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Harmonia Time Capsule: 1789

1789 was a year of beginnings: the French Revolution starts when the convocation of the Estates-General could not come to a solution to solve the country’s financial problems, George Washington is sworn in as the United States’ first president, and the new constitution takes over for the Articles of Confederation that had controlled American politics until then.

Throughout the 18th century, Irish and Scottish settlers ventured to America in large numbers. These often poor settlers were among the largest group to settle in the Appalachian Mountains. Their folk tunes and ballads became the basis for country music, bluegrass, blues, and jazz music today. One instrument that increased in popularity during this time was the banjo. Similar to various instruments in Africa, enslaved Africans in Colonial America fashioned the early banjo by attaching a neck to a hollowed gourd and stretching animal hide over the open hole.

Religion was an important aspect of Colonial life, but due to a high illiteracy rate, many could not participate fully in music or worship. While some churches used shape notes as a musical teaching tool, others used the technique called “lining out.” In this tradition, a leader would sing a line of a hymn, suggesting the words and the tune that the congregation should sing back.

In other musical news of 1789, Beethoven was just getting his feet wet in the area of composing  and completed his Two preludes through all twelve major keys for piano. Mozart had a busy year: he wrote a clarinet quartet in 1789, and his opera Le Nozze di Figaro premiered in Vienna. No doubt he was also busy with Cosi fan tutte since it premiered the following year. And Joseph Haydn completed his Oxford Symphony, which would be performed two years later in celebration of his honorary doctorate conferred by Oxford University.

Music Excerpt

Additional information about people, music, and events mentioned in this time capsule

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