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Dolley Madison Purchases a Music Collection

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Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, was one of early America’s most gracious hostesses. Through Benjamin Latrobe, she purchased a piano for the White House for $450 that was of "superior tone in strength and sweetness." She also purchased the earliest collection of music for the White House. Printed in Philadelphia in 1810, Madame Le Pelletier’s elegantly engraved Journal of Musick is an important reflection of French influence in an American culture still dominated by English practices. Along with Italian and English songs and piano works, the collection contains many pieces by French composers, such as Isouard, Berton, Catel, Mehul and Boieldieu with representative arias from their operas virtually unknown in America at this time. Illustrating the rare efforts of a woman composer in early America, several of the selections are composed by Mme. Pelletier herself, including an interesting set of variations, "Fantaisie sur un Air Russe." Both the piano and the original White House edition of the music were destroyed when the British set fire to the mansion on August 24, 1814.

The artist Louis M. Glackens sketched a young Dolley Madison serving wine to guests.

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