John Hewitt Comments on Anthony Heinrich

This is excerpt from John Hill Hewitt‘s book Shadows on the Wall or, Glimpses of the Past, where he talks about Anthony Philip Heinrich and their relationship.

Father Heinrich. The eccentric Anthony Philip Heinrich, generally known as “Father Heinrich,” visited Washington while I resided in that city, with a grand musical work of his, illustrative of the greatness and glory of this republic, the splendor of its institutions and the indomitable bravery of its army and navy. This work Heinrich wished to publish by subscription. He had many names on his list; but, as he wished to dedicate it the the President of the United States, and also to obtain the signatures of the Cabinet and other high officials, he thought it best to call personally and solicit their patronage.

He brought with him a number of letters of introduction, among them one to myself from my brother, a music-publisher in New York. I received the old gentlemen with all the courtesy due to his brilliant musical talents; and, as I was the first he had called upon, I tendered him the hospitalities of my house –“pot- luck” and a comfortable bed; promising to go the rounds with him to President Tyler, (whose daughter, Alice, was a pupil of mine,) and such other influential men as I was acquainted with.

Poor Heinrich! I shall never forget him. He imagined that he was going to set the world on fire with he “Dawning of Music in America”; but alas! it met with the same fate as his “Castle in the Moon” and “Yankee Doodliad.”

Two or three hours of patient bearing did I give to the most complicated harmony I had ever heard, even in my musical dreams. Wild and unearthly passages, the pianoforte absolutely groaning under them, and “the old man eloquent,” with much self-satisfaction, arose from the tired instrument, and with a look of triumph, asked me I had ever heard music like that before? I certainly had not.

At a proper hour we visited the President’s mansion, and after some ceremony and much grumbling on the part of the polite usher, were shown into the presence of Mr. Tyler, who received us with his usual urbanity. I introduced Mr. Heinrich as a professor of exalted talent and a man of extraordinary genius. The President after learning the object of our visit, which he was glad to learn was not to solicit an office, readily consented to the dedication, and commended the under- taking. Heinrich was elated tot he skies, and immediately proposed to play the grand conception, in order that the Chief Magistrate of this great nation might have an idea of its merits.

“Certainly, sir,” said Mr. Tyler; “I will be greatly pleased to hear it. We will go into the parlor, where there is a piano, and I will have Alice and the ladies present, so that we may have the benefit of their opinion; for, to confess the truth, gentlemen, I am but a poor judge of music.”

He then rang the bell for the waiter, and we were shown into the parlor, and invited to take some refreshments at the sideboard. The ladies soon joined us, and in a short space of time we were all seated, ready to hear Father Heinrich’s composition; I, for the second time, to be gratified. The composer labored hard to give full effect to his weird production; his bald plate 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 key-board, while the perspiration rolled in large drops down his wrinkled cheeks.

The ladies stared at the maniac musician, as they, doubtless, thought him, and the President scratched his head, as if wondering, whether wicked spirits were not rioting in the cavern of mysterious sounds and re- belling against the laws of acoustics. The composer labored on, occasionally explaining some incomprehensible passage, representing, as he said, the breaking up of the frozen river Niagara, the thaw of the ice, and the dash of the mass over the mighty falls. Peace and plenty were represented by soft strains of pastoral music, while the thunder of our naval war-dogs and the rattle of our army musketry told of our prowess on sea and land.

The inspired composer had got about half-way through his wonderful production, when Mr. Tyler restlessly 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 astounded. He arose from the piano, rolled up the manuscript, and taking his hat and cane, bolted, toward the door, exclaiming:

“No, sir: I never plays dance music!”

I joined him in the vestibule, having left Mr. Tyler and family enjoying a hearty laugh at the “maniac musician’s” expense. As we proceeded along Pennsylvania avenue, Heinrich grasped my arm convulsively, and exclaimed: “Mien Got in himmel! do peeples vot made Yohn Tyler President ought to be hung! He knows no more about music than an oyster!”

He returned to New York by the next train, and I never heard any more of the “Dawning of Music in America.”

Mr. Heinrich died quite poor in New York. He was, in his earlier days, a very wealthy and influential banker in the city of Hamburg. His fondness for music, however, drew him away from the less refined but more profitable operations in the money market.

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