Hewitt, James

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Hewitt, James

Hewitt, James, English-born American composer, publisher, organist, and violinist; b. Dartmoor, June 4, 1770; d. Boston, Aug. 1, 1827. He played in London as a youth. In 1792 he went to America and settled in N.Y, where he was described as one of the “professors of music from the Opera House, Hanover Square, and Professional Concerts under the direction of Haydn, Pleyel, etc., London/’ On Sept. 21, 1792, he gave a benefit concert with the violinists J. Gehot and B. Bergmann, the flutist W. Young, and a cellist named Phillips, which included Hewitt’s Overture in 9 Movements, expressive of a battle. Subsequently, Young and Gehot went to Philadelphia, and in 1793 Hewitt, Bergmann, and Phillips gave a series of 6 subscription concerts; at their 5th concert (March 25, 1793) they presented for the first time in America Haydn’s Passion of Our Saviour (i.e., The 7 Last Words); in 1794 Henri Capron joined Hewitt in promoting his “City Concerts”; meanwhile, Hewitt became the leader of the Old American Co. Orch., and in 1795 gave up his activities in connection with the subscription concerts. In 1798 he bought out the N.Y. branch of Carr’s “Musical Repository” and established a publishing business of his own. In 1811 he went to Boston, where he played organ at Trinity Church and was in charge of the music presented at the Federal St. Theatre. In 1816 he returned to N.Y; also traveled in the South. In N.Y he was director of the Park Theatre. Among his works are the ballad operas Tammany (N.Y, 1794, under the auspices of the Tammany Soc; only 1 song, The Death Song of the Cherokee Indians, survives), The Patriot or Liberty Asserted (1794), The Mysterious Marriage (1799), Columbus (1799), Pizarro, or The Spaniards in Peru (1800), Robin Hood (1800), The Spanish Castle (N.Y, Dec. 5, 1800), and The Wild Goose Chase (1800). Other works include an overture, Demophon, a set of 3 piano sonatas, Battle of Trenton for Piano, The 4th of JulyA Grand Military Sonata for the Pianoforte, etc. His eldest son, John Hill Hewitt (b. N.Y, July 12, 1801; d. Baltimore, Oct. 7, 1890), studied at West Point Academy; was a theatrical manager, newspaperman, and drillmaster of Confederate recruits in the Civil War. He wrote poems and plays, about 300 songs (The Minstrel’s Return from the War, All Quiet along the Potomac, Our Native Land, The Mountain Bugle, etc.), cantatas (Floras Festival, The Fairy Bridal, The Revelers, and The Musical Enthusiast), and ballad operas (Rip Van Winkle, The Vivandiere, The Prisoner of Monterey, and The Artist’s Wife). His admirers dubbed him the “father of the American ballad,” but the ballad form existed in America long before him. He wrote a book of memoirs, Shadows on the Wall (1877; reprinted 1971). Another son, James Lang Hewitt (b. N.Y., Sept. 28, 1803; d. there, March 24, 1853), was associated with the publishing firm of J. A. Dickson in Boston (1825); after his father’s death he returned to N.Y. and continued his father’s publishing business.


C. Huggins, John Hill H: Bard of the Confederacy (diss., Fla. State Univ., 1964); J. Wagner, James H: His Life and Works (diss., Ind. Univ., 1969); W. Winden, The Life and Music Theater Works of John Hill H (diss., Univ. of III, 1972); F. Hoogerwerf, John Hill H.: Sources and Bibliography (Atlanta, 1982).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire