The English headwaters of American hymn singing

I expect that hardly any of my readers have ever heard of William Tans’ur. That is partly because the history of church music in the eighteenth century has been written almost exclusively about music for various courts and major cities, to the exclusion of music for country churches. But Tans’ur appears to have had more influence on musical life in colonial America, including the important composer William Billings, than anyone else. The name William Tanzer appears in the baptismal register at Dunchurch in 1706, the son of a common laborer named Edward Tanzer. As an adult, William adopted the spelling … Continue reading

Tielman Susato: trombonist and music publisher

You can’t find very many trombonists in basic music history textbooks, but some like Gustav Holst and Tielman Susato (ca.1510-after 1570) belong there for their other achievements. As a member of the town band in the Flemish city of Antwerp, Susato played a variety of instruments. He was also a composer of some merit, but his reputation rests on the publishing company he founded and ran for 18 years. It used to be thought that he died about the time his publishing company ceased operations, but as it turns out, he moved to Sweden and, among other things, dabbled in … Continue reading

Vienna, 1800: the divergence of classical and popular music

Revised February 27, 2017 What kind of music do you think of when you think of Vienna? Classical music, of course. Extra credit if you thought of Johann Strauss and realize that his waltzes aren’t classical music. But did you know classical music was hard to find in Vienna in 1800? Mozart had been dead for nine years. Haydn was an old man close to retirement from composing. The young Beethoven had made a strong start in establishing his reputation. Schubert was only three years old. And most of the public idolized musicians you’ve probably never heard of. In fact, … Continue reading