Affirmative and Ironic Resonances from the Personal Sheet Music Collection of Julia Ward Howe




Gerber, Steven K.

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Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), the prominent 19th-century poet and reformer who famously penned the lyrics to “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” collected and bound for personal use five volumes of music; three volumes bear labels stamped “Miss Julia Ward” and two are labeled “Julia Howe,” postdating her 1843 marriage. The collection includes two complete operas in vocal score: Rossini’s Il Mose in Egitto and Beethoven’s Fidelio. The other three volumes contain 76 individual songs, primarily Lieder in German editions, but also 28 American imprints that range from Anglo-American sentimental songs to translations of European art songs and arias; most date from the 1830s and early 1840s. Howe’s adolescent education included musical training, and her singing and piano-playing around domestic hearths before and after her marriage was admired. She quickly rose to prominence both for her literary work and for her activism in favor of abolitionism and other causes, while diligently performing duties as mother to six children and wife to a physician and writer (who did not appreciate her talents and actively opposed her career and her emerging feminism). Her choice to acquire Mose in Egitto, a drama about deliverance from slavery, seems congruent with her abolitionist positions, while her interest in Fidelio, a drama about a courageous and self-empowered wife who rescues a grateful and loving husband (a score acquired after her marriage), resonates ironically with her actual domestic situation. With exceptions, the contents are atypical of such American owner-bound music albums, and the individual songs mirror the cultivated tastes of an educated connoisseur; minstrelsy is conspicuously absent.


Paper presented at joint conference of Atlantic and New York State/Ontario Chapters of Music Library Association, held at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh PA on October 4-5, 2013.


Howe, Julia Ward, Owner-bound volumes, Musical rarities, 19th-century music