American Musical Journal

(New York, 1834-1835)

Prepared by Ruth Henderson
Online only (2010)

The American Musical Journal [AMJ] was published monthly (except for a two-month hiatus from December 1834 to January 1835) in New York from October 1834 to November 1835, producing twelve issues. Each issue consisted of twenty-four quarto pages (28 cm.) and a supplement containing eight pages of printed music, separately numbered, to allow it to be separately bound. The annual subscription cost was $5, which was reduced to $4 by the second issue. The AMJ aspired to promote “musical knowledge and musical taste in our country” and was the first American periodical, according to Wunderlich, to include news reports on music from other American and European cities and probably the first to publish biographical information on J. S. Bach. Its reviews of New York concerts, in particular, are valuable for their perception and what they reveal about the interests and tastes of New York audiences during this period.

The publisher, James Dunn, is the only name associated with the journal. The editor assures readers in the inaugural issue that “we will be assisted in our labors by some of the most eminent professional men, and distinguished amateurs in the country.” It is unclear, however, to what extent this collaboration may have evolved, for all the articles, aside from material quoted from other sources or occasional contributions from correspondents (signed by initials or pseudonyms), are unsigned. The editor declares that “We are entirely disconnected with the profession and with the trade.”

An inquiry into the identity of the publisher yields information that may provide a key to help unlock the mystery of the editor, of whom nothing is known, as well as a possible hypothesis for the journal’s failure to continue beyond its initial year. James Dunn appears to have published nothing else, and New York City directories indicate that 24 Thames St. (the publisher’s address) was his home address and that Dunn was a grocer (at 141 Greenwich). The same listing continues to appear for twelve years (1823-35), followed by two in which only the home address is given, after which the family of James Dunn is listed, first at 24 Thames, and then another address. The possibility that Dunn might have died is confirmed by the New York City death index, which indicates that he was of Irish birth and died of consumption at age 37 on 3 November 1837. The journal’s demise after its first year, despite ambitious plans outlined in the final issue, can almost undoubtedly be linked to Dunn’s failing health. As a grocer, Dunn is an unlikely benefactor to have subsidized publication expenses for someone else who might have served as editor, and a more likely scenario is that Dunn himself was both editor and publisher, willing to make the personal sacrifices required to carry out his conviction and vision for the journal. An editorial staff of more than minimal involvement (if that) seems unlikely, given the publication’s collapse once Dunn was unable to continue. Dunn’s Irish birth may have provided him with ties to the British Isles and Europe that native born musicians would have lacked. The journal’s content points toward an editor who was an amateur musician, perhaps a flautist, given the coverage devoted to that instrument.

The leading article in each issue featured an eminent European composer(s) and was primarily biographical in nature, sometimes an obituary. Extracts from Richard Mackenzie Bacon’s Elements of Vocal Science and William Nelson James’s A Word or Two on the Flute followed in most issues. Selections from Richard Edgcumbe’s Musical Reminiscences and other sources were also occasionally included. News and concert reviews (sometimes including complete programs) were conveyed in a “Foreign Musical Report” (in most issues) and a “Domestic Musical Report,” arranged by city (and then by theater, if the amount of material warranted). The Supplemental Musical Library and The Harmonicon, as well as other periodicals, were the usual sources for foreign news. Domestic news for New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities was supplied by the editor (for New York), anonymous correspondents, or reprinted from other periodicals and newspapers. In addition to concert reviews, brief reviews of music and books were included. As the number of issues increased, so did the number of letters to the editor, together with an editor’s response. The music supplement at the end of each issue included popular parlor music for flute, violin, piano, or voice(s), both unaccompanied and with instruments. The RIPM publication examined is based on the copy at the Sibley Music Library, Eastman School of Music, which did not include advertisements appearing on the AMJ cover.