Of Poetry and Politics: Music at the Time of the Civil War

Saturday, November 2 • African Meetinghouse at the Museum of African American History, Boston
Sunday, November 3, • Worcester Historical Museum, Worcester

Overture to Oberon, J. 306 (chamber arrangement published in 1872)             Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

Come into the Garden, Maud                                           J.C.D. Parker (1828-1916)

The Wanderer                                                                 Franz Liszt (1811-1886), arr. by Charles E. Horn

Piano Trio in E Major, op. 1 no. 1                                    Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Allegro • Adagio cantabile • Scherzo (Allegro assai) • Finale (Presto)

The Ship on Fire                                                            Henry Russell (1812-1900)

Intermission

Song from Milton’s Comus (Sweet Echo)                          Otto Dresel (1826-1890)

Our Childhood’s Home                                                   Herrman S. Saroni (1824-1900)

Wilt Thou Bring my Baby Home                                      Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins (1849-1908)

Schäfers Klage (Shepherd’s lament), from Piano Trio in G Minor, op. 63)                          Weber

Wilt Thou be Gone, Love                                                  Stephen C. Foster (1826-1864)

Mendelssohnia Waltzes                                                    Francis Rzhia (fl . mid-19th century)

Grafted into the Army                                                      Henry C. Work (1832-1884)

Mother, is the Battle Over                                                Benedict Roefs (dates unknown)

Battle Hymn of the Republic                                            Arrangement published by Oliver Ditson, Boston, 1862

 

Pamela Dellal, mezzo-soprano; Dana Whiteside, baritone
Suzanne Stumpf, flute; Sarah Darling, violin
Micchael Bahmann, pianoforte


Program Notes

 

During the Civil War era, musical culture in the Boston area was experiencing a fl owering of compositionalinnovation, performance artistry, and deepening appreciation of great music by the public. The raising ofmusical standards here can be credited in large part to newly-formed institutions which became highly influential. Dwight’s Journal of Music, begun in 1852, became a pulpit for its founder John Sullivan Dwight to advocate for the best music and performances to be brought before the public, seeing the works of thegreat masters as “sacred.”

Dwight was a great champion of one of the foremost chamber music ensembles in America at thistime, the Mendelssohn Quintette Club. This ensemble, active from 1849 to 1895, presented full seasons of concerts across the region and toured extensively both nationally and internationally, venturing as far afield as Australia. Their repertoire included a broad range of works from Classical and Romantic masters, along with works by their American contemporaries and guest artists. Among the works known to have been in their repertoire are the Beethoven and Weber piano trios presented on this program. Their longtime presence did for chamber music what the Germania Society (an important precursor to the Boston Symphony Orchestra) did for orchestral music—broaden and refi ne the public’s musical taste and help to make Boston the pinnacle of American musical culture during that era.

The role of popular music in the region was growing as well. During the turbulent Civil War years, music emanated from Boston’s regiments, salons, homes, and publishing houses in the service of union causes, providing an important source of propaganda and inspiration. This program is intended to give audiences the flavor of our area’s multi-faceted musical culture at the time of the Civil War.

In the first half of the 19th century, the music of the region looked to England and France for its primary influence, but by the 1850s German infl uence began to dominate, with many fine German musicians immigrating to this country. This trend is illustrated in the selection of art songs chosen for this program.

The German-born pianist and composer Otto Dresel studied with Franz Liszt and Maurice Hauptmann, later receiving guidance from Mendelssohn and Schumann. He immigrated to the US in 1848, settling in the Boston area around 1852. He was a serious and introspective performer, and his musical activities were closely followed in Dwight’s Journal. He composed around 90 songs and chamber music pieces, most of which remained unpublished during his lifetime. His setting of a song from Milton’s Comus is indicative of the composer’s expressiveness and seriousness of purpose. In 1855, Dwight wrote about this work: “Here we have something refreshingly pure and true in the way of song. The musician has caught the tone and spirit of the poem; that crystal purity and spirituality of Milton’s Comus is found in the chaste and un-commonplace melody, the delicately sympathetic accompaniment.”

A close colleague of Dresel was the German-trained American composer J. C. D. Parker. A Boston native, Parker was organist at Trinity Church, a teacher at the New England Conservatory, and a frequent guest pianist with the Mendelssohn Quintette Club. His song Come into the Garden Maud, subtitled Serenade is the only solo song he is known to have composed. Written soon after the publication of Tennyson’s monodramatic poem Maud (1855). The spare textures, offset rhythms, and harmonic ingenuity brings out and supports the beguiling text.

Another German immigrant was Herrman Saroni, who was the most well-traveled of the composers represented in this program, having lived and worked in New York, Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio. His songs show the influence of German lieder over the American parlor song. His song Our Childhood’s Home, published in New York in 1848, is one of very few American songs of the period that include an obbligato instrument (in this case, the cello). The work effectively conjures the magic of childhood reminiscences.

Another work that makes use of an obbligato instrument is the arrangement by Charles E. Horn of Franz Liszt’s The Wanderer, published in Boston in 1853. The setting is enhanced in performance by following the arranger’s suggestion of placing the flute some distance from the singer, perhaps to symbolize the? missed loved one.

Henry Russell was an English singer and pianist who studied composition with Rossini and Bellini, coming to the US around 1836. He was a popular performer and prolifi c songwriter specializing in ballads and dramatic multi-section songs modeled after Italian opera scenes. One such work is The Ship on Fire, which shows his keen sense of drama through characterful musical text painting.

The two other song composers in this program are true American originals. The extraordinary piano prodigy Thomas Wiggins, known as “blind Tom” was a musical sensation, touring nationally to great acclaim with his evocative compositions and improvisations, performed along with works by European masters such as Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt. He is believed to have exhibited autistic spectrum behaviors. His song Wilt thou Bring my Baby Home is one of his few vocal pieces. It shows fine craftsmanship in its musical content, while his text (seemingly unedited by the publisher) gives a window into his presumed autism.

The name of Stephen Collins Foster has become synonymous with the American parlor song. While he drew from myriad musical infl uences from the ethnically diverse neighborhoods of his native Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh’s north side), Foster’s lyrics and music tend to touch on universal themes of home and family. His vocal duets are among the few compositions where he took on a more serious operatic style. Wilt Thou be Gone, Love deftly adapts Shakespeare’s text in an impassioned dialogue.

Foster was one of the first American composers to make a living exclusively from song writing. This was made possible, in part, by the burgeoning market for sheet music intended for amateur musicians, both singers and instrumentalists. The chamber arrangement of the overture to Weber’s Oberon, published in Philadelphia in 1872 is an example of a chamber work published with the amateur market in mind. Another is the set of waltzes titled “Mendelssohnia” by Mendelssohn Quintette Club member Francis Rzhia (or Riha), who joined the group soon after arriving in the US on tour with the Steyermark Orchestra from Styria, now the southeastern part of Austria. The infl uence of Strauss and Lanner—the fathers of the Viennese waltz—are felt here in the form of the set, its sweeping melodies, and playful rhythmic changes.

The final song set of this program is intended to provide a brief narrative of the Civil War concerns of the region, from the forming of the regiments in “Grafted into the Army, to those left behind at home in “Mother, is the Battle over” to the righteous and inspiring call to battle in “Glory, Hallelujah, a song with local roots.