Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

A Biography Of America's Folk-Song Composer By Harold Vincent Milligan

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THE COMPOSER
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of musical development of the older Atlantic states and those of the Middle West, the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast, will prove that the principle is still effec­tive. A great composer may yet "come out of the West," but the degree of his greatness will depend very largely upon just how early in his life he "comes out."
The amount of musical culture to be found in Pitts­burgh during the formative years of Stephen's boyhood was negligible. Pianos, and, indeed, all musical instru­ments, were extremely rare west of the Alleghany Moun­tains in the 1830's; and it is doubtful if Stephen heard much music of any kind during these early years. Even more important than this, however, was the prevailing attitude toward music. As we have indicated, the real turning-point of his career was in his boyhood and youth, before he had made more than a few efforts at musical composition. In the early development of a new com­munity, every effort of the people is devoted toward material progress. Forests must be razed, roads and houses built, the ground tilled and the crops gathered and utilized. In most of our American communities, the earliest settlers at the first possible opportunity laid the foundations of education and began training the intellect of the younger generation. Artistic culture, which may be called the third stage of development, must of neces­sity remain for a long time dormant.
Western Pennsylvania, during Stephen Foster's boy­hood, was making rapid progress in the evolution of its materialistic civilization, and had already entered upon the pursuit of intellectual culture, but the cultivation of art, in its manifold forms, had not even been begun. The real business of life, to these people, and to most Americans even in this present day, consisted of farming, manufacturing or trading; in other words, the production and manipulation of material. Certain other pursuits requiring more or less cultivation of the mind, such as law (and its corollary "politics"), medicine and the sciences,







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