Thursday, March 27, 2014

Composer Study - Stephen Foster

Stephen Collins Foster (July 4, 1826 – January 13, 1864), known as the "father of American music," was an American songwriter primarily known for his minstrel and parlor music.

Foster wrote over 200 songs; among his best-known are "Camptown Races," "Oh! Susanna," "Old Folks at Home,"  "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," "My Old Kentucky Home," and "Beautiful Dreamer." Many of his songs remain popular more than 150 years after he wrote them.

Sophia and Olivia listened to six of Foster's songs by listening to two CDs from the library:
- Beautiful Days - The Songs of Stephen Foster. 
- American Dreamers - Songs of Stephen Foster. Thomas Hampson was the vocalist on this CD.

We also found a version of Oh! Susanna on YouTube since the one featured on Beautiful Days was too slow of a rendition of it. It didn't sound like the version we had heard before, so we found one that was more high-spirited and fun to listen to for that song.


Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair (4:17)

According to Wikipedia, "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair is a parlor song that was published by Firth, Pond & Co. of New York in 1854. Foster wrote the song with his wife Jane McDowell in mind.

According to Wikipedia, "Jeanie was a notorious beneficiary of the ASCAP boycott of 1941. During this period, most modern music could not be played by the major radio broadcasters due to a dispute over licensing fees. The broadcasters used public-domain songs during this period, and according to a 1941 article in Time magazine, "So often had BMI's Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair been played that she was widely reported to have turned grey."

Sophia thought - It seems like it would be a song that you would hear in an opera...or maybe something you'd hear at a fancy dinner. I probably wouldn't listen to this on a daily basis. It's too old-fashioned. I liked the music, but not the singing.

Olivia thought - It sounds kind of sad. [Someone starts singing:] That was startling and different. I kind of understood what he understood at some points. I liked the music...I just didn't like the singing.

Dancing on the River (4:25)

Sophia thought: I like this one because it's something you'd hear at a party that Laura Ingalls Wilder might have gone to. It sounds like something they would have danced to in Laura's time. [A new percussion instrument is playing:] Are those castanets? 

Olivia - I like this one. It sounds like something you'd hear at a very lively party out west. [A new percussion instrument is playing:] It sounds like a horse clopping around on a hard surface - like bricks - or a person is tap dancing.

Beautiful Dreamer (3:53)

This is a parlor song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864). It was published after Foster's death in March 1864 by Wm. A. Pond & Co. of New York. The first edition states on its title page that it is "the last song ever written by Stephen C. Foster. Composed but a few days prior to his death."

Sophia thought: It sounds like something you'd heard on a mid-summer nights dream. [A guy starts singing:] I don't like it!! I take what I said back. I think it's a good song but I could have done without the singing of that particular guy. I liked the lyrics about the "beautiful dreamer" part.

Olivia thought: The beginning of it before the man starting singing of relaxing music that a person would be playing while sitting on the deck or porch. I think I like it too, but without the singing. It was a relaxing song. 

Campton Races (2:40)

"Gwine to Run All Night, or De Camptown Races" (popularly known as "Camptown Races") is a minstrel song that was published by F. D. Benteen of Baltimore, Maryland, in February 1850.

In one of the most widely-familiar uses of "Camptown Races" in popular culture, the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon character Foghorn J. Leghorn sings the "Dooh Dah" refrain repeatedly in most of the 26 cartoons the character appears in between 1946 and 1963. But while the character sings other parts of the song's melody, he does not sing any other lyrics.

Sophia thought:I like that one. It was better than the other ones that I've heard so far. It had a nice rhythm and I liked the singer's voice. 

Olivia thought: I like this song because it's something you'd hear on the radio. I liked the singer's voice and the instruments that they used.

Note: The girls liked this song so much they listened to it again. I think they also needed a "pick me up" song after listening to Swanee River.

Old Folks at Home (Swanee River) (3:38)

This is a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1851. It is the official state song of Florida.

Sophia thought:I don't really like this song. It's slow. It just seems quiet and sluggish.

Olivia thought: I think Tia has sang this song before. I liked the music - it would be music that you'd listen to calm yourself down. It sounded like they used the piano a lot in this song.

Oh! Susanna (3:56)

"Oh! Susanna" is a minstrel song that was first published in 1848. It is among the most popular American songs ever written.

In 1846, Foster moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and became a bookkeeper with his brother's steamship company. While in Cincinnati, Foster wrote "Oh! Susanna,"possibly for his men's social club.

The song blends a variety of musical traditions. The opening line mentions "a banjo on my knee," which refers to a musical instrument with African origins. The song takes its beat from the polka, which had just reached America from Europe.

The lyrics are basically nonsense, as characterized by lines such as "It rain'd all night the day I left, The weather it was dry, The sun so hot I froze to death..." and "I shut my eyes to hold my breath..." (second verse).

Sophia thought: [First version we listened to on CD:] They murdered this song. I don't like it.~~~[New version:] It was certainly interesting because he jumped up on a telegraph pole and might have been electrocuted in the version we listened to. I liked the bango - it was definitely country. 

Olivia thought: [First version we listened to on CD:] It's different. It's slow. I don't like this version of it. ~~~ [New version:] I like this version better. It's more lively. It's quicker. It had some strange lyrics. I liked the banjo music.

1 comment:

Rita said...

All classics! Funny how music has gotten faster and faster. Even from the 1950s everything has sped up. :)