Music for the Season
The New York State Library presented "Music for the Season," an exhibit of seasonal music from the Library's Special Collections, in December of 2012. The collection, displayed in the 7th floor exhibit cases, included an array of 19th and 20th century music, with two cases devoted to particular musical stories.
The first case contained two of these stories: the extraordinary musical life of Albany-born composer George William Warren (1828-1902), and the early history of a single song, O Come All Ye Faithful.
- Warren was one of the most popular American composers of the 19th century, a friend of celebrated musicians such as Louis Moreau Gottshalk, as well as Frederick Church and other artists of the "Hudson River School." His holiday-themed compositions, highlighted here, were particular favorites.
- The song known today as O Come All Ye Faithful, or by its Latin name, Adeste Fideles, was once widely believed to have originated in Portugal, based mainly on the fact that it was heard being sung in the Portuguese embassy in London in 1755. Later research has shown that the "Portuguese hymn" as it was popularly known was probably written by composer John Francis Wade (1711-1786) and first published by Wade in his collection Cantus Diversi in 1751. Two early versions are on display in the library: a manuscript transcription by Albany native Blandina Bleecker, probably made in 1802; and an early American printed version from a bound collection of assorted sheet music assembled around 1800 by a "Mrs. Evans." The Bleecker transcription contains an unusual set of English words, highlighting the fact that many English translations were made before the current "official" version appeared in 1852.
The middle case of the library exhibit highlighted Christmas music and song in the work of Jean Ritchie (b. 1922), a Kentucky-born American folk singer and songwriter. In 1946, after graduating from Cumberland College, Jean Ritchie moved to New York City to work as a teacher and social worker. Her unusual repertoire of traditional Appalachian songs, her clear soprano voice, and her choice of accompaniment--the three-stringed mountain "dulcimer"--soon brought her to prominence in the booming folk music "revival" of the 1950s and 60s. Throughout her 50-year international performing and recording career, she lived in the town of Port Washington on Long Island. Her life and music are documented in the Jean Ritchie Collection, acquired by the State Library in 2011.
The final display case contained a more eclectic selection of seasonal and holiday songs--yes we even have The Chipmunk Song--drawn from the Library's extensive sheet music collections.