Log Cabin Composer at the White House


He was the first composer to champion the cause of American music but Anthony Philip Heinrich had his limits.

The man who became known as “the Beethoven of America” and the “Log Cabin Composer of Kentucky” was born in Bohemia in 1781, and though he played a fine Cremona violin, Heinrich didn’t take to writing music until he was forty. And though his compositions drew their sound from the wilds of America, Heinrich believed in refinement. That’s why he came to grief during a visit to President John Tyler.

A companion, John Hill Hewitt described the occasion:

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“At a proper hour we visited the President’s mansion. We were shown into the parlor. The composer labored hard to give full effect to his weird production; his bald pate bobbed from side to side and shone like a bubble on the surface of a calm lake. At times his shoulders would be raised to the line of his ears, and his knees went up to the keyboard, while the perspiration rolled in large drops down his wrinkled cheeks.

“The inspired composer had got about halfway through his wonderful production, when Mr. Tyler arose from his chair, and placing his hand gently on Heinrich’s shoulder, said, ‘That may all be very fine, sir, but can’t you play us a good old Virginia reel?’

“Had a thunderbolt fallen at the feet of the musician, he could not have been more astonished. He arose from the piano, rolled up his manuscript, and taking his hat and cane, bolted toward the door, exclaiming,

‘No, sir. I never play dance music!’

“I joined him in the vestibule. As we proceeded along Pennsylvania Avenue, Heinrich grasped my arm convulsively, and exclaimed, ‘Mein Gott in himmel! De peebles vot made Yohn Tyler Bresident ought to be hung! He knows no more about music than an oyshter!’

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