The centennial of that other war and our national anthem

From last year through 2015, the United States is observing the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Regular readers know that I have contributed several post here about the music of the Civil War. This year also marks the centennial of the War of 1812. That one gets lost in the shuffle. It had one important musical consequence, though: the words to our national anthem The war The War of 1812 is sort of the nineteenth-century equivalent of our wars in Korea or Vietnam. It did not end well. It created national divisions. It gave no one any particularly good … Continue reading

Carousel: June Is Bustin’ Out All Over, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

As a kid who hated snow from the first time he held a snow shovel in his hands, I immediately loved “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” when I first heard it. It’s an exuberant welcome to the beginning of summer, a fulfillment of the promise that May only started to keep. The song was first introduced as a rousing production number in Carousel, the second stage collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Their first, Oklahoma, had been so successful that they could simply assume that their next project could not measure up. So how did they go … Continue reading

George Frederick Root’s Civil War Songs

Chicago was the musical capital of the North when it came to production of great Civil War songs. The firm of Root & Cady employed two composers (the founder’s younger brother George Frederick Root and Henry Clay Work). Between the two of them, they composed all of the best-selling songs in the firm’s catalog and probably more big hits than any other Northern composer. George Frederick Root was born in 1820 in Sheffield, Massachusetts to a musical family. He studied piano with George J. Webb and, in 1845, moved to New York to establish a career as church organist and … Continue reading

God Save the South: an update on Confederate music

[ad name=”Google Adsense 728×90″] MRP4SNZYDHBB The Library of Congress Civil War Sheet Music Collection has five different items called “God Save the South!” These are attributed to three different composers. Not all of them name the author of the words. I have searched the collection by the keyword “Confederate,” obtaining a list of 493 items sorted by title. As it is impossible to resort that list, I have been working on a spreadsheet that I can sort in whatever ways are necessary. I am at the step of determining whether items with the same titles represent the same music or … Continue reading

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 … Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Seventy years ago this month, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into the Second World War. The war years, in turn, provided the background for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” one of the most melancholy Christmas songs ever written. The movie that introduced the song, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” the exemplary 1944 MGM period musical, takes place in 1903, when St. Louis was preparing to host the world’s fair. While two songs from that period have prominent places in the movie, composer Ralph Blane and lyricist Hugh Martin produced three songs that became instant hits, including … Continue reading

Autumn Leaves, words by Johnny Mercer

[ad name=”Google Adsense 728×90″] “Autumn Leaves” has its origin in French popular song. In 1950, the head of Capital Records music publishing division, Mickey Goldsen, asked for recordings of songs then popular in France. He especially loved a song called “Les feuilles mortes” (The Dead Leaves), with words by Jacques Prévert and music by Joseph Kosma. In fact, he thought this mournful song was the greatest he had ever heard. Immediately he contacted the pair and they agreed to allow him to produce an English-language version. But he had to have it done in four months. He turned to Johnny … Continue reading

After the Ball, by Charles K. Harris

“After the Ball,” by Charles K. Harris kicked American popular music into a higher gear. I have even encountered the claim that it marks the birth of American popular music! Certainly, publishers and performers had long attempted to make as much money as they could by appealing to the tastes of a mass audience. Songwriters too often had to sell the rights for a song to a publisher for very little money. In fact, it was because Harris was offended by low payment for another song that he decided to publish “After the Ball” himself. It became the first sheet … Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: Silver Bells

Silver Bells, which appeared in 1951, comes at the end of an amazing 19-year run that witnessed 19 Christmas songs that have have enjoyed continued popularity for more than half a century: • Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town (1932) • I Wonder As I Wander (1933) • Winter Wonderland (1934) • Carol of the Bells (1936) • The Little Drummer Boy (1941) • Happy Holiday (1942) • White Christmas (1942) • I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1943) • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (1944) • Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (1945) • All I … Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is a product of Tin Pan Alley, with words by Haven Gillispie and music by J. Fred Coots. Most of the lyricists and song writers who worked with Tin Pan Alley lived in New York. Gillespie, one of the few successful exceptions, chose to live with his family in Covington, Kentucky and make periodic trips to New York sell his latest work. On one trip in the fall of 1932, he learned that his brother Irwin had died suddenly of pneumonia. Gillespie had trouble putting his heart into his work, even though Irwin … Continue reading