Old American Songs
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Old American Songs are two sets of songs arranged by Aaron Copland in 1950 and 1952 respectively. Originally scored for voice and piano, they were reworked for baritone (or mezzo-soprano) and orchestra.
Set 1 was first performed by Peter Pears (tenor) and Benjamin Britten (piano) on June 17, 1950 at Aldeburgh. The version of Set 1 for baritone and orchestra was premiered on January 7, 1955, by William Warfield and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Alfred Wallenstein.
Set 2 was first performed by William Warfield and Aaron Copland (piano) on 25 May 1958 in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and later, in its orchestral form, by Grace Bumbry (mezzo-soprano) and the Ojai Festival Orchestra, conducted by the composer, in Ojai, California. Set 2 was recorded by Warfield and Copland on August 18, 1953, for Columbia Records but apparently not publicly performed until the above-mentioned date in Ipswich.
- Set 1
- The Boatman's Dance (minstrel song from 1843)
- The Dodger (campaign song)
- Long Time Ago (ballad)
- Simple Gifts (Shaker song)
- I Bought Me a Cat (children's song, Roud Folk Song Index No. 544)
- Set 2
- The Little Horses (lullaby)
- Zion’s Walls (revivalist song)
- The Golden Willow Tree (Anglo-American ballad)
- At the River (hymn tune)
- Ching-A-Ring Chaw (minstrel song)
Both sets are published by Boosey & Hawkes. The voice and piano versions are easily transposed to any register; the orchestral sets can also be transposed but are usually sung in their original keys by either a baritone or a mezzo-soprano. Old American Songs have been recorded by many singers, notably mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne and the baritones Sherill Milnes, Thomas Hampson, Bryn Terfel, and Thomas Quasthoff. William Warfield's recording is with the composer himself at the piano.
- p. 179 n. 7, Hubbs (2004) Nadine. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California The Queer Composition of America's Sound: Gay Modernists, American Music, and National Identity University of California Press
- "Letters from a Life: Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, Volume 3, 1946-1951", edited by Donald Mitchell, Philip Reed & Mervyn Cooke, (University of California Press, 2004, ISBN 0-520-24259-9) p.88.
- Modern American Vocal Works, Sony MHK 60899, 1999, liner notes, pp. 2-3.