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Johann Friedrich Peter and his Sinfonia in G

Johann Friedrich Peter, sometimes anglicized as John Frederick Peter (May 19, 1746 – July 13, 1813) was an American composer of German origin. Born in Heerendijk, Holland, to German Moravian parents, he was educated as both a Moravian minister and a musician in Holland and Germany and, with his brother Simon, emigrated to America in 1769-1770. Peter appears to have begun composing very shortly after his arrival in the New World. He served the Pennsylvania Moravian communities in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Lititz as an organist and violinist, and was sent to Salem, NC, in 1780, where, among other duties, he assumed the position of music director for the community. Under Peter’s energetic and capable leadership a musical tradition was established in Salem which benefited the community long after his departure in 1790. He afterward served Moravians communities in Graceham, MD, Hope, NJ, and Bethlehem, PA, where he was also clerk and secretary at the Central Church and organist. In addition to directing performances of the music of contemporary Europeans such as Mozart, Handel, and Haydn, he himself composed.

As a composer he wrote mostly anthems. Also included in his output are six string quintets for two violins, two violas, and a violincello, among the earliest examples of chamber music known by a North American composer. The full score of Peter’s six string quintets is dated January 9, 1789, indicating the probability that these works were composed during his later years in Salem. Almost all of Peter’s known compositions (nearly one hundred in all), with the major exception of the string quintets, are sacred concerted vocal works. In keeping with Moravian compositional practice, Peter’s works are marked by clarity and simplicity. His writing for strings in particular shows that the instrumentalists at his disposal were accomplished players; the writing is consistent with Classic-era style and technique. Peter’s compositions have earned him the reputation of being the most gifted among Moravian composers in America. He is regarded as the most sophisticated of early Pennsylvanian musicians and ranks as one of the first serious composers in America. He died in 1813 at Bethlehem.

In my collection, I have the following work by Peter:
Sinfonia in G (1789).


One thought on “Johann Friedrich Peter and his Sinfonia in G

  1. Thank you for the information. The Sinfonia is included in the second Mercury Living Presence collection which was just released this month. I had never heard the name, so I looked it up. Wickipedia provided a very sketchy account. Yours is much fuller. It’s interesting that he served in Lititz and Bethlehem. I have visited both those towns. It gives me a connection. This one piece is all I have to go by. He’s not one of the greats, but certainly doesn’t deserve to be left in the mists of obscurity.

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