Theodore von La Hache: a leading composer of Confederate songs

I had never heard of Theodore von La Hache until recently, but he is a fascinating figure in American musical history who deserves to be better known.

One of the many German musicians who moved to the United States, he settled in New Orleans in about 1842. There he served as organist and choirmaster at St. Theresa of Avila Church, co-founded the New Orleans Philharmonic Society, and composed prolifically.

During the Civil War, La Hache wrote his Missa Pro Pache (op. 644) in response to its horrors. He also wrote many songs and piano pieces related to the war.

Having written about the songs of one of the leading Northern songwriters of the American Civil War, Henry W. Work, it seemed a good idea to write about Southern writers, but I didn’t know who they were.

The Library of Congress has put a large collection of Civil War sheet music online, and it is possible to filter it in a number of ways. Unfortunately, once a filtered list comes up, it is impossible to resort it.

The only way I could identify the leading composers was to create my own spreadsheet. The collection now includes 493 Confederate items, sorted by title. (There were “only” 490 when I started.) It didn’t take long to recognize that La Hache’s name appeared frequently.

buy classical musicHere are the songs and piano pieces by La Hache in the Library of Congress online collection so far:

  • Keep step to the music  1856
  • Carrie Bell  1861
  • Grand parade march of the 5th Company Washington Artillery  1861
  • Parade polka march  1861
  • Confederates’ polka march  1862-64 (5 editions)
  • Improvisation on the bonnie blue flag 1862
  • Quickstep of the 5th Company Washington Artillery  1862
  • The Alabama  1863
  • Popping the question (Risquer la demande)  1864
  • Yes! (Oui!)  1864
  • Happy contraband schottisch  1865
  • The Conquered banner  1866, 1894 (3 editions)
  • I would like to change my name  1866 (2 editions)
  • Let us have pease, ha, ha  1868
  • My Maryland (Improvisation) 1892


buy classical musicMultiple editions at this time usually means that more than one publisher issued a piece, a sign of its popularity.

In the 1890s, publishers began to issue collections of Civil War music as a commemorative. Naturally, they republished only music that had somehow stood the test of time, or at least that they thought a new generation of customers would enjoy.

Again, the fact that the Library of Congress has editions from that time of two of La Hache’s pieces indicates their popularity.

The fact that the Library of Congress has the 1892 edition of LaHache’s improvisation on My Maryland but not a contemporary one indicates that this list of his Civil War music is by no means exhaustive.

However many war songs and piano pieces La Hache wrote, they make only a small fraction of his output, and certainly not his most important works.

After his death, the important German publisher B. Schott published a number of his masses. How much American music did European publishers consider worth issuing in the late 19th century?

The posthumous publication of La Hache’s music by such a prominent publisher indicates that Americans should have kept his memory alive.

Sources:
Theodore Felix von La Hache When you visit this site, you will hear one of La Hache’s masses.
Library of Congress Civil War Sheet Music Collection
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