July 19, 2010

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music

This kind of information that makes my heart beat faster!  What am I talking about?  An online archive of American sheet music that has been made available by the Library of Congress.  Finally, your tax dollars are going to something worthwhile!

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885 consists of over 47,000 pieces of sheet music registered for copyright during the years 1870 to 1885. Included are popular songs, piano music, sacred and secular choral music, solo instrumental music, method books and instructional materials, and music for band and orchestra.

The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its resources available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. The goal of the Library's National Digital Library Program is to offer broad public access to a wide range of historical and cultural documents as a contribution to education and lifelong learning.

The Library of Congress presents these documents as part of the record of the past. These primary historical documents reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. The Library of Congress does not endorse the views expressed in these collections, which may contain materials offensive to some readers. 

What's up with the warning of offensive material?  I think that has something to do with music written a century before civil rights.

How to use the site?  You can browse around for starters.  If you are looking - say- for songs by Stephen Foster, entering his name as a 'search' which will lead you to interesting material. It was very common for a composer's work to be arranged for other instruments or arranged for voices.  And Foster's very popular music was no exception.  Here is his evocative Beautiful Dreamer arranged for piano. 




When you find something you'd like to copy, all you have to do is drag the image off the page and then print it out.   Simple as that.

Stephen Foster?  That is a sad tale.  Beautiful Dreamer was published after his death at the age of 37. (As America's first songwriter, Foster hardly saw a dime from music published in his own life-time, a fact which undoubtedly contributed to his poverty and death.) Marilyn Horne has had a particular association with this song.  And I have not forgotten hearing her sing it on a program at the McCarter Theater in Princeton in the 1980's.  Here she is singing it in recital with the excellent Marvin Katz at the piano at Covent Garden.   Beautiful indeed!



Stephen Collins Foster


I hope you have fun searching Music for the Nation.  The material there is part of our history.  And should not be forgotten. 

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