The Music of the Stratford Lees


Throughout my time serving as Stratford Hall’s director of education I’ve hoped to develop a program examining the music enjoyed—and performed—by the Stratford Lees. It is indeed a richly detailed subject. The 18th-century Stratford Lees shared with their Virginia friends a love of music and dance that stands out as a salient feature of their society. Especially in the grand days of Philip Ludwell Lee, their Great House resonated with music of great composers, while fair weather extended the entertainments to a roof-top platform as well as a barge on the Potomac.
It was not just in Virginia, however, or even in other colonies, where the Lees enjoyed some of the era’s best music. Studying law in London just before the Revolution, Arthur Lee took in the famous concerts of Carl Friedrich Abel and Johann Christian Bach. His merchant brother William Lee, also in London, wrote rapturously in 1771 of hearing performances by renowned French cellist Jean-Pierre Duport and violinist Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen, famed student of the Italian-Venetian master Giuseppe Tartini. It’s fascinating to imagine what concerts or operas the two heard while later serving as “militia diplomats” in France and elsewhere on the continent…heady stuff indeed!

Now, on the afternoon of Saturday, October 2, 2010 the Great Hall will again ring with “Music of the Stratford Lees,” through a program presented by The Four Nations Ensemble, a group internationally praised for their historically informed performances. (We’re coordinating research efforts with Four Nations harpsichordist, Andrew Appel, to ensure the most accurate possible selections. And fortunate blog followers here for the 2008 Great Hall performance of the highly acclaimed Muir Quartet will recall just what a fine venue this is!) There’s more however. This full day of “Lee Music” will begin in the morning with scholarly talks featuring Charleston, South Carolina historian and musicologist Dr. Nicholas Butler, author of Votaries of Apollo, the widely praised history of Charleston’s St. Cecilia Society.

Perhaps Dr. Butler can then tell us more of the fate of Philip Ludwell Lee’s runaway indentured servant, Charles Love. In an advertisement of October 6, 1757 in the Maryland Gazette, Lee noted of Love that “he professes Music, Dancing, Fencing, and he plays extremely well on the Violin, and all Wind Instruments.” Carrying with him a “very good Bassoon” belonging to Lee, it was “supposed he will make towards Charles-Town in South Carolina.” Did he make it to Charleston, or did someone claim the reward Lee offered of up to £10 if Love were “taken?” Indeed, as said before, the music of the Stratford Lees is a richly detailed subject. Look for further details soon.