Tradition of Music at Classical American Homes

Susan Donaldson’s pedal harp made by Alexander Barry, London, about 1820. Collection of Richard H. Jenrette.

Music has long played a role in the lives of the occupants of Edgewater, Ayr Mount and Millford. This September it will come alive once again in a series of classical concerts entitled, The Classical Ideal: Music & Architecture in Harmony.

In the years when Robert and Susan Gaston Donaldson resided at Edgewater, their temple-like villa on the Hudson, it was filled with sounds of the most exquisite music, performed by Susan and their children. Susan Donaldson’s musical education began at an early age at the insistence of her father, Judge William Gaston, who believed that attaining skill in this realm would provide her entrée to the best society.  Susan proved to be an excellent student and ultimately an accomplished musician whose abilities were praised by the celebrated Swedish novelist and feminist Fredrika Bremer on the occasion of her visit to the Donaldson’s in the Fall of 1849: “In the evening I enjoyed an unusual pleasure.  Mrs. D. played on the harp and piano, and sang remarkably well, with extraordinary power, like a real musician, which I believe is a rare thing in this country.” Susan Donaldson’s 1832 portrait with her beloved harp by her side, as well as the harp itself (see above), still survive at Edgewater, as does a gilded rosewood canterbury custom-made by Duncan Phyfe about 1828 to hold her sheet music.

Click here to listen to the sonatas for the harp by Madame Dussek.

Sonatas for the Harp with Scots Airs and Reels by Madame Dussek (London, Corri & Co., 1795). Period sheet music of the type Susan Donaldson read. (See a link below to listen to the sonatas for the harp.)

Canterbury, about 1828, attributed to Duncan Phyfe. Collection of Richard H. Jenrette.

[Continued from the Summer newsletter.]

At Ayr Mount, the late eighteenth-century, London-made pianoforte that graces the west parlor and will be played in concert on Wednesday, September 20, has a history of ownership in the Kirkland family dating back to 1806 when it was most likely purchased for the musical education of William and Margaret Kirkland’s five daughters. While at Millford, John Laurence Manning is known to have personally supervised the training of his enslaved African American musicians to perform as a string quartet at the many dances and entertainments held there in the decades prior to the Civil War. Come experience the beauty and harmony of great classical music as once again it fills the exquisite interiors of these remarkable Classical American Homes. We hope you will join us at any one or all three of these concerts, which are guaranteed to be a unique and memorable experience.


Click here to return to the Spring/Summer 2017 Newsletter.

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