The giant orchestral works of Anthony Philip Heinrich (1781-1861), an American of Bohemian extraction, won him the sobriquet "Beethoven of America." He was the first American composer to use Indian themes in his work.
Anthony Philip (originally Anton Philipp) Heinrich was born in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) on March 11, 1781. As a boy, he learned to play the violin. In 1816, following the failure of a business he had inherited, he emigrated to the United States and decided to make music his career.
After a few years in Philadelphia directing music in the Southwark Theater, Heinrich moved to Pittsburgh, where he conducted the earliest known American performance of a Beethoven symphony. Later he moved to Kentucky. While convalescing from a serious illness, he taught himself how to compose, and in 1820 his Opus 1 was published. This was "a collection of original, moral, patriotic and sentimental songs for the voice and pianoforte interspersed with airs, waltzes, etc." entitled The Dawning of Music in Kentucky, or the Pleasures of Harmony in the Solitudes of Nature.
The cordial reception of this work induced Heinrich to move to Boston in 1823. Although held in high esteem by his colleagues and the public, he had difficulty earning a living. By 1826 he had resettled in London, where he played the fiddle in the orchestra at the Drury Lane Theatre and tried, with minimal success, to advance his reputation as a composer. He returned to Boston in 1831, but by 1833 he was back at Drury Lane. The Continent beckoned, and in 1835 he went to Germany and Austria, enjoying a small degree of public favor. Performances of his orchestral music are recorded in Dresden, Prague, Budapest, Graz, and elsewhere.
In 1837 Heinrich settled in New York City. He threw himself into composing and teaching with unflagging energy, and within a short time he had gained considerable renown and notoriety as "Father Heinrich," eccentric genius. Enthusiasm for him culminated in monster "Heinrich Musical Festivals" in New York in 1842, 1846, and 1853, and in Boston in 1846.
Heinrich returned to Europe in 1857, receiving an especially warm welcome, climaxed by an all-Heinrich concert in Prague. His reception in Germany was less enthusiastic, and in late 1859 he was in New York again, where he died in abject poverty on May 3, 1861.
None of Heinrich's music outlived him. Some characteristic titles of large works are The Columbiad, or Migration of American Wild Passenger Pigeons; Pocahontas, the Royal Indian Maid and the Heroine of Virginia, the Pride of the Wilderness; The Wildwood Troubadour; and The Wild Wood Spirit's Chant.
William T. Upton, Anthony Philip Heinrich: A Nineteenth-Century Composer in America (1939), is a definitive biography. The Boston musical festival of 1846 is examined at some length in Irving Lowens, Music and Musicians in Early America (1964). □