Archive for February, 2010

Songs in Honor of Washington

Posted on: February 1st, 2010 by hauleymusic No Comments

The songs of the years following the Revolution show to what a great extent Washington was idolized. A “New Song” which appeared in the Philadelphia Continental Journal of April 7, 1786, was adapted to the tune of God Save the King:

God save great Washington
His worth from ev’ry tongue
Demands applause:
Ye tuneful powers combine,
And each true Whig now join
Whose heart did ne’er resign
The glorious cause.

On the occasion of the general’s birthday in 1786, the “adopted Sons” performed a work especially written for the event – an Ode on the Birthday of his Excellency George Washington; “celebrated by the Adopted Sons at the Pennsylvania Coffee House in Philadelphia, composed by a member of that society”. The words, which were printed in the Pennsylvania Packet two days later, hailed Washington as a patron of music: “Parent of soothing airs and lofty strains-”

In the same year William Selby, an English musician of Boston, composed an Ode in Honour of General Washington, performed at a concert in that city, April 27th.

In the same year Francis Hopkinson published the eight songs that he dedicated to George Washington. The father of our country wrote many charming letters, but few were more gracious than that addressed to Hopkinson, accepting the dedication: “. . . . But, my dear Sir, if you had any doubts about the reception which your work would meet with – or had the smallest reason to think that you should meet with any assistance to defend it – you have not acted with your usual good judgment in the choice of a coadjutator, for . . . what alas! can I do to support it? I can neither sing one of the songs, nor raise a note on any instrument to convince the unbelieving. But I have, however, one argument which will prevail with persons of true estate (at least in America) – I can tell them that it is the production of Mr. Hopkinson.”

While there were actually eight songs in the collection, the volume was entitled Seven Songs, and contained under the last number a footnote explaining that the author had decided to include it after the title page had been engraved. The titles of the songs, as well as their poetic and musical content, show the influence of the contemporary English style: “Come, fair Rosina, come away; My love is gone to sea; Beneath a weeping willow’s shade; Enraptur’d I gaze; when my Delia is by; See, down Maria’s blushing cheek; O’er the hills far away, at the birth of the morn; My gen’rous heart disdains, the slave of love to be; and The trav’ler benighted and lost, o’er the mountains pursues, his lone way.”

Hopkinson sent a copy of the collection to Washington, and another to his friend Thomas Jefferson, who was then in Paris. In his letter to Jefferson the composer said he thought that the last song, “if played very slow, and sung with Expression”, was “forcibly pathetic – at least in my fancy”. Jefferson thought so, too, for he replied: “I will not tell you how much they have pleased us, nor how well the last of them merits praise for its pathos, but relate a fact only, which is that while my elder daughter was playing it on a harpsichord, I happened to look toward the fire & saw the younger one all in tears. I asked her if she was sick? She said” ‘no; but the tune was so mournful.’

“And that, we may be sure, was indeed a compliment!”