Thursday, February 07, 2013

Some songs that lasted

kw: music, popular songs, history

For a special project I gathered some songs of the period from just before the American Civil War to about 1880. I was surprised to find more than twenty that I already knew, that date back to 1860. I've no doubt if I look further back, there will be more.

Of course, I was glad to find Aura Lee, which I have loved all my life. It was published in 1861, and may actually date to some years (or decades?) earlier, because it began as a folk song. Just a bit older, published in 1860, and perhaps originating quite a bit earlier, is Wildwood Flower. This is one of my favorite pieces to play instrumentally. I find that the original words – see below – make a lot more sense than the version recorded by the Carter Family.

I will twine, I will mingle my raven black hair
With the roses so red and the lilies so fair,
And the myrtle so bright with its emerald hue,
The pale Amanita and the hyssop so blue.  ["Amanita" emphasized as 'a-me-NEE-ta']

I will dance, I will sing and my laugh shall be gay.
I will charm every heart, in his crown I will sway.
I woke from my dreaming, my idol was clay.
All portions of loving had all flown away.

But he taught me to love him and promised to love
And to cherish me over all others above.
My poor heart is wondering no misery can tell—
He left with no warning, no word of farewell.

Well, you told me you love me and called me your flower,
That was blooming to cheer you through life's dreary hour…
I live to see him regret life's dark hour:
He's gone and neglected this pale wildwood flower.

I find at the Wikipedia page for this song and elsewhere that there is a lot of discussion about "Amanita", spelled "emanita" in the sheet music, and that also there is "aronatus" in its place in some published versions. The consensus some have come to, with which I agree, is that Amanita is meant, referring to the Death Angel mushroom. The line thus refers to the pallor of the furious girl's face, with her blue eyes blazing out.

A few other songs that I was surprised to find, first published in that era: Clementine, Home on the Range, Grandfather's Clock and Abdul Abulbul Ameer. I suppose the last one should have come as no surprise, for it commemorates the Russian-Muslim rivalry of the Crimean War in the mid-1850s. It was a favorite of my mother's who loved to sing a verse about the Russian hero Ivan Skivinsky Skivar, who excelled at "euchre or pool, and he played on the Spanish guitar".

Ah, history. There is so much of it!

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