Friday, November 5, 2010

19th Century Stage Music

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In the 19th century, Melodrama quickly became the most popular theater genre. The use of music to heighten the drama was the key ingredient in Melodrama's rapid popularity as audience members could relive their theater experience at home by performing or listening to favorite songs from a show. Audiences also delighted in the use of special effects, such as simulated natural disasters like fires and earthquakes, or fancy spectacles involving large casts and animals.

Listening: Reviews:
Home, Sweet Home (Bishop), CD1, #13 from Recordings for An Introduction to America's Music

Home, Sweet Home is one of the most popular songs of the 19th century and took the place of Yankee Doodle Dandy as the most favorite at the time. Taken from the1823 opera Clari, this melody of the piece was written by English composer Henry Bishop, but the words were written by American author John Payne. Payne started as an actor in his youth and began to tour, which caused him to spend much of his life abroad. Many believe that this is where he got the inspiration to write such sentimental lyrics that captured the hearts of any who heard the song. There is a detailed account here of how accutely the song would affect listeners, particularly in the military.

The song itself is written in a simple style of verse and chorus and the tune was reportedly based on a Sicilian Air from a book of airs that Bishop had edited in 1820. However, a subsequent lawsuit forced Bishop to admit that he had written the tune himself. The languid melody lends itself well to singing and allows the performer to express their emotions easily. The song also propels itself towards the downbeats of every other measure which also supplies a steady undercurrent allowing for group singing.

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