligent Shaker,
Shaker Historical Society
Meanwhile, in another part of the country, a group of dissidents from England arrived in the Albany area in 1774. Followers of “Mother” Ann Lee (1736-1784), Jane Wardley and Lucy Wright, they were known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, or more commonly, Shakers.
Mother Ann Lee
(In America, the women leaders were joined by male leaders, Father James, Father William Lee and Father Joseph Meacham.) Founded in England in 1747, they valued simplicity of life, equality of the sexes, celibacy, communal living, and pacifism.
Shaker dance and worship, during the Era of Manifestations
Their worship included unaccompanied tunes, which might be sung by a soloist in unison by either men, women, or both, along with action—walking rhythmically, moving arms and/or hands, bending, stamping, clapping, and other movements—the origins of their “Shaker” designation (for example, “Come Life, Shaker Life”). Men and women were seated separately and moved in groups of their own sex. Their music often reflected sounds of English folk music, including especially modal scales. Texts of the songs were very much in the vernacular; for instance, in the “Followers of the Lamb”: “O Brethren ain’t you happy…Sing on, dance on, ye followers of the Lamb,” Some of the “songs” have no text, just a single syllable on which to carry the tune; Brother James’ evidently extemporized a wordless song after having been whipped at Harvard, a famous incident of persecution of the “outsider” sect at the time. The Shakers, as we know today, were great craftsmen and designed furniture and other household equipment. The pinnacle of the U. S. Shaker population, about 5,000, extended from Maine to Kentucky in the middle of the 19th century.
This features several authentic songs and dances performed at Hancock Shaker Village.
Ferdinand Rudolf von Grofé is not a particularly recognizable name to most Americans, but we might better recognize him as Ferde Grofé, composer and arranger associated with popular music and the formal European tradition. Soon after he was born in New York City in 1892, the Grofés moved to Los Angeles, joining other family members who were musicians. Ferde’s father was a baritone and actor, his mother a cellist and well-known music teacher. It was probably inevitable that Ferde pursued a music career. And what a career it was! When he was 7 his father died and his mother went to Leipzig to study at the conservatory; Ferde joined her there. When they got back to L.A. three years later, Ferde began composing. And never really stopped. By the time he was 14, he began playing for casual parties. At 17, he received his first commission for a composition—a march for the Elks Club. Six years later, he was playing at a club where Paul Whiteman heard him and brought him into his orchestra as a pianist. He served as pianist, assistant conductor, orchestrator and librarian.
In 1924 he orchestrated Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic and plays piano in a performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue at the Royal Albert Hall in 1976.
Then he began composing his own music, using as his inspiration his experience of his life in cities and natural sites all across America. The Mississippi River, Niagara Falls, the Hudson River, Death Valley, Broadway, newspapers, gems, patriotic themes, Knute Rockne, Rip Van Winkle, a farm, Yellowstone, aviation, automobiles (Wheels), Rudy Vallee, the Kentucky Derby, and even implements at a garage ,like a bicycle pump, were some of his diverse subjects.
Two of his works, The Mississippi Suite (1926) and The Grand Canyon Suite (1931) are two of (sadly) the few recordings of his works available on CD now. They are highly descriptive “tone poems” in several movements, alluding to vistas or people or locations relevant to their subjects. Each is treated in unique sounds via Grofé’s well-developed musical imagination. Mississippi Suite: 1. Father of Waters (native people’s name for the river); 2. Huckleberry Finn; 3. Old Creole Days; 4. Mardi Gras.*
Grofé's Mississippi Suite Felix Slatkin, The Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra
Grand Canyon Suite: 1. Sunrise; 2. The Painted Desert; 3. On the Trail; 4. Sunset; 5. Cloudburst. *Do you recognize the embedded melody in this movements?
Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite Eugene Ormandy & The Philadelphia Orchestra Krachmalnick, violin