A new song cycle

I had an evil idea tonight in Masterworks Chorale rehearsal.

The men were singing a Stephen Foster song, “Gentle Annie,” and I was struck by the excessively maudlin nature of the lyrics. They were revolting. “Thou shalt come no more, Gentle Annie,” etc. Also too.

The whole thing reminded me of Emmiline Grangerford in Huckleberry Finn and her odious “Ode to Stephen Dowling Botts, Dec’d,” which I will now quote in full:


And did young Stephen sicken,
And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad hearts thicken,
And did the mourners cry?

No; such was not the fate of
Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts round him thickened,
‘Twas not from sickness’ shots.

No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
Nor measles drear with spots;
Not these impaired the sacred name
Of Stephen Dowling Bots.

Despised love struck not with woe
That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
Young Stephen Dowling Bots.

O no. Then list with tearful eye,
Whilst I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world fly
By falling down a well.

They got him out and emptied him;
Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
In the realms of the good and great.

Well, you asked for it by coming to this blog.

Anyway, I made a mental note to find this poem and print it out. I made an actual note in my iPhone: Huckleberrry death poetry. And that’s when it hit me. Wouldn’t that be an awesome title for a short song cycle? Huckleberry Death Songs.

Emmeline Grangerford died too young to leave behind more than the one ode, alas (and yes, that was an allusion and a joke.) But fortunately, the woman Twain was parodying has left behind several volumes of the stuff. See for yourself. And there’s tons more: Julia Moore, the Sweet Singer of Michigan.

Would this not be wickedly awesome? Some warped kind of Stephen Foster choral fest… Hm…

That concert, by the way, is October 23. It’s a Civil War Sesquicentennial thing, chock full of the usual suspects. Should be at least fun to listen to.

2 thoughts on “A new song cycle

  1. At the risk of just harping on what I’ve been listening to lately, you might find Pierrot Lunaire a nice inspiration in this instance.

  2. Something for an American “Fires of London” type performance ensemble. Very Pierrot Lunaire but rattling around in that ole hokum bucket. Gilded Age Americana as interpreted by the Second Viennese School via Henry Cowell and Dr. Eugene Chadbourne.

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