John Quincy Adams' Handwritten Musical Score for Flute, 1787 187
These two pages (recto and verso) of John Quincy Adams' hand-copied flute music give evidence of his college pastime. Evidently he copied new tunes on various sheets of paper of different sizes, keeping them in order with page number and a number system for the tunes. Evidence that has come to the attention of the Adams editors suggests that Elizabeth C. Adams, daughter of Thomas Boylston Adams, John Quincy's brother, may have distributed sheets of flute music to friends desiring mementos, just as she did with other manuscript pieces from the family collection. Few pages have come to light, and none have survived among the Adams Papers
John Quincy Adams began playing the flute shortly after his cousin Billy Cranch bought one for him in Boston in early April 1786. Within weeks he was taking lessons and thought he had “begun to learn.” Although he felt accomplished enough within a few months to perform for relatives and young ladies, his main interest was performing with the Musical Society, one of the many extracurricular clubs he joined at Harvard. Still, he complained that the flutes and violins were usually so difficult to tune “that we can seldom play more than three or four times at a meeting” (JQA to
AA2, 15 April–16 May 1786, in AA2, Jour. and Corr.,
: 106; Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 14–26 July 1786
, Adams Papers
; JQA, Diary, 17 July 1786
, 28 March 1787
When his sister sought to dissuade him from playing because it was “certainly very prejudicial to Health,” he reassured her that those whom he had consulted felt no harm would come from “moderate use” of the instrument. Insisting that flute-playing was his “greatest amusement, and the chief relaxation after study,” he felt he could not give it up (AA2 to Elizabeth Cranch, 18 July 1786
: Cranch Papers; AA2 to JQA, 22–23 July 1786
; JQA to AA2, 14 Jan.–9 Feb. 1787
, Adams Papers
Courtesy of the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2007.