Monthly Archives: April 2014

Revolutionary War Battle Makes Its Way Into Early American Organ Repertoire

By the 1770’s, a group of men of the fledgling colonies were working to establish a new country-to declare the group of thirteen colonies independent of the rule of England. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by a group of men committed to the establishment of the United States of America. The battle lines were then formally drawn and the loosely organized colonies were at war with England.

By Christmas Day of 1776, a few short months after the signing of that all-important document, General George Washington was losing faith that he and his rag-tag army could defeat the British. However, on that day, he and his troops gained a victory that turned the tide of the war and gave impetus and direction to the citizens of the colonies to continue and complete their quest. That all-important battle has become known as the Battle of Trenton.

On Christmas night in 1776, General Washington moved his troops secretly across the Delaware River to surround and defeat the Hessian mercenaries in a surprise attack, take over 950 captives and take the city of Trenton, New Jersey for the Americans. This amazing victory in the face of great difficulty for the troops gave the colonists the drive to continue and to complete their quest for independence.

James Hewitt, a composer from England, arrived in the new United States in 1792. He was attuned to the times and he had a zeal for his adopted country. Upon hearing of the momentous Battle of Trenton and how that victory led to the formation of the United States of America, James Hewitt was moved to set to music the clash and drama of this tide-turning battle. His enthusiasm for his new homeland is evident in this piece of musical imagery.

He chose the organ as the instrument to realize his composition. The work was composed in the wildly popular programmatic style of the day and the organ with its myriad of sounds was perfect for portraying the battle. The piece consists of a collection of short movements, each depicting a stage in the battle. One of them was built around the tune Yankee Doodle. Each had a subtitle: Attack, Cannons, Bombs, Defeat of the Hessians, General Confusion, Articles of Capitulation Signed, Grief of Americans for the loss of their companions killed in the engagement, Trumpets of Victory, and General Rejoicing.

James Hewitt, fervent American, dedicated his descriptive sonata to General George Washington, and this pictorial organ piece enjoyed considerable popularity in concerts of his day featuring the organ.

Dr. Jeannine Jordan earned her doctorate degree in organ performance and music history from University of Oregon. For more details visit Her dissertation and further research on the history of the organ in America, give her a remarkable foundation of knowledge that is evident in her American Music Performances and the Early American Music she publishes.

Dr. Jordan is intent on sharing the rich heritage of the organ music in Early America through “From Sea to Shining Sea,” an organ and multimedia program. Please follow this link to find out more.