History: American Civil War era music
Good morning -
Wow! I have learned to expect to be impressed by the wealth of
information that Choralist members are willing to share - but these
responses were so very helpful - thanks each of you who took the time
Special thanks to the following responders:
" Cheryl Licary"
The original post was:
Our high school is working on a stage production of "Little Women"
and we are in a quandry. While I can help out with the "classical"
composers who wrote during that period, I'm at a loss to list the
"popular" composers. What songs would have been sung or played on
the piano in New England homes of that period? Is Stephen Foster
appropriate? Who were composers of the "light classics" of that era?
We'd welcome any help that you can offer - and I'll be glad to post
a compilation - although interesting, it might be of limited use.
And the responses:
Use Stephen Foster, of course. But, many do not realize that European
classics were "popular" in piano reductions as well. Lincoln was
inaugurated to the tunes of Verdi's Rigoletto set for brass band.
During the mid 1800s the big name was Louis Gottschalk, a sort of
American superstar composer-performer.
Well, remember that we were fighting the Civil War at the time, so
wartime tunes would certainly be in vogue. My favorite source for
information like this is one the "standards" for popular music
information: Lax and Smith's The Great Song Thesaurus. One the
sections lists the popular "hits," year by year. If you are limiting
yourself specifically to 1863-64, here is what they list:
1863--Johnny Schmoker; Just before the Battle, Mother; Sweet and Low;
When Johnny Comes Marching Home; 1864--Barcarolle (from "Tales of
Hoffmann"); Beautiful Dreamer; Father, Dear Father, Come Home with Me
Now; Goober Peas; Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone; La
Paloma; Tenting on the Old Camp Ground or Tenting Tonight; Tramp,
Tramp, Tramp (the Boys are Marching). Other selections from that
period: 1860--Dixie; Old Black Joe; 1861--Abide with Me; Aura Lee;
John Brown's Body (melody of the chorus from1856 or earlier;
1862--Battle Hymn of the Republic; Killarney; 1865--Ich Liebe Dich
(music by Grieg); The Little Brown Church (in the Vale); Marching
In 1976, I was preparing my High School in a Cabarert concert of
music ... featuring highlights of pop music as well as honoring the
bi-centennial. Several students decided to research (before the www)
and did a very thorough job in a variety of libraries. We printed
the 200 year list in the program. In reviewing it, here are some
pieces listed for the years 1860-1865. Hope this helps. Remember,
the "hits" of that time didn't disappear as quickly as they might
today. If you need further info, let me know.
1860 - 'Tis but a Faded Flower, Dixie, Old Black Joe, Annie Lisle
1861 - Aura Lee, John Brown's Body, Maryland, My Maryland, The Vacant Chair
1862 - Battle Hymn of the Republic, The Bonnie Blue Flag, Kingdom
Coming, We Are Coming Father Abraham
1863 - Babylon is Fallen, The Battle Cry of Freedom, Just Before the
Battle, Mother, Weeping Sad and Lonely, When Johnny Comes Marching
1864 - All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight, Beautiful Dreamer, Come
Home Father, Wake Nicodemus, Where O Where Has My Little Dog Gone?
1865 - Ellie Rhee, Marching Through Georgia
Stephen Foster is very much of that era and would be swell. And
don't forget that you're talking about the Civil War period, so a lot
of those songs would have been very popular: "Tenting on the Old
Camp Ground," "Johnny Comes Marching Home," etc. Minstrel Shows
would be another source to research. Topical songs (I'm not sure
when any of these were written) like "John Henry" and "The Eire
Canal." Probably a little early for James Bland, but not for Lowell
Mason. Oh, and hymns and songs by New Englanders.
You've got some research to do, but should be able to come up with
some nice things. Maybe look for song collections that are themed to
various aspects of the era.
Foster is good, and so is Henry Clay Work. Try those for starters...
Also, if you locate one of those Heart Songs albums, you will find
that popular opera arias were translated in to English and sung at
home, things like "Home to our Mountains", from Verdi's Il trovatore.
And "I dreamt that I dwellt in marble halls", from Balfe's The
Bohemian Girl, is ideal.
Much of the music was imported (if available) from Europe. Minuets by
Bach, Handel were popular. Any music by Tomas Arne works well. If you
have any accompanying books for recorder, they are entertaining.
Good luck on a great project.
John Hopkins Univ. has a wonderful site where you can find popular
music by years, and you can print it as well. George Root was a very
popular composer of parlor music. There are others(I do programs of
Civil War period parlor music), and most of what we use can be found
on this website.
I suggest that you go to the page:
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cwmhtml/cwmhome.html, it's about band
music in the civil war era. You might get some inspiration here.
Schubert, Donizetti, the songs that were sung 'round the piano...lots
of excellent books available.
You should check out this website for a rich list of "Historic
American Sheet Music" Hosted by Duke University's library.
You will find that you can search for song titles, key words, authors
and the results come up in ten year intervals between 1850 and 1927.
The sheet music of each song includes the original cover art and can
printed. You should find many popular songs of the Civil war period
including negro spirituals, folk songs, etc.
I am a vocal music teacher and civil war reenactor. I guess you
could say that I know a little about this era. Stephen Foster would
indeed be appropriate as well as patriotic music. We were in the
middle of the Civil War years and the Marsh family in Little Women
had family and friends embroiled in the conflict. Lively music like
Gary Owen as well as soulful music like Just before the Battle Mother
were sung. Even Dixie was written by a Northerner for the popular
minstrel shows of the time.
You may like to go to these web sites:
Vocal Music and Drama
Blue Earth Area High School
1125 Highway 169 North
Blue Earth MN 56013-2307
(507) 526-3201 x506