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Yankee Doodle

"Whilst snug in their Club-Room, they jovially twine / The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.” Those are some of the original words to our national anthem.

American flag

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Dennis Cantrell.

“Whilst snug in their Club-Room, they jovially twine / The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.” Those are some of the original words to the beloved American national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This hour on Harmonia, we’ll explore the sounds of music in early America. Our featured release is the Manuscrit des Ursulines de La Nouvelle Orléans.


That was the “Chaconne le Monument” by Jean-Baptiste Lully, from the recording Manuscrit des Ursulines de La Nouvelle Orléans. Anne-Catherine Bucher led Le Concert Lorrain.


Hopkinson’s Flag

Francis Hopkinson was an author, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and early American composer. He began to play the harpsichord quite late—at 17—and composed songs and hymns. Let’s hear two songs by Hopkinson: “My Love is gone to sea” and “O’er the hill far away.”

Songs by Francis Hopkinson. We heard tenor Thomas Hayward and harpsichordist Melville Smith.

In grade school, we all learned that Betsy Ross created the first American flag. In fact, Francis Hopkinson deserves some credit on that front as well. His original design, a navy flag, had 13 six-pointed stars against a blue background and thirteen red-and-white stripes. Hopkinson’s flag was adopted by Congress on June 14, 1777, making it the first official American flag. He requested to be paid in a “Quarter cask of Public Wine,” but was never actually compensated. Here is Hopkinson’s song, “My Gen’rous heart disdains.”

We heard a song by Francis Hopkinson, performed by tenor Thomas Hayward and harpsichordist Melville Smith.


Name That Tune

Many popular songs in early America were actually old British tunes, paired with new lyrics. The well-known patriotic song “My country, ‘Tis of thee” borrows its tune from the United Kingdom’s national anthem, “God Save the King.” Let’s hear a variation on that original song, “God Save the King,” arranged by Thomas Arne in 1745 for the Drury Lane Theatre in London.

We heard “God Save the King,” arranged by Thomas Arne, from the 1983 Saydisc recording English National Songs. With a text like that, you can see why even with its adopted lyrics, “My country, ‘tis of thee” was not destined to become America’s national anthem.

However, despite its patriotic connotations, the popularity of that stirring melody extended far beyond the British Isles – in 1802, Beethoven wrote a set of variations on “God Save the King.” Here is Melvyn Tan performing those variations on a Broadwood fortepiano.

Beethoven’s variations on “God Save the King” performed by Melvyn Tan.


Oh, Say Can You Hear

Beloved by sports fans and patriots alike, America’s national anthem takes its words from Francis Scott Key’s poem “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” The poem was written to commemorate the War of 1812. Nowadays, we usually hear only the first stanza, but the song, as originally composed, actually has four stanzas. Let’s listen to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” in its entirety, as first published by Thomas Carr in 1814.

We heard the “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the recording Poets & Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” released in 2014.

But, O say can you hear—Francis Scott Key’s text for “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not the original text for this tune. The original tune was written by John Stafford Smith in the mid-18th century and was paired with the text “Our Anacreon in Heaven.” The song was used as the anthem of the Anacreontic Society, an all-male London society dedicated to “wit, harmony, and the god of wine.”

That was “Our Anacreon in Heaven,” the tune by John Stafford Smith, recorded by the Star Spangled Music Foundation in 2014.

Back in early America, soon after Francis Scott Key’s text was first paired with John Stafford Smith’s tune, people began to complain about the difficulty of actually singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” James Hewitt composed a version with an easier tune in 1817. Here are the first two stanzas of “The Star-Spangled Banner” set to Hewitt’s tune.

We heard James Hewitt’s tune for Francis Scott Key’s text, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” from the 2014 recording Poets & Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star-Spangled Banner.


Manuscrit des Ursulines de La Nouvelle Orléans

Moving further south, our featured release is the 2001 recording Manuscrit des Ursulines de La Nouvelle Orléans. Anne-Catherine Bucher directs Le Concert Lorrain, in a recording of the rarely-heard music of 18th-century New Orleans. The manuscript, a copy of a Parisian volume, was given to the nuns of Ursuline in 1754. Let’s hear Lully’s “Dans les cieux est un Dien qui m’aime,” as it may have been heard in 18th-century New Orleans.

We heard music by Lully from our featured recording, Manuscrit des Ursulines de La Nouvelle Orléans, released in 2002.

The women in the convent were able to explore works by many contemporary French composers, including François Couperin, Henri Desmarests, and André Campra. The nuns adapted this music by superimposing sacred texts over the original secular tunes. Let’s hear “L’Espérance” by Couperin and “Descente du St Esprit” by Campra.

An image from the nuns’ manuscript suggests that in addition to keyboard and voice, the convent had access to flutes, oboes, bassoons, violins, and percussion instruments. Let’s hear “Récompense de la Vertu” by Henri Desmarests.

We heard Desmarest’s “Récompense de la Vertu,” performed by Le Concert Lorrain.


Break and theme music

:30, Manuscrit des Ursulines de La Nouvelle Orléans, Le Concert Lorrain, K617 France 2002, Tr. 4 La Solitude

:60, The 5 Piano Concertos & Choral Fantasy, Melvyn Tan, Virgin 2003, D. 4, Tr. 27 5 Variations on “Rule Britannia” WoO 79

:30, Manuscrit des Ursulines de La Nouvelle Orléans, Le Concert Lorrain, K617 2002, Tr. 23 La Ténébreuse

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Sarah Huebsch.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at http://www.harmoniaearlymusic.org.

Music Heard On This Episode

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Sarah Huebsch

Sarah Huebsch , DM, performs on period oboes throughout North America. Sarah holds degrees from the New England Conservatory and Indiana University. She started writing for Harmonia in May 2016.

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