Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

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

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for piano which are nothing but duplicates, an octave higher, of the first two lines of the verse. In other words, we have a ten-line musical verse of which nine lines are identical. The musical material from which the song is made proves to be two four-measure phrases. The har­monic texture is as naive as the melody. There are no modulations whatever, and only the three primary chords are employed, tonic, dominant (seventh) and subdominant, all of which appear in the root position, except one subdominant chord which is in a second inver- , sion. f This is, indeed, music in "words of one syllable," j and it is a striking evidence of the beauty and potency j of Foster's inspiration that his songs have won the affec­tion of the musically sophisticated, as well as of the unlearned.
"Massa's in the Cold, Cold Ground" is fashioned in the same manner as "The Old Folks at Home." The four-line verse is made of one phrase, occurring twice with dominant and twice with tonic ending; the chorus of two lines introduces one new phrase and repeats the original one. There are no modulations, only three chords, all in the root position except a single second inversion of the subdominant. The melodic outline of "My Old Kentucky Home" is on the same pattern, although it contains one modulation to the key of the dominant, and there are several chord inversions. The formula is varied slightly in "Old Black Joe," the fourth line of the verse being new material; the familiar modulation to the key of the dominant occurs in this song also. Foster seldom uses any other modulation, although there are a few instances when the key of the subdominant is used, and a few changes from major to relative minor, and vice versa. He made sparing use of the secondary chords, one of the most successful instances of their employment be­ing in the song "Ah, May the Red Rose Live Alway."
Of late years there has been a movement of protest against the use of certain of Foster's songs in the public

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