Penn Library Department of Special Collections

William Penn

Keffer Collection of Sheet Music,
ca. 1790-1895

Content and design by John Bewley

Collection History
Guide Statistics
Focus on Philadelphia
Composers Publishers Lithographers Images and Music
List of Topics
Related Resources

Philadelphia Composers: Alexander Reinagle (1756-1809)

Portrait of Alexander Reinagle, from a Drawing by Joseph Muller
Alexander Reinagle

Alexander Reinagle, composer, conductor, pianist, and theatrical manager, was perhaps the musician who most influenced musical taste and development in Philadelphia in the late 18th-century. There is some confusion surrounding the date and location of Reinagle's birth. Although records show that he was baptised on April 23, 1756 in Portsmouth, England, family memoirs state that he was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1750. He was born to Joseph Reinagle, an Austro-Hungarian trumpeter, and Annie Laurie, who was Scottish. Alexander Reinagle studied music with his father and with Raynor Taylor, who was music director of Edinburgh's Theatre Royal. Alexander made his first public performance as a harpsichordist at the theater on April 9, 1770.

In 1778 Reinagle was in Glasgow teaching the harpsichord, and his first publication (1780), two sets of twenty-four easy pieces, reflect his pedagogical interests. While in Glasgow, Reinagle also composed his Collection of Scots Tunes with Variations, which was published by James Aird in 1782. This collection was later published in 1787 in Philadelphia by fellow Scotch emigre John Aitken, becoming one of the first commercially available keyboard works published in the United States. Reinagle also composed, and had published, six sonatas for keyboard with violin accompaniment while in London in 1783.

Sometime during the early part of 1784 Reinagle traveled to Hamburg where he met C. P. E. Bach. The two composers maintained a brief correspondence and Bach's influence is evident in Reinagle's compositional style. Reinagle toured Portugal in 1784 with his brother, Hugh, who was a violoncellist. They arrived in Lisbon on October 23, 1784 and performed for the royal family on January 8, 1785. After Hugh Reinagle, suffering from tuberculosis, died on March 19, 1785, Alexander returned to England where he became a member of the Royal Society of Musicians in London.

Reinagle emigrated to the United States in 1786, first settling in New York where he began teaching piano and violin. He presented his first concert in the United States on July 20, 1786 at the Assembly Room of the City Tavern. He performed as pianist, violoncellist, and vocalist, and was joined by the actress and singer, Maria Storer. Reinagle did not feel that his efforts were well-received in New York so he moved to Philadelphia where his first public performance was given on September 21, 1786 at a concert given by violoncellist Henri Capron. Working with Capron, William Brown, and Alexander Juhan, Reinagle revived the City Concerts programs with a series of twelve concerts during the 1786-1787 season. He continued his work on this subscription series through 1794. Reainagle was also active as a teacher during this period and his pupils included the adopted daughter of George Washington, Nellie Custis.

Beginning in 1791 Reinagle was associated with Thomas Wignell, the British actor, in the operation of a theatrical company that presented programs in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Their company, the New Company, was responsible for the building of both the New Theatre (or Chestnut Street Theatre) in Philadelphia, which opened in February 1793, and the Baltimore Theatre on Holliday Street, which opened in September 1794. The company presented both spoken and musical works. Reinagle was the musical director of the operation until his death in 1809. He hired George Gillingham, an English violinist, as conductor of the Chestnut Street Theatre. In the first six seasons of operation the company produced more than seventy-five musical works. Reinagle composed, arranged, or orchestrated music for all of the productions, and composed two ballad operas himself in 1795, The Volunteers and Sicilian Romance. Unfortunately, all but a few of the musical scores prepared by Reinagle for the Chestnut Street Theatre's productions were lost in the fire that destroyed the theater on April 2, 1820.

Reinagle moved to Baltimore in 1803, the same year that Thomas Wignell died. He continued to be the musical director of the New Company's productions at the Baltimore Theatre. Alexander Reinagle died on September 21, 1809 and is buried in St. Paul's Burying Ground in Baltimore.

Compositions by Reinagle in the Collection

Item No.TitleImprintPlate No.Illustration
Box 1
no. 51
Dear Anna : a new song / the words by George Heyl ; and set to music by A. Reinagle Philadelphia: G. Willig, between 1798 and 1804 None None
Box 4
no. 49
Edwy and Elgiva : sung by Mrs. Merry in the tragedy of that name / written by Chas. Jared Ingersol, Junr. Esqr. ; the music by A. Reinagle Philadelphia: G. Willig None None
Box 4
no. 50
I Have a Silent Sorrow Here : sung in the opera of The Stranger / composed by A. Reinagle Philadelphia: Geo. Willig, 182- None None
Box 4
no. 53
[I Have a Silent Sorrow Here] The Much Admir'd Song in The Stranger : sung with great applause by Mrs. Merry / the words by R. B. Sheridan ; the air by A. Reinagle Philadelphia: B. Carr, 1799? None None
Box 4
no. 52
Rosa : sung with great applause by Mrs. Merry in the comedy of The Secret / composed by A. Reinagle. Followed by: Pretty Maids All in a Row / composed by Mr. Hook
Series: Music Journal, no. 1
Baltimore: J. Carr, 1800 none none
Box 1
no. 51
The Tars of Columbia : sung with great applause by Mr. Hardinge at the New Theatre / the words by Mr. Harford ; the music composed by A. Reinagle Philadelphia: Blake's Musical Repository, 1804? none none
Box 4
no. 54
Twenty Four Short & Easy Pieces : intended as the first lessons for the piano forte / composed by A. Reinagle. New Edition. Philadelphia: G. E. Blake, between 1821 and 1824 none Small figure of a square piano


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