Did any of the founding fathers of the American revolution such as Benjamin Franklin like classical music or get an opportunity to hear any famous composers live in Europe? Were there any symphonies in America at the time (late 18th - early 19th century) that played Mozart or Beethoven?
Thomas Jefferson was a violinist and music fan (See here).
Beethoven didn’t start to really compose major works until around 1800. Washington had just died and Franklin was dead for a decade by then.
Mozart would have been known to Franklin, at least.
Mozart, Beethoven and many others composed music for an instrument that Franklin invented: the glass harmonica.
I’d be surprised if there were any orchestras in the US during revolutionary times, but there certainly was chamber music and pieces for solo instruments. Some version of the works of major composers of their time would have been familiar to the Founding Fathers.
A quick look through the internet shows that Beethoven was played in Europe, but hadn’t yet made inroads in the United States at the beginning of the 19th century. The surviving Founding Fathers, like Adams and Jefferson, didn’t travel to Europe after their presidencies, and so weren’t likely to hear his work. John Quincy Adams did hear Beethovon’s Battle Symphony in London in 1816, and pronounced it Bad Music, but Patriotic (see Brookhiser, here: http://books.google.com/books?id=nD4DjnAJ96cC&pg=PA79&lpg=PA79&dq=Federalist+America+music+Beethoven&source=bl&ots=m5HW9UhcKc&sig=p7Q4Sm9ZbmIEIiC-KxrifUrZ6wk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6hv1UuzyKOHjsATB6oLgAQ&ved=0CGAQ6AEwBzgK#v=onepage&q=Federalist%20America%20music%20Beethoven&f=false )
I don’t know about other Founders – you’d have to look them up independently. And I don’t know when Beethoven’s music began to be played widely in the US.
Franklin himself composed some works to be played on his glass harmonica; I heard one on the radio the other day. By the way, the “h” is silent, “armonica.” The instrument sounds a lot like a flute, but after a minute or two, you notice a certain shimmering quality a flute can’t make.
Some folklore says glass harmonica players go insane, and some sources link that to lead absorbed through the player’s wet fingers from the lead crystal rotating glasses. I wrote to Performance Today’s Fred Child about that. He asked some present-day players, and they dismissed it as myth.
The Wikipedia article on the New York Philharmonic implies that the earliest orchestra in the USA was founded in 1799:
The print source is a book that is available in snippet view on Amazon, and contains the following passages:
So it seems that there were attempts to perform large-ensemble contemporary classical music by the end of the 18th century, at least in New York. Given that New York had just become the largest city in the US at this time, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were similar performances & groups in other large cities (Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston, Baltimore) at this time as well.
Evidence of Beethoven being performed in the United States apparently goes back to 1805, but “widely” is another question.
Oh, hey: here’s an excerpt from a book discussing the first Beethoven performances in the US. It’s all well worth reading, but the basic gist of it is that the professional orchestra (as we understand it now) didn’t take off until the 1840s. Until then, the way to hear contemporary composers would have been to participate in a musical society: