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The First American Art Song:

"My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free"



 


Did you know that the first American song was written by a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and who also was one of the designers of the first American flag?

The first American art song was written by Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791).

He was a lawyer and also an amateur composer.

His song, "My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free," was composed in 1759.

"My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free" song manuscript

From the Library of Congress website:

"The first extant art songs composed in the United States are credited to Francis Hopkinson, a friend of George Washington and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hopkinson, the only American-born composer for whom there is evidence of having written songs prior to 1800, penned "My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free" (words by Thomas Parnell) in 1759. Scored for voice and harpsichord, this song by Hopkinson is America's earliest surviving secular composition."

Words for the song:

My days have been so wondrous free,
The little birds that fly
With careless ease from tree to tree,
Were but as bless'd as I.

Ask gliding waters, if a tear
Of mine increas'd their stream?
Or ask the flying gales, if e'er
I lent one sigh to them?

But now my former days retire,
And I'm by beauty caught;
The tender chains of sweet desire
Are fix'd upon my thought.

Ye nightingales, ye twisting pines!
Ye swains that haunt the grove!
Ye gentle echoes, breezy winds!
Ye close retreats of love!

With all of nature, all of art,
Assist the dear design;
Oh teach a young, unpractic'd heart
To make my Nancy mine!

The very thought of change I hate,
As much as of despair;
Nor ever covet to be great,
Unless it be for her.

'Tis true, the passion in my mind
Is mix'd with soft distress;
Yet while the fair I love is kind,
I cannot wish it less.

-- Thomas Parnell (1679-1718)




Francis Hopkinson autograph

Hopkinson also composed a set of 8 songs and
dedicated them to his friend, George Washington.

They are all included on this recording with his first song:

CD: "My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free" -
Songs by Francis Hopkinson
(AMRC 0015)

America's first secular song (1759):

1. My days have been so wondrous free - soprano and harpsichord
2. My days have been so wondrous free - mezzo-soprano and organ

Two songs in tribute to George Washington:

3. A Toast - "Tis Washington's Health - tenor and organ
4. Beneath a weeping willow's shade - soprano and organ

Eights Songs For Solo Voice and Harpsichord (1788) -
Dedicated to George Washington:


5. Come fair Rosina
6. My love is gone to sea
7. Beneath a weeping willow's shade
8. O'er the hills far away
9. See, down Maria's blushing cheek
10. Enraptur'd I gaze
11. Rondo: My gen'rous heart disdains
12. The traveler benighted and lost

Sample song texts:

5. Come, fair Rosina, come away

Come, fair Rosina, come away,
Long since stern Winter's storms have ceas'd;
See! Nature, in her best array,
Invites us to her rural feast:
The season shall her treasure spread,
Her mellow fruits and harvests brown,
Her flowers their richest odours shed,
And ev'ry breeze pour fragrance down.

At noon we'll seek the wild wood's shade,
And o'er the pathless verdure rove;
Or, near a mossy fountain laid,
Attend the music of the grove;
At eve, the sloping mead invites
'Midst lowing herds and flocks to stray;
Each hour shall furnish new delights,
And love and joy shall crown the day.


6. My love is gone to sea


My love is gone to sea,
Whilst I his absence mourn,
No joy shall smile on me
Until my love return.
He ask'd me for his bride,
And many vows he swore;
I blush'd---and soon comply'd,
My heart was his before.

One little month was past,
And who so blest as we!
The summons came at last,
And Jemmy must to sea.
I saw his ship so gay
Swift fly the wave-worn shore;
I wip'd my tears away---
And saw his ship no more.

When clouds shut in the sky
And storms around me bowl;
When livid lightnings fly,
And threat'ning thunders roll;
All hopes of rest are lost,
No slumbers [illeg.] me?
My anxious thoughts are tost
With Jemmy on the sea.


7. Beneath a weeping willow's shade

Beneath a weeping willow's shade
She sat and sang alone;
Her hand upon her heart she load
And plaintive was her moan.
The mock bird sat upon a bough
And list'ned to her lay,
Then to the distant hills he bore
The dulcet notes away.

Fond echo to her stra[illeg.] reply'd,
The winds her sorrows bore;
Adieu! dear youth---adieu! she cry'd,
I ne'er shall see thee more.
The mock-bird sat upon a bough
And list'ned to her lay,
Then to the distant hills he bore
The dulcet notes away.

9. See down Maria's blushing cheek

See down Maria's blushing cheek
The tears of soft compassion flow;
Those tears a yielding heart bespeak---
A heart that feels for others' woe.
May not those drops, that frequent fall,
To my fond hope propitious prove,
The heart that melts at Pity's call
Will own the softer voice of love.

Earth ne'er produced a gem so rare
Nor wealthy ocean's ample space
So rich a pearl---as that bright tear
That lingers on Maria's face.
So hangs upon the morning rose
The chrystal drop of heav'n refin'd,
A while with trembling lustre glows---
Is gone---and leaves no stain behind.


10. Enraptur'd I gaze when my Delia is by

Enraptur'd I gaze when my Delia is by,
And drink the sweet poison of love from her eye;
I feel the soft passion pervade ev'ry part
And pleasure unusual plays round my fond heart.

I hear her sweet voice, and am charm'd with her song---
I think I could hear her sweet voice all day long;
My senses enchanted, are lost in delight
When love and soft music their raptures unite.

Beyond all expression my Delia I love,
My heart is so fix'd that it never can rove;
When I see her I think tis an angel I see,
And the charms of her mind are a heaven to me.

11. My gen'rous heart disdains

My gen'rous heart disdains
The slave of love to be,
I scorn his servile chains,
And boast my liberty.
This whining
And pining
And wasting with care,
Are not to my taste, be she ever so fair.

Shall a girl's capricious frown
Sink my noble spirits down?
Shall a face of white and red
Make me droop my silly head?
Shall I set me down and sigh
For an eye-brow or an eye?
For a braided lock of hair,
Curse my fortune and despair?
My gen'rous heart disdains

Still uncertain is to-morrow,
Not quite certain is to-day---
Shall I waste my times in sorrow?
Shall I languish life away?
All because a cruel maid,
Hath not Love with Love repaid.
My gen'rous heart disdains

 

 

 

 

 

 

This CD (AMRC 0015)
is available for a donation of $18.00 (USA orders only)
$27.00 for Overseas Air Mail orders






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Songs by Francis Hopkinson

 

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