IN: News & Features

Boston’s “Conservatorio” — The First


Gottlieb Graupner (MFA)

Inspiration for The Boston Musical Intelligencer, as readers of  “About…” know, was the 19th-century publication of John Sullivan Dwight, the most learned and influential periodical on classical music in the history of the U.S.—Dwight’s Journal of Music, issued from 1852 to 1881. Nothing quite like it has been in print since then. Read on.

“Before the year 1800, all that bore the name of music in New England may be summed up in the various modifications of the one monotonous and barren type—the Puritan Psalmody… the musician, the man of knowledge and artistic power…  had to come from the Old World,” wrote John Sullivan Dwight, in his entry for The Memorial History of Boston (1881).

On November 24, 1800, readers of the Boston Gazette learned that the books for subscription were open for “… a new institution (for this country), but on the same foundation of the best Conservatories of Europe, where the order and the progress of their pupils shall be their principal rule.” Gazette readers also learned that it was “Messrs. Mallet, Graupner and Trieta” [sic] who had jointly agreed to open a conservatory of music “…wishing to be useful to this metropolis, and sensible that many will be able (by this way) to satisfy their wishes in accomplishing the education of their children…” François Delochaire Mallet of France, Gottlieb Graupner of Germany, and Filippo Trajetta of Italy had another enticing message for the readers:

“Music being almost an insperable [sic] branch of a finished education, one of the most useful and agreeable arts, is (as an interpreter of the finer feelings,) a necessary one.”

The result of the conservatory subscription was remarkably positive, and thus was founded the American Conservatorio of Boston, the first “Conservatorio or Musical Academy” in Boston and, in all likelihood, in the country,” wrote H. Earle Johnson in Musical Interludes in Boston 1795-1830.

Graupner, Mallet and Trajetta were astute in establishing their Conservatorio in Rowe’s Lane, a street that converged with Summer Street at Church Green. Summer Street in the early 1800s was “… beyond dispute the most beautiful avenue in Boston. Magnificent trees skirted its entire length… where stood the gardens or mansions of the old merchants and statesmen of Boston,” wrote the early city historian, Samuel Adams Drake, in his oft-cited Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston.

Enrollments for both vocal and instrumental instruction for the young ladies and the young gentlemen filled quickly, and additional “schools” were scheduled at the Conservatory Hall in Rowe’s Lane. More success was realized with another important service at the Hall: the partners exhibited and sold a variety of musical instruments. By spring of 1801, the three partners individually presented benefit evening concerts there. Listed in the programs were works, both vocal and instrumental, of such notable composers as Pleyel, Haydn, Lebrun, and Paisiello, works that were performed by the three musician founders of the Conservatorio as well as by local amateur musicians and singers. Also included in the programs were six compositions, both vocal and violin instrumental, which were composed and performed by Trajetta. It is probable that these works are among Trajetta’s earliest compositions written on American soil. In the summer of 1801, special recital events featuring students who had advanced scholastically were also held at the Hall.

The performances were reviewed by the press in glowing terms, and the closing lines of a review paid homage “…to the gentlemen who have founded the Conservatory. ” It is understandable that the three European immigrant musicians would have enjoyed this public acknowledgment of their accomplishments. Their efforts were based on the models and the musical standards of the best Old World conservatories, musical standards that were wanting at that time in the New World, in Boston. Their new institution for this country not only benefited their conservatory pupils, but it also contributed to the cultural, intellectual and educational needs of Boston, a musical foundation which could be seen as having added one more cultural building block to Boston’s image as The Athens of America.

In the late 1790s, Mallet was organist of Rev. John Thornton Kirkland’s congregation of the New South Meeting House in historic Church Green, just a short distance from Blind Lane, later named Rowe’s Lane, the location of the future American Conservatorio of Boston. At the New South Meeting House, on May 31, 1798, organ master Mallet presented “the last and only really important concert of the year” in Boston, according to Oscar Sonneck in Early Concert-Life in America (1731-1800). It was a “Sacred Concert” (also called an “Oratorio”) that included works by Pleyel and Handel. Featured among the principal musicians was oboist Gottlieb Graupner. Mrs. Graupner also performed as one of the vocalists.

In this important and historic community, Gottlieb Graupner, Francis Mallet and Filippo Trajetta found their place as accredited and respectable European immigrant musicians and Professors of Music. Their American Conservatorio of Boston was an ascending star on a bright path and an important breakthrough in music education in their newly adopted homeland, the United States of America, where, according to John Tasker Howard, “Euterpe did indeed come to a wilderness… during our country’s musical life before 1800. The next period, in which Euterpe seems to have made up her mind to stay with us, extends from 1800-1860.” One may gain an insight and appreciation of the musical talents and legacies of Messrs. Mallet, Graupner, and Trajetta by considering the serendipitous and disparate — and, in Trajetta’s case, even desperate, circumstances which brought together three European musicians from three different homelands to the New World and to Boston in particular — circumstances that are both fascinating and extraordinary.

François (Francis) Mallet, born in Normandy in 1750, was reported to have come to this country with Lafayette and took part in the Revolution. He arrived in Boston in 1793, after having performed as an actor/singer in a theatrical production in Philadelphia. He was known as a respectable gentleman and teacher of several musical instruments, including the pianoforte and organ; he also performed in concerts as an instrumentalist and vocalist.

Johann Christian Gottlieb Graupner, born near Hanover, Germany in 1767, left around 1790 to live in London, where he played in the famous orchestra led by Haydn during the period when the master conducted his renowned London Symphonies. Graupner remained in London for a few years, made his way to Charleston, South Carolina, and secured a position as oboist and occasional leader of the orchestra in the City Theatre. In 1796  he married English-born singer Mrs. Catherine Hellyer, mother of three children from her first marriage, who was in Charleston performing with an English theatrical production. The Graupners eventually made their way to Boston, where the couple became pivotal figures in the musical community for many years.

Filippo Trajetta (Traetta) was born in Venice, Italy, in 1777 to the famous opera composer Tommaso Traetta and Elizabeth Sund from Russian Finland. The couple met when Tommaso was invited to St. Petersburg and employed by Catherine II of Russia as singing instructor and musical director of the opera there. Tommaso died when Filippo was about three years of age, placing Elizabeth in charge of the boy’s education in Venice. Filippo studied with the well-known composer Niccolò Piccinni in Naples, where, at the age of twenty-two, Trajetta joined the patriot army fighting against King Ferdinand IV of Naples. He was arrested and imprisoned, not only for being a soldier on the losing side, but also for having written several patriotic, anti-monarch hymns and songs. After eight months in prison in Naples, he was set free in November 1799 by “secret arrangements”— perhaps through the Masonic brotherhood or with the help of his mother’s influential family in Russia. He was smuggled aboard Mount Vernon, the prize vessel of the famed, well-to-do Derby family of Salem, Massachusetts. July 3, 1800 was the day Filippo Trajetta would begin his immigrant life and musical pursuits on American soil.

The well-placed Derby family may have introduced Trajetta to the music scene of Salem, where musicians from Boston came to teach and perform — Graupner and Mallet among them. Whatever the circumstances of how and where the three musicians met in 1800, in concert with each other and individually Mallet, Graupner and Trajetta overcame issues of identity and assimilation through the Art of Music, the importance of which they expressed in their announcement in the Boston Gazette, November 24, 1800: “…the truth may be adduced from time the most remote, and amongst all nations, the most savage not excepted, Music has been known and cultivated. Besides which, its agreeable utility has been so repeatedly demonstrated by celebrated and good men, that all those who may have it in their power, must with their children instructed in an art of such general use, and which affords so copious a resource of rational pleasure. In prosperity our moments of enjoyment are heightened by Music. In adversity, it dissipates the gloom of care, molifies [sic] the frowns of fortune, and when obliged to seek a foreign asylum, smooths the unequal paths, becomes our Interpreter among a strange people, and our conductor to amiable society; but a motive of still greater consideration presents itself, that of addressing the Supreme Being, in melodious accents. These motives gave existance [sic] to the many Musical Academies established in all Europe, which have been raised to the highest degree of perfection.”

The American Conservatorio of Boston experienced a setback in mid-1801, when Filippo Trajetta, at the age of twenty-four, left Boston to continue his musical pursuits in the other leading music centers of the time in the United States: Charleston, New York City, and Philadelphia. He had been the Head of Vocal Instruction at the Conservatorio and had written and published Rudiments of the Art of Singing, Written and Composed for the American Conservatorio of Boston by Phil. Trajetta, A.D. 1800, reprinted in Philadelphia in 1841 with the same title page, Trajetta acknowledging his early Boston contributions.

Gottlieb Graupner was well known as an accomplished musician and teacher of several musical instruments, and perhaps not as well known as a singing teacher. Mallet was also a teacher of several musical instruments and, although he was a vocalist, he may not have had the level of teaching skills for voice instruction that Trajetta possessed. Joseph Story, a British singer/actor who had performed as a vocalist in the spring concert season at the Conservatory Hall earlier that year joined the Graupner-Mallet partnership in early November. On November 5, 1801, a press announcement advised of a concert to be presented by Joseph Story at the Conservatory Hall in Rowe’s Lane. However, Story evidently left Boston shortly after his concert to resettle in Charleston.

Initially, Graupner and Mallet appeared to have taken Story’s departure in stride. They set in motion a rush of activities for the Conservatorio: a “third School” for vocal and instrumental instruction and a special evening school for flute and clarinet lessons for the young gentlemen, an increased supply of musical instruments for wholesale and retail sales, and the installation of a music press for the music publishing firm they established: “Mallet & Graupner.”

As an entrepreneurial musician, Gottlieb Graupner may have set his sights on gaining greater personal success in the music publishing business and the wholesale/retail sales of musical instruments, on the model of the musician-merchants he probably encountered in London, such as Clementi, Corri and others. Mallet, the dedicated music teacher of several musical instruments, may have wanted to emphasize the music instruction programs at the conservatory. Beyond these differing points of view, there may have been the matter of possible time constraints on the part of Graupner, who still held the position of orchestra leader/musician at the Federal Street Theatre. Unfortunately, the partners failed to resolve their differences and in November 1802, the American Conservatorio of Boston and the Mallet & Graupner music publishing firm were dissolved.

No explanations for their decision appeared in the partners’ individually written newspaper announcements, other than Graupner’s brief comment that the “lease of the Hall in Rowe’s Lane expired.” The bright rising star first conservatory of music in Boston and, in all likelihood, in the country was dimmed. The American Conservatorio of Boston would become a relic of the past, relegated to an “overlooked” page in Boston’s rich history.

Both Boston Conservatory and New England Conservatory were founded in 1867, sixty-seven years after the American Conservatorio of Boston; and both were founded several decades after two more American conservatories were established and viable — in New York City and in Philadelphia. H. Earle Johnson attributes “…the glory of the Graupner-Mallet-Trajetta institution as the first Conservatorio or Musical Academy in Boston and, in all likelihood, in the country.” Three European immigrant musicians — Francis Mallet of France, Gottlieb Graupner of Germany, and Filippo Trajetta of Italy — enriched their adopted homeland, the United States of America, through their life’s work, musical legacy and dedication to the Art of Music.

Ed: The musical legacy of the American Conservatorio of Boston to the remaining life’s work of the founding partners will be the concluding section of this article, to be published later this Fall.

 Teresa F. Mazzulli is a second-generation Bostonian who in retirement discovered a passion for researching “overlooked” pages in Boston’s rich history, an interest she developed as a Doric Docent guide at the Massachusetts State House.



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1 Comment [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. A wonderfully researched and informative paper!

    Comment by Joel Cohen — October 13, 2011 at 7:36 am

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