W.C. Peters

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First American Symphony Composer, Founder of Pittsburgh's 1st Music Store, and Music Publisher

W.C. Peters was a composer, arranger, organist, teacher, choir master, clarinetist, music merchant, and music publisher.  Peters, who was born in Woodbury Devonshire, England in 1805, immigrated with his parents to the New World at age 15 in 1820.  He studied music with his father and learned more on his own.  Arriving in Pittsburgh around 1825 he became one of the first music professionals in Western Pennsylvania.  He became a music teacher giving piano lessons to students in Pittsburgh including Stephen Foster’s older sisters.  He also lead church choirs and concerts.

George Rapp's Harmony Society, based in Harmony, Pa., employed Peters as an arranger and composer commissioning him to compose the two-movement “Symphony in D” in 1831.  According to some historians it may have been the first symphony composed and performed in America.  Other of Peter’s original compositions were "Citizens Guards' March" (1841); "Sweet Memories of Thee" (1839), and "Kind, Kind and Gentle Is She" (1840),   Peters also wrote music for the Roman Catholic Church, including a Mass in D.

Peters, John Mellor, and W.D. Smith opened the first music store in Pittsburgh in 1831.   Prior to its opening instruments and sheet music was sold in general stores.  Open its opening the store sold harpsichords, harmonica, music boxes, sheet music, and pianos.   Originally named “Smith, Peters & Company” Pittsburgh’s first music store was located at 81 Wood Street.   It was renamed the John H. Mellor Company, when W.C. Peters left Pittsburgh.   It became C.C. Mellor in 1863 when John’s son Charles C. Mellor took over.  The C.C. Mellor music store existed for 113 years closing the doors of its 601 Wood Street location in 1944.  Billed as “America’s oldest piano house” Mellor’s store sold over 85,000 pianos during its existence.

In 1832 Peters moved to Louisville to start a music school and music library.  He founded the music publishing business Peters & Co in 1840 that published the songs of Stephen Foster and Henry Russell.  Foster gave Peters several of his songs to publish including "Susanna," "Louisiana Belle," and "Old Uncle Ned."  Reportedly Peters earned over $10,000 from the sale of Foster's music. Those profits enabled Peters to grow his business.  Moving to Cincinnati in 1851 Peters formed the W. C. Peters & Sons company that became one of the most influential music publishing firms of the nineteenth century.  With partners he opened other publishing companies in Baltimore, New York, and St. Louis.

Peters edited and published a music magazine, “the Olio” for one year in Baltimore. He published the piano instruction book the “Eclectic Piano-Forte Instructor” in 1855. In the book Peters compiled and adapted materials form several American and European piano instruction books along with pieces from nine composers.  It sold more the one-half million copies by the end of the nineteenth century.  He edited and published a revised enlarged edition of Burrowes' Piano Forte Primer in 1849 and 1869.  Peters also compiled and published two books of religious music: “Peters' Catholic Harmonist” (1848) and the Catholic Harp (1862). His firm also published music that Peters arranged and composed.  The stock and plates of his publishing company where destroyed in a fire in 1866.  Peters died suddenly one month later from heart disease In 1866 at his home in Cincinnati.  After his death, his brother and sons continued the music publish business