1778 | Williamsburg, VA

Getting the Band Together

Thomas Jefferson tries to improve American music.


If there is a gratification which I envy any people in this world it is to your country its music. This is the favorite passion of my soul, and fortune has cast my lot in a country where it is in a state of deplorable barbarism. From the line of life in which we conjecture you to be, I have for some time lost the hope of seeing you here. Should the event prove so, I shall ask your assistance in procuring a substitute who may be a proficient in singing and on the harpsichord. I should be contented to receive such a one two or three years hence, when it is hoped he may come more safely, and find here a greater plenty of those useful things which commerce alone can furnish. The bounds of an American fortune will not admit the indulgence of a domestic band of musicians. Yet I have thought that a passion for music might be reconciled with that economy which we are obliged to observe. I retain for instance among my domestic servants a gardener, a weaver, a cabinetmaker, and a stonecutter to which I would add a vigneron. In a country where, like yours, music is cultivated and practiced by every class of men, I suppose there might be found persons of those trades who could perform on the French horn, clarinet, or hautbois and bassoon, so that one might have a band of two French horns, two clarinets, and hautbois and a bassoon without enlarging their domestic expenses. A certainty of employment for a half-dozen years, and at the end of that time to find them if they chose it a conveyance to their own country might induce them to come here on reasonable wages. Without meaning to give you trouble, perhaps it might be practicable for you in your ordinary intercourse with your people to find out such men disposed to come to America. Sobriety and good nature would be desirable parts of their characters.

I am, sir, your humble servant.


Thomas Jefferson

From a letter to Giovanni Fab­broni. Jefferson, who enjoyed playing the violin and maintained a collection of harpsichords, had been introduced to Fabbroni by a mutual friend, Philip Mazzei, an Italian physician who helped facilitate arms sales to Virginia during the revolution. Jef­ferson had downplayed the dangers of life in the new state, hoping to entice the young Florentine to serve as music master at Monticello. But Fabbroni never came; he accepted an offer of patronage in­stead from the Grand Duke of Tuscany.