Boston Musical Gazette

(Boston, 1838-1839)

Prepared by Mary Wallace Davidson
Online only (2012)

The Boston Musical Gazette [BMG] (1838-1839) was published as an eight-page, quarto issue every other Wednesday from May 2, 1838 until May 15, 1839. The prospectus cited Bartholomew Brown (1772-1854) as editor, and declared principal contributors would include Lowell Mason, George James Webb, Thomas Comer, Nahum Mitchell, John Sullivan Dwight, T. Power, and John Rowe Parker. It also noted that as little music was available from Europe because of cost, each issue of the Gazette would present a supplement of sacred and secular music for readers’ use at home. The periodical was published by the firm of Otis, Broaders, & Co., who published another music periodical, The Boston Musical Review, and was printed by Kidder & Wright Printers & Proprietors.

Bartholomew Brown was the only Harvard-educated editor among those of the many short-lived music periodicals at this time. He was born on September 8, 1772, in either Danvers or Sterling, Massachusetts. In 1799 he graduated from Harvard University, where he was distinguished among his class as both a classical scholar, and a writer, and where he was a member of at least two musical-social clubs. After Harvard he studied law with a judge in Plymouth County, and was admitted to the bar there. He married in 1801, settling in Sterling, and moved to Boston in 1809, thereafter pursuing simultaneous careers in law (succeeding his brother-in-law and fellow hymnodist, Nahum Mitchell in the latter’s law practice in Bridgewater when Mitchell became a judge), writing for the Farmer’s Almanac from 1804 to 1854, and many other journals, and composing. In 1813 he taught music in Abington, and was one of the founding members of the Handel and Haydn Society (1815), serving as its president for a year beginning in 1836. In 1837, he became the first president of the Boston Musical Institute. Brown was also well-known as a hymnodist, not only as a composer of the hymns but also as a compiler. With Nahum Mitchell and others, he published the Columbian and Euterpian Harmony: or, Bridgewater Collection of Sacred Music in 1802. Little is known of his life after the demise of the BMG. He died in Boston of paralysis at the age of 81, on April 14, 1854.

Sacred music, its institutions, performances, historical and current “scientific” practices are the main topics of the journal, with reviews of recitals and occasional articles about the value of secular music, or speculation about why opera had not found roots in Boston. At this time a professional musician was generally defined as having studied in Europe. Except for a few of the musical societies that regularly assembled musicians from the theater orchestras to perform in oratorios, there was no “serious” orchestra in town. In this context the establishment of vocal music education in Boston’s public schools in 1838 is viewed by BMG as a major event, and reported in great detail, as are the proceedings of the first Musical Convention (course of instruction) undertaken the same year by Lowell Mason and others. The founding of what is now the Harvard Musical Association in 1837 is also detailed in two long articles about its purposes and formation by alumni members of Harvard’s Pierian Sodality (still extant as the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra). There are regular reports about other musical societies, their organization as well as performances, both in Boston and elsewhere in New England. In addition to the activities of the Handel and Haydn Society, other institutions receiving reports are the Boston Academy of Music, the Boston Gregorian Society, the Boston Musical Institute, the Musical Education Society, and the Billings and Holden Society. At this time the contrapuntal “transgressions” of William Billings are harshly criticized by writers in BMG, as being distractions from worship. Reports were regularly received from the Bangor Musical Society in Maine, and from several such societies in New York (city and state).

Most of the BMG articles are anonymous or pseudonymous. Brown himself did a great deal of the writing indicated as editorial. John Sullivan Dwight signed several articles, either with his full name, his initials, or a pseudonym, for example, “A Country Clergyman.” This was the period of Dwight’s brief career as a church minister beginning in 1837, first in Lexington, then in Northampton, Massachusetts, before moving back to Boston in 1841. Under his pseudonym he often wrote on the topic of his 1836 dissertation at the Harvard Divinity School, “The Proper Character of Poetry and Music for Public Worship.” His articles are sometimes answered by “A City Chorister,” refuting Dwight’s idealism by saying that choir leaders were not paid enough to warrant a literary education. Under his own name, Dwight wrote a long two-part review of English author William Gardner’s The Music of Nature; or, An Attempt to Prove that what is Passionate and Pleasing in the Art of Singing, Speaking, and Performing upon Musical Instruments, is Derived from the Sounds of the Animated World (1832), published the same year in both London and in Boston, a popular subject in this and other periodicals of the time for both excerpts and commentary. There are several serialized articles on “ancient music” by “M.,” probably Bartholomew’s colleague and mentor, the hymnodist and lawyer Nahum Mitchell.