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Noon Edition

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!

Thomas Jefferson's signature.

Did you know that founding father Thomas Jefferson was the first major contributor to the Library of Congress? We know that he had an extensive music collection. This hour on Harmonia, we’re celebrating his birthday by listening to music he would have known. Our featured release is the Academy of Ancient Music’s 1999 recording Geminani: Concerti Grossi. 

We heard “Cold and Raw,” from The Beggar’s Opera, performed by The Broadside Band.

On Playing the Violin...and the Glass Harmonica

Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library of nearly 6,500 volumes to the United States government in 1815 to help rebuild the library that is now called the Library of Congress. The library’s collection had been completely destroyed during the British occupation in 1814. Let’s listen to a piece that was included in Jefferson’s donation, the closing Allegro from Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 12, Op. 8, performed by The Colonial Williamsburg Governor’s Musick.

That was Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 12, Op. 8, from a recording produced by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 2014.

Although most of Jefferson’s music is held at the University of Virginia, one book in Jefferson’s collection, given to the Library of Congress in 1815, was Geminiani’s 1751 treatise, On Playing the Violin. Jefferson annotated his copy with notes from commentator Charles Burney. Since Jefferson was an avid amateur violinist, he probably studied the manual to perfect his technique. Let’s listen to a concerto by Geminiani that would have been familiar to Jefferson.

Music by Francesco Geminiani, the final concerto from his Concerti Grossi, Op. 3, performed by I Musici.

Jefferson was an avid reader, and his musical interests extended well beyond instrumental treatises. He was also intrigued by music history and theory, and even possessed a book on the art of playing “musical glasses.” Miss Ford’s manual advises that “any person, who has the least knowledge of music, or a good ear, may be able to perform in a few days if not in a few hours.”

We heard music for glass harmonica by Johann Gottlieb Naumann performed by Thomas Bloch.


Although he was a revolutionary and founding father of the United States, Jefferson’s collection includes a great deal of music that was popular in Great Britain at the end of the eighteenth century. In particular, he seems to have been fond of British theater music. Let’s listen to the overture from Artaxerxes, featuring music by Thomas Arne.

We heard the overture to Artaxerxes by Thomas Arne. It was performed by the Classical Opera Company, under the direction of Ian Page.

Another popular opera in Jefferson’s collection is The Beggar’s Opera, featuring music compiled and arranged by Johann Christoph Pepusch. Here is an air from The Beggar’s Opera, heard as Jefferson may have known it.

We heard “O the Broom,” music from The Beggar’s Opera, performed by The Broadside Band.

Haydn at Home

Jefferson’s music sitting room at the Monticello plantation was regularly filled with music. Helen Cripe’s book, Thomas Jefferson and Music, lists music that belonged to Jefferson and his family. We’ll hear some “new music” by Haydn — the final movement of Symphony No. 73 in D Major, “La chasse.” Jefferson was probably more familiar with the piano arrangement, but we’ll hear the full orchestra version.

We heard the final movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 73 in D Major, performed by Concentus Musicus Wien.

Geminiani: Concerti Grossi

Our featured release is the 1999 harmonia mundi recording, Geminiani: Concerti Grossi, performed by The Academy of Ancient Music. Here are the first two movements of Corelli’s op. 5 — music from Thomas Jefferson’s collection.

We heard the first two movements, a prelude and a gigue, from Corelli’s Sonata Op. 5, No. 9, performed by Andrew Manze and David Watkin.

Jefferson doesn’t appear to have owned a copy of Geminiani’s Concerti grossi, based on Corelli’s Op. 5 violin sonatas. However, considering that his robust collection of music contained a number of Geminiani’s other compositions, in addition to his violin treatise, he would probably have been a fan. We’ll close with Concerto Grosso No. 12, “La Folia.”

We heard variations on the dance tune “La Folia,” from Geminiani’s collection of Concerti grossi, performed by The Academy of Ancient Music.

Break and theme music

:30, A Delightful Recreation: The Music of Thomas Jefferson, The Colonial Williamsburg Governor’s Musick, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation 2014, Tr. 16 Sonata No. VI in E-flat, D. 568: III. Minuet 

:60, Geminiani: Concerti grossi, The Academy of Ancient Music, harmonia mundi 2006, D. 1, Tr. 30 IV. Tempo di Gavotta 

:30, Geminiani: Concerti grossi, The Academy of Ancient Music, harmonia mundi 2006, D. 1, Tr. 28 II. Giga

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Sarah Huebsch.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at

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