Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

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

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THE COMPOSER                        113
which are their greatest attribute. Limited as it was, his technical equipment was exactly suited to the pro­duction of such a song as "The Old Folks at Home." j
It would be futile to compare him with any of the great men of music. The circumstances of his life, the environments of his mind, were so totally different from those surrounding any of the acknowledged masters of the Art, that any speculations of this kind would be idle. He bears some resemblance to Schubert. Who can say what would have been the sum of Franz Schubert's achievements had he been born in Pittsburgh in 1826?
Foster's melodies display a surprising vigor; they ! abound in wide intervals, the initial phrase frequently extending over an octave, a characteristic said to be indicative of an active temperament and an energetic mind. Intervals of a fourth, a fifth and a sixth are quite common, while the leap of an octave occurs often enough to be noted as a characteristic. Among the melodies in which the octave leap occurs are those of the songs "Uncle Ned," "Massa's in the Cold, Cold Ground," "The Old Folks at Home," "Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming," "Willie Has Gone to the War," "Nell and I," and the Schubertian "Open Thy Lattice, Love," written at sixteen.
The repetitiousness of Foster's melodies is such that; one cannot fail to wonder that they exert such an influ-\ ence upon the listener as they do. Even among the folk- \ songs and the simple tunes to which they can be com- I pared, few are as rudimentary as they. For example, let i us analyze "The Old Folks at Home," which, for wide- \ spread popularity, is the most successful of his songs, j The verse is composed of a four-bar phrase which is < repeated four times, twice with a semi-cadence (dominant j seventh), and twice with a tonic cadence. The beginning of the chorus presents a new phrase of four measures, answered by the verse-phrase with the complete cadence. The song is provided with a "prelude" and "postlude"

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III