The American Civil War inspired more great songs than any other conflict. George Frederick Root composed a large share of them. Some of them are rousing patriotic tunes, such as Battle Cry of Freedom. But he also composed songs about the devastating impact of the war on American families.
“Just Before the Battle, Mother” is one of the earliest of these. It became such a great hit that it inspired many other songs. Root himself composed more than one of them, including the companion piece “Just After the Battle.”
Louis Moreau Gottschalk became the first internationally famous American piano virtuoso and composer. Given his importance and popularity, it may come as a surprise that he spent so little time in the United States. His most important American concert tour coincided with the Civil War.
All his life, Gottschalk kept a journal, in French. In 1881, his sister Clara Peterson and her husband translated it to English and had it published as Notes of a Pianist. It has proved to be one of the great musical diaries of the nineteenth century. Gottschalk recorded detailed observations with sardonic wit. Continue reading →
Edition of Blackmar & Sons, Augusta, Georgia, 1862
Every state except New Jersey has designated at least one official state song. Some states have chosen popular songs. Maryland adopted the popular Civil War song “Maryland, My Maryland” in 1939.
Along with Missouri, Kentucky, and Delaware, Maryland was one of the so-called Border States. They never seceded from the Union, but many of their citizens would have preferred joining the Confederacy.
One of them, a former resident of Baltimore living in Louisiana, wrote “Maryland, My Maryland” in rage about news from home. It seems an odd choice for an official state song nearly 80 years later.
Several songs of the Civil War remain popular a hundred and fifty years after its end. None has as many different associations or as complicated a history as Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Julia Ward Howe, the author of the text, grew up in a socially prominent family. She knew many of the leading literary figures of her day and aspired to be counted among them.
She wrote her abolitionist war poem to fit a folk tune that owed much of its character to slave culture. The earliest text we know for it appealed both to slaves and their owners, but for very different reasons. Her own text has had similarly broad appeal to groups of people who seem to have little in common.
Mostly under the influence of Battle Hymn of the Republic, people later fit other poems to the tune to serve other social causes. Yet many people probably know it only from singing it in church. Continue reading →
Last week’s post examined how the Civil War affected performance of music in three Northern cities: Boston, New York, and Chicago.
This week’s is devoted to musical institutions in the South, looking at New Orleans, the state of Georgia, and Richmond, Virginia.
Disruptions to Northern musical institutions came as a result of citizens’ preoccupation with war news, the number of musicians called to military service, and in New York, the exodus of foreign opera stars. These same concerns also disrupted musical life in the South, but the South knew at least one major disruption that the North did not suffer. Nearly the entire war took place on Southern soil. Continue reading →