Elliott Schwartz-Chamber Concerto VI: Jefferson

Posted on June 23rd, 2012 by

Gilbert Stuart’s 1805 portrait of Jeffson. To be seen at Bowdoin College

Elliott Schwartz-Chamber Concerto VI: Jefferson Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin American Composers Alliance Orchestra – Conductor Oliver Hagen Live Recording – Symphony Space, New York City June 2012     

Peter with the Orchestra of the American Composers’ League, playing Elliott Schwartz’s Concerto ‘Jefferson’. Conductor Oliver Hagen. Onstage at Symphony Space NYC 23 06 12 . Photo Gina Genova


PSS with Elliott Schwartz at the world premiere of his Violin Concerto. Bowdoin College 2008.

Film-Elliott Schwartz introduces the concerto…



Jefferson:The Inventor and The Violin (Movements 1 and 2 Thomas Jefferson was a lifelong musical enthusiast. He was a keen violinist, and notated his copy of Francesco Geminiani’s The Art of playing on the violin (1751) with quotations from Jean-Jacques Rousseau His large collection of music including the works of the greatest composers of his day, CPE Bach, Handel, Mozart and Haydn., whose music he had heard at Les Concerts Spirituels after his arrival in Paris in 1784. Later, he made a point of commissioning British instrument makers, such as the harpsichord maker Kirckman, and corresponded enthusiastically with with like-minded enthusiasts, such as Charles Burney. Jefferson owned a number of Burney’s works on music, and later became a friend of Burney, who supervised the building of his daughter Patsy’s harpsichord.

Charles Burney LISTEN 

1801: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” Perhaps his vision, of ‘Peace, Commerce and honest Friendship’ was partially modelled on his experiences of collective ebb and flow of chamber music, of which he was an ardent devotee, and which was the centre of daily life at his idealised home, Monticello. In 1785, he explained his passion for the arts to James Madison: ‘You see that I am an enthusiast on the subject of the arts. But it is an enthusiasm of which I am not ashamed, as its object is to improve the taste of my countrymen, to increase their reputation, to reconcile to them the respect of the world and procure them its praise.’ to James Madison, September 201785 One might say that the only hierarchy that he was willing to accept was that based on the notion of talent essnential to artistic ability, as he explained to John Adams. ‘I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.’ During his time in Paris, Jefferson was introduced to Maria and Richard Cosway by the artist John Trumbull. He and Maria formed a passionate attachement., centred on their music-making together. Helen Cripe, in her pioneering work on Jefferson, the musician, wrote: ‘Shortly before Maria left Paris in October 1786, Jefferson sent her a copy of ‘Jour Heureux’, a favourite air from Sacchini’s opera, Dardnaus….it is possible that they saw the opera in Paris on 3rd October pf that year. “I send you the song I promised-bring me in return its subject, Jours heureux!’ Two months later Maria sent him the book of Italian songs for voice and harp that she had composed.’ Jefferson: The Garden

9th June-Working on Elliott Schwartz’s ‘The Garden’, from his Concerto: ‘Mr Jefferson’, with Jefferson’s garden records and designs

Jefferson: Cadenza A thought: some years ago, the New York Public Library had an exhbit on perhaps the most important object in modern American history. This was a text, the ‘Declaration of Independence’. Now everyone knows that this is kept in high security in the National Archive in Washington. So I was intrigued by what I would find in the Library, It certainly crossed my mind that they might have borrowed the original. It was clear as my son and I we approached the small ante room off the hall on the first floor, that there did not seem to be an appropriate amount of fuss, or security if they had borrowed the actual object. When we wandered in, I confess to a degree of disappointment at finding that what was on show were a number of early printed versions of the declaration, made up for public display and distribution in 1776, more or less in the manner of newspapers and broadsides. But I then realised what was hanging in the centre of the gallery.  These objects were breathtaking. Hanging in two slim glass mounts, carefully lit so that the light could illuminate both sides without shining through the paper, were Thos. Jefferson’s original texts for the Declaration. Jefferson forwarded his draft of the to the Continental Congress on the 1st July 1776. Before it was ratified three days later, it was infamously altered. In a tragic act of appeasement to the delegates from South Carolina And GeorgIA, Jefferson’s lengthy condemnation of slavery was excised. In the removal of this paragraph lay the entire history of the crimes again Black Americans, the Underground Railway, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement and on, and on…. The ‘original’ ‘declaration of Independence’, signed on the 4th July 1776, seen in this context, begins to appear to be a fraud, even a hoax. But then, looking closer, I discovered that, whilst these were Jefferson’s texts, neatly copied out in his hand, they were fair copies. Jefferson was so distressed by the changes made to his original; that he made six copies made of the original, and circulated them amongst his friends. Part of the copy on display was missing, or illegible, so the missing text was transcribed for the exhibition handout by comparison with another extant copy,  kept in the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. The whereabouts of Jefferson’s original original is unknown.   What is sure, is that the ‘actual’ declaration , signed on July 4th 1776, was so amended and bowdlerised as to be a dangerous ‘fake.’ Jefferson not only copied his original out repeatedly to make his point, (he does not seem to have used his pantograph machine), but also underlined the offending omissions in his copies. So the fallacy of defining the ‘authentic’, of turning a text into an icon is here writ large. In art as in life, of which it is but a feeble simulacrum, we can face the past in two ways. The first way is the most comfortable, and most common-through the use of records, archives, chronicles, or objects. The second is far less containable, far more unhandy, and apparently less common; it is the use of meetings, of touch, of oral histories and traditions; it is this latter, which is, for me, anyway, the very lifeblood of music. This dichotomy is witnessed in the Christian myth. The various branches of Christianity rely to a greater or lesser degree on varying equilibria between text and sacrament, however much the various sects might have disagreed as to what these were, and are. It is generally understood that a written text, an object, if you like, is a direct link to the past, a ‘time machine’ if you like. It is seen as being unyielding, immutable, and whilst subject to interpretation, or editing, not subject to fundamental change. On the other hand, a certain neurosis surrounds the chains of traditions, sacraments, or transmitted touches, such as the curious act of ‘confirmation.’ Whilst this tradition, this sacrament of the ‘handing on’ of touch, was not initiated by the Christ,  who seemed, at best, mildly contemptuous of this very human need (Noli Mi Tangere!), it has acquired an extraordinary power, conveying the charge of direct contact with the past, herein formalised and codified. So much of this applies to teaching, even the aspect of what Alan Bennett would call  ‘Pass the Parcel’. I confess to being just such a neurotic, needing touch as proof, or otherwise. I am a true ‘doubting Thomas’. Here the objective and subjective meet in creative discomfort, for whenever the notion of recording or documentation melds into ‘iconicism’ (sic), a problem arises. We do not, or we try not to ‘worship’ a text, but how would we feel if to be presented with actual square yard in which Christ scratched symbols whilst listening to the charges against the woman ‘taken in adultery’. If the event became thus an unchallengeable fact, if this text-based, symbolic event was to be placed right in from of us, these two the objective and subjective would vibrate uncomfortably against each other. A text or image should be, one would assume, important or exciting by dint of what it conveys, the information it is able to impart, and the illumination that it might bring to a problem. The anomaly seems to arise when a new level of significance is added to such a text, that of ‘thing-ness’, quiddity. In that moment, it loses the very fluidity that gave its substance permamence. Elliott Schwartz-Jefferson Cadenza-Soliloquy and Remembrance Violin-Peter Sheppard Skaerved Filmed by Colin Still (Optic Nerve) in Peter Sheppard Skaerved’s ‘Only Connnect’ exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery  November 2011

 From Elliot Schwartz: The piece is a two-movement work for solo violin, called “Jefferson Cadenza: Soliloquy and Remembrance,” and it was completed this summer. It’s intended to do double-duty: (1) to function as the cadenzas for my Chamber Concerto VI, one for the 2nd movement & one for the 4th, and to stand alone as a recital piece for solo violin./Peter Sheppard Skaerved premiered it at the Blair School of Music (Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN) September 18th. And he’ll be performing it again at the National Portrait Gallery, London, as part of his “Only Connect” series. The concerts in this series are held in different gallery rooms, with the pieces related to portraits on the wall. My Jefferson piece is connected to the portrait of Mariah Cosway, who was Thomas Jefferson’s love during his tenure as ambassador in Paris. (Really, I’m not making this up!)