Jefferson and Music:

If you are a music lover and particularly, like me, a lover of the music of the 18th century, then you will be fascinated by Barrymore Laurence Scherer's (July 2, 2009) essay in the Wall Street Journal on Thomas Jefferson's musical tastes.

I was not aware that Jefferson was an avid violinist, for example - so much so that he had 'a "kit" — a slender dance-master's pocket fiddle — and had a case for it fashioned for his saddle so he could play and practice while traveling'. Although by political inclination I am more of a 'Franklin man' as among the Founders, I am also a (horrendously bad) amateur cellist with a strong preference for the music of Jefferson's century, and this endears me to Jefferson more than almost any other fact about him. Jefferson's 'kit', for example, reminds me of my Yamaha electric practice cello, which packs down into a compact carrying case that, until 9/11, I often used to carry onto airplanes, until a security person pointed out that the packed cello looked for all the world like a shotgun case.

I was intrigued with what Scherer says were Jefferson's tastes - Corelli, to start with. Well! Well, well! I am a huge fan of the Corelli violin sonatas, and have spent years practicing cello transcriptions of several of them. I own four versions of them on CD; of those, my favorite violinist is Andrew Manze, but the John Holloway version features, on half of them, the rapturous basso continuo of Baroque cellist David Watkin, improvising whole chordal structures. I also have a great fondness for the gamba version of them by Balestracci, using a transcription for gamba that dates back to just a few years after they were composed. Although in the end, Bach is Supreme, alpha and omega, etc., the Corelli sonatas are a form of sweetness that makes one understand why they have never been out of print in hundreds of years.

If you don't follow Baroque music, this post will have to seem pretty opaque - baroque, even - but I came away from reading Scherer's article ready to give Mr. Jefferson a call to suggest we run through a few sonatas together.