Music of the Harmony Society

Music was a very important component of the Harmonists’ lifestyle. A large collection of Harmonist music has been carefully preserved in the archives. Below is a sampling of Harmonist music that is excerpted from the record “American Communal Music of the 18th and 19th Centuries: Music of the Ephrata Cloister, Harmonists and Moravians, Volume 2,” which is available on CD from the Old Economy Village Museum Store. Below the music are excerpts from the record album’s insert.

Harmonist Keyboard Music, performed by Ian Henderson, Pianist, performed on a Viennese model fortepiano built by John L. O’Conner & Sons, Batavia, NY, recorded by Mark Recording Studios, Clarence, NY, December 17, 1983.

  • Freundschaft March, by Johann Christoph Müller (1777-1845)

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  • Presto, attributed to Frederick Eckensperger (1779-1849)

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Harmonist Orchestral Music, performed by The Economy Kunstfest Orchestra, Richard D. Wetzel, Director, recorded in the Old Economy Village Feast Hall, June 7 & 8, 1969 by Audiotronics-Engineering, Ambridge, PA

  • Symphony in D Part 1, Andante, by William Cumming Peters (1805-1866)

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  • Symphony in D Part 2, Rondo, by William Cumming Peters (1805-1866)

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  • Mr. Peter’s Favorite German Waltz, by W.C. Peters

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“The Harmonists maintained vocal and instrumental ensembles throughout their history and the years 1824-1831 were especially musical ones. It was at Economy that the orchestra, formerly a somewhat unbalanced ensemble, approached Classic proportions with a full string section, pairs of horns, bassoons, clarinets, flutes and percussion.

“Before the schism of 1832, Harmonist musical activities were directed by Dr. Johann Christoph Müller, physician and school teacher in the Society.  He played violin, flute and piano and composed short instrumental pieces and songs that emphasized friendship. (For examples of Müller’s songs, see American Communal Music…, Vol. I.)

“Frederick Eckensperger served the Society as hosteler and teacher.  Two compositions attributed to him are the Presto given on this recording, and an aria and accompanying chorale (recorded on American Communal Music…, Vol. I).

“Documents at Economy indicate that the Harmonists acquired their first piano in 1817.  A letter of 1816 states that Dr. Müller tested pianos made by Rosenbaum of Pittsburgh, and a shipping bill of 1817 shows that the Harmonists purchased ‘…1 box a piana forty [sic], 379 lbs.’

“At Economy, instruments by Robert and William Nunns, English piano builders who came to New York around 1821, were preferred.  Gertrude Rapp, Frederick Reichert Rapp, among other Harmonists, played the piano, and keyboard works by C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Pleyel, and other European masters are found in the Economy archive.

“Müller’s …March and Eckensperger’s Presto are typical of Harmonist-composed pieces: They are short, binary structures with little or no development, and were designed to be entertaining.

“By 1832, the Harmonist orchestral repertory contained about 320 pieces.  Many of those between numbers 242 and 320 were arrangements made for the Harmonists by the Englishman, William Cumming Peters, who came to America in 1820.  Peters was a clarinettist and may have played in a Canadian military band before arriving in Pittsburgh in 1823.

“In Pittsburgh he made his livelihood as a music teacher and piano and music salesman.  He was hired by the Harmonists in the mid-1820s, and in 1827 composed small pieces for the orchestra. (Economy Waltz and Economy Quickstep are recorded on American Communal Music…, Vol. I.)  He also arranged larger works for the Harmonists, including overtures and sinfonias by Rossini, Latour, Mozart, Pleyel, Vanhal and Sterkel.

“Between 1828 and 1831, probably because of Peters’ encouragement, Dr. Müller directed concerts at Economy that were open to non-members.  On the concert of March 27, 1831, Peters’ Symphony in D, possibly the first attempt at a work in this genre by a composer in what was then considered ‘the West,’ was premiered.  By contemporary European standards it is a naive work, consisting of a song form Andante and Rondo.  Peters made no attempt to develop his themes and the scoring is often thin.  The piece is not without charm, however, and in the context of American music of the 1820s it is a work of historic significance.

“The score to Mr. Peters’ Favorite German Waltz was written in Louisville where Peters established himself as a publisher in the 1830s.  It is dedicated to the ‘Economy Musical Society’ and dated March 20, 1833.  It was not copied into the part-books at Economy, however, because the schism of 1832 greatly reduced the Harmonists’ musical resources, and it is probable that the performance given on this recording (1969) was the premiere one.”

Music and excerpts ©1984 National Historic Communal Societies Association. Copied on this website with permission.