John L. Downe, flutist and composer

Perhaps the earliest known professional flutist to have been active in the new American republic was John L. Downe. I have been able to determine his place of birth (or death), but the earliest notices of Downe (who is almost always referred to simply by his initials, J.L.) place him in Boston, Massachusetts. The first reference to Downe that I have located is the announcement for his music school, opened in collaboration with Edward “Ned” Kendall, who was known for his performances on both the Kent bugle[1] and the clarinet. Kendall’s work with band was notable enough to still be remembered almost a century later[2].


The Boston Post reports:

INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC ACADEMY. E. KENDALL & J. L. DOWNE most respectfully   inform their friends and the Musical public generally, that they intend immediately opening a School for the instruction, practice and |perfection of the following instruments, viz: Clarionet, Bugle, Violin, Flute, Violincello, and most other instruments now in use. They cannot but flatter themselves with the hope that from the approbation bestowed upon their several performances, and the high testimonials heretofore received, not only that such an institution will he well patronized, but that they will be enabled to give general satisfaction. Application made, and terms known at their Academy No. 190, Washington-Street, directly opposite the Marlboro Hotel[3].


The Post also provides the earliest concert notice for Downe, from October 1832 (since it is described as his annual concert, there may well have been prior iterations).

….. OF VOCAL AND INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC, At the Masonic Temple, this evening, Oct. 20th. MR. J. L. DOWNE has the honor most respectfully to announce, that his Annual Concert will take place THIS EVENING, at the Masonic Temple, when he will be accompanied by the eminent Orchestra of the Tremont Theatre[4], under the direction of Mr. Comer[5]—on which occasion MRS ADAMS has kindly consented to appear, and also several gentlemen of acknowledged vocal talent. Mr. Hansen has likewise generously volunteered to assist. Principal Vocalist, Miss Adams. Leader and Director, Mr. T. Comer.


  1. Overture. – Auber
  2. Song—Deep deep Sea, Mrs. Adams. C. E. Hum
  3. Air, with new Variations—Flute. Mr. Downe. Bucher
  4. Solo—Bassoon. Mr. Pearce, first time in four years. Schaffer.
  5. Song and Trio; The Sicilian Boatman. Mozart.
  6. Song—Away my gallant page away. Mrs. Adams
  7. Mr. Gear will (by particular request) perform Handel’s celebrated piece of music, called, The Harmonious Blacksmith, with additional Variations for the Contra Basso and Full Orchestra, Gear.


  1. Overture; Fra Diavolo. Auber.
  2. Solo—Flute. Master Pearce, 9 years of age, pupil of Mr. Downe.
  3. Glee—Three Voices.
  4. Song—Auld Joe Nicholson’s Nannie. Mrs. Adams. T. Comer[6] .


Downe performed at the concert of the Boston Academy of Music in early May of 1835, with Kendall once again present on bugle and clarinet, as well as participating in the American premiere of soprano Miss Estcourt Wells.

The Boston Academy of Music. —The choir of this institution gave a performance on the 13th of May, in the Bowdoin-Street church. A considerable portion of Neukomm’s new oratorio, David, was performed. Mr. E. Kendall gave a concert at the Boylston-hall, on Saturday, the 18th of April. Solos were performed on the Kent bugle by Mr. E. Kendall, flute by Mr. J. L. Downe, clarionet by Mr. Kendall, violin by J. Holloway, besides songs from the principal singers mentioned in the previous concert, and instrumental pieces by the Boston military brass band. Miss Watson gave a concert of sacred music on Tuesday, April the 14th at Amory-hall. On this occasion, Mrs. Watson (late Miss Wells) made her first appearance before an American audience. The principal vocal performers were Miss Watson, Mrs. Watson, Mrs. Andrews, and Mr. Comer. Instrumental solo performers—flute, Mr. Downe; clarionet, Mr. Kendall; trumpet, Mr. Armore; piano-forte, Mr. Watson. Leader, Mr. Ostinelli. The selection of music embraced several favourite pieces from Handel, Haydn, Spohr, Webbe, Comer, &c[7].

Downe made his first appearance in New York City in 1835, at a grand concert for U.C. (Ureli Corelli) Hill. Hill had been the conductor of the New York Sacred Music Society, established in 1823, and would go on to be the first conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

GRAND FAREWELL CONCERT. Mr. U.C. HILL, has the honour to inform his friends and the public, that he will give a concert on Tuesday evening, May 26th, under the kind and fostering patronage of the New York Sacred Music and Musical Fund Societies, prior to his departure for Europe. Solely, the love of his art, and of the fine arts of his country, with the advice and concurrence of his musical acquaintance, induces him to run this hazard which he has anticipated for years. He trusts that on this occasion he may have a cheerful parting. He has the pleasure to announce the following Eminent Talent, which he hopes will fully meet the approbation of his friends, and merit public patronage.

VOCAL PERFORMERS. MISS WATSON, MRS. C. HORN. Jun. MR. C. HORN, Jun. INSTRUMENTAL SOLO PERFORMERS. MISS STERLING, MR. C.E.HORN, on the Piano forte. MR. J. L. DOWNE, Flute, (his first appearance in New York.) MR. HILL, on the Violin. Conductor, Mr. C. E. Horn, who will preside at the Piano forte. Leader of the Orchestra, Mr. U.C. Hill.


  1. Overture,
  2. National Song ” The Fall of Niagara,” Mr. C. Horn, Jun. composed expressly for him. The Words by the late H. Clinch. Esq. C. E. Horn
  3. Air and Variation Violin Mr. U.C. Hill. C. De Beriot
  4. Ballad – Miss Watson “That Heavenly Voice.
  5. Robin Adair, with Variations for flute. John L. Downe.
  6. Song. Those Tinckling Bells, Mr. C. Horn, Winter Drouet A. Lee a. .
  7. 7 Overture, Rossini
  8. 8 Cavatina. Miss Watson Idole de ma vie, from Robert le Diable, Mayerbeer
  9. Grand Variations Piano Forte Miss Sterling “Ma Fanchette est Charmante.” First time in four years, H. Hertz
  10. Ballad, by desire Mr. C. Horn Nor all his pride of Kildare, Parry
  11. Duetto Mr. and Mrs. C. Horn – Loves sweetest flower, C. E. Horn
  12. Polonaise Violin Mr. Hill. P. Pechatscheck[8]
  13. Ballad (By particular desire) Miss Watson By the Margin of fair Zurich’s waters, arranged from a German melody, by Mr. Watson.
  14. Solo Octave Flute. The Nightingale J. L. Downe.

The only source I have found that verifies Downe’s first name is Stimpson’s Boston Directory, published in 1836, where he appears as John L. Downe, musician, Pleasant Street Court, on page 146. The address still exists in 2017, and is located in Charlestown, down the hill from the Bunker Hill Monument.  This allows us to locate him in the 1840 census in New York City.

Probably the most detailed descriptions of Downe’s performances are those found in the Musical Review (based in New York). A brief note from Jan. 1838 records that Downe performed “with skill” the variations by Drouet on Robin Adair at the annual concert of the Euterpeian Society[9].

May 1838 brings a lengthy review of a benefit concert for Downe.

Mr. Downe’s Concert. —First, let us express our sincere sorrow and regret, that the talents of so promising an artist, as the above-mentioned gentleman, should have met with, on Friday evening last, so paltry and pitiful reward. It is truly disheartening when we view efforts, the cost of which is years of laborious study, treated, we may say, so inhospitably, compared with the disgusting rubbish that is sometimes perpetrated within the walls of the City Hotel. The “bill of fare” prepared by Mr. Downe, was a rich and highly classical treat. It ought to have been better supported; but of this subject more anon. Mrs. Morley is a passable concert room vocalist—nothing more. Mrs. Watson cannot sing “Let the bright Seraphim:” Her John Anderson was pretty fair. Her best song, composed by Balfe, (which, by the by Malibran never sang,) was by far the best effort—it received an encore—though the composition in itself merits no favor. The words “Shall we go a sailing,” reminds us of an anecdote of poor Weber, who, on hearing Braham sing “The Bay of Biscay,” innocently inquired, at the close of the song, “What is dat Biscay Of”. Little Miss Taylor possesses a good voice for one so young, but her tutor, whoever he may be, should not thrust her into the actual torturing of such a Cavatina as Di Piacer. Morley’s voice was never in better order, or his intonation more pure than on the present occasion; he is evidently improving. Spohr’s magnificent Duet, from Faust, Callcott’s Tempest, and Dr. Arne’s “Now Phoebus setteth inthe west,” from Comus, were all admirably given. Of the last Duet, Con pazzienza, it is scarcely fair to speak, in consequence of Mrs. Morley having been encored in Rory O’More, the piece preceding: that lady seemed too much exhausted to do it justice. Mr. Munson’s song could easily have been dispensed with. How the instrumental performers managed to get through their portion of the night’s entertainment, we are at a loss to guess—the Piano being more than a quarter tone above pitch. Downe played beautifully, so did Christian; but both were evidently much distressed, owing to the above circumstance. The Grand Duet—concertante—Piano-forte and Violin, by Messrs. King and Hughes, composed by Herz and Lafont, was received with the greatest enthusiasm by the audience, more particularly the enchanting violin of Mr. Hughes. This Duet was one of the most agreeable pieces of the evening. Mr. Kendall, on the Harp—it would have been more edifying, had the Harp been on Mr. Kendall. King requires a little softening down; but he is a good player for all that. Mr. Mason’s Trumpet Obligato was too loud—for which, perhaps, we ought to blame the Piano. We can only once more express our chagrin, at the bad taste of the public, in not crowding the room, and conclude by wishing Mr. Downe at his next Concert, all the success he so richly deserves.

This concert was evidently a financial failure, for there is considerable discussion of the matter later in this journal, and Downe’s concert is included in a list of events that were losses for the producers[10].

The writer of a letter to the Musical Review describes a performance including Downe (date and place unclear):

….I now come to the solo of Mr. Downe, on the Flute, the Air “Le Petit Tambour,” with brilliant variations, which was played in a most masterly manner. This gentleman, with wonderful execution, combines a sweetness and expression which has never been equalled in this country. ….. Mr. Downe introduced a novelty in the Art of Flute Playing, being a Solo on the embouchure or top joint of his Flute, a performance never before attempted by anyone but himself; it was wonderful and at the same time very pleasing. The Waltz was composed by himself for this occasion.

The waltz described must certainly be among the waltzes by Downe for solo flute which were published by Firth and Hall in 1841, and are now in the collection of the Library of Congress.

Finally, the January 5 number of the Review describes the benefit for pianist William Scharfenberg (1819-1895), who had not yet turned twenty at the time, and was making his American debut.


This concert, which took place at the “Apollo Saloon,” was highly creditable to the enterprise and taste of the young artiste who gave it. The corps consisted of Rappetti, Downe, Boucher, Scharfenberg, solo performers—Miss Alldridge, vocalist—and a select band. Such a combination of talent engaged in one concert, is, in this country, a rare thing. We were only in time to hear the last four pieces, – a solo on the flute by Mr. Downe, a song by Miss Alldridge, a violin solo by Signor Rappetti, and the finale on the piano-forte by Mr. Scharfenberg. Mr. Downe did not play well as we have before heard him. He is an exquisite performer—the best, we believe, in the country. He gave us on this occasion something quite new—a variation in harmonics; sounds that, for acuteness of pitch, would vie with those produced by Paganini on the 15th leger line. Mr. Downe can play the flute in its legitimate style, with great purity of tone, expression, and execution; he can also, if circumstances require it, equal any one in novelties to excite the astonishment of those whom genuine music fails to please. We perceive that he is to play at Mr. King’s concert with only the upper joint of his flute. We have been both astonished and pleased with a performance of this sort by him, yet we are more pleased when his instrument is complete.

Downe had evidently moved to New York at some point during the 1830s, since he is included among those enumerated in the 1840 census in New York (he is listed as being between thirty and forty years of age, as is his wife, and has no fewer than five children – four daughters, and one son)[11].

By the 1840s, Downe had published his set of waltzes (registered at the New York copyright office Downe is notable enough to undertake a voyage to England, where he played in a benefit for Madame Gradini on Dec. 17, 1844. The former Miss Margaretta Graddon had appeared in works by Weber in London in the 1820s.

Princess’s Concert Room. —A concert occurred here on Tuesday evening, the interest of which was the first public appearance of Mad. Gradini (late Miss Graddon) since her return from America, where she has resided eight years. As Miss Graddon, the lady enjoyed a high and deserved celebrity in England, and she appears to have met with universal success in the various parts of America which she has visited. Her voice has not in any way lost its volume or its beauty, and her style of singing is as energetic and graceful as of yore. Mad. Gradini indulged her audience with two Italian cavatinas, a ballad by John Barnett, and a Tyrolienne in which she accompanied herself on the guitar. In all of these her reception was most warm and gratifying, and must have pleased the fair vocalist, who, no doubt, will resume her ancient popularity with little diminution. There were many other attractions worth notice, but we have only space to mention a fantasia on the Nicholson flute, played with admirable neatness and great taste by Mr. Downe (also from America)—a charmingly graceful duet by H. Brinley Richards, delightfully sung by the Misses Williams—some excellent singing by Machin, two concertina fantasias well executed by young Blagrove —unmistakable encores for drolleries no less unmistakable by John Parry, and last, not least, a fantasia on the pianoforte by Mr. J. Cohan, which produced a great effect and was loud and generally applauded[12].

Downe is back in London once more by 1847, when he gave a concert under his own name at Blagrove’s Rooms. He is now identified at the first flute of the Italian Opera in New Orleans.

On the same evening, Mr. J. L. Downe, first flautist of the Italian Opera at New Orleans, gave a concert at Blagrove’s Rooms, in Mortimer-street, with Mrs. A. Gibbs, Mrs. J. Roe, Messrs. Allen and Collins, Mr. Weeks, and Signor Furtado, for singers. The instrumental soloists were Signor Casolani (contrabasso), Messrs. Hancock, W. F. Reed, and Guest (violoncelli), Mr. Dean (clarinet), Mr. Nicholson (oboe), and Mr. Downe (flute). Mr. C. Blagrove was the accompanist.

Surviving works:

A Set of Waltzes for the Flute Dedicated to the Amateurs of New York by J.L. Downe. New York: Firth and Hall.

Library of Congress.


Copyright deposit, dated Feb. 19, 1841.

Ten individual works for unaccompanied flute. No. 6 is a Gallop.

Love’s Ritornella.

No place of publication or publisher. Theme with two variations, for unaccompanied flute.  Held in a bound collection at Oberlin.



[1] A keyed bugle patented by Joseph Halliday in 1811.

[2] Chamber of Commerce Journal of Maine, Volume 22, p. 191 (1909):

In 1829, the Rifle Corps, then under the command of Captain Solomon H. Mudge, having procured a new and handsome uniform, and wanting extra music for their anniversary, sent to Boston and engaged four pieces, a part of Kendall’s Band. Ned Kendall, the famous bugler came himself, accompanied by a trombone, French horn and cornet and these with Poland, Johnson and Foye, gave the music for the occasion. No such stirring martial music had ever before been heard on the streets of Portland.

A year later, 1830, the New England Guards, the Crack Rifle Company of Boston, under the command of Jouathon G. Chapman, afterwards Mayor of that city, came here on a visit to the Rifle Corps, bringing with them the celebrated Brigade band of eighteen pieces, Edward Kendall, leader. This was a great occasion and excited much interest in regard to martial music and lead to the organization in 1832 of the Portland band.

[3] Boston Post, December 13, 1831 (the same announcement also published on Nov. 28, and on Dec. 27, 1831)

[4] The Tremont Theater had been built in 1827 at 88 Tremont Theater. It was purchased by Baptists in 1843, and became the Tremont Temple. After many fires, the original structure was replaced by the building that still stands at the stie.

[5] Tom Comer, 1790-1862. Born in England, he arrived in Boston in 1827.

[6] Boston Post, October 20, 1832

[7] The Musical Library, no. 21, December 1835, p. 23,

[8] The opus 18 by František Martin Pecháček, 1793-1840.

[9] The Musical Review, vol. 1-2, 1838-1839, p. 8,

[10] ibid, p. 293.


[12] The Musical World, vol. 19, 1844, p. 415


Published on with permission from Prof. Dr. Tom Moore

About Prof. Dr. Tom Moore

Tom Moore holds degrees in music from Harvard and Stanford and studied traverso with Sandra Miller. From 2004 to 2007, he was visiting professor of music at the University of Rio de Janeiro (UniRio), where he co-directed the early music ensemble, Camerata Quantz. He has recorded with Kim Reighley and Mélomanie for Lyrichord (USA) and with Le Triomphe de l’Amour for Lyrichord and A Casa Discos (Brazil). Mr. Moore writes about music for,, 21st Century Music,  Opera Today, Flute Talk, Flutist Quarterly, and other journals. He has also sung professionally with the Symphonic Chorus of Rio de Janeiro and Concert Royal and Pomerium Musices of New York. He is presently head of the Sound and Image Department of the Green Library of Florida International University, Miami, FL. 


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