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CD167   Songs of stephen foster



Songs of Stephen Foster

Richard Conrad, Baritone
Ellen Chickering, Soprano
Beverly Orlove, Pianist

Soloists of Boston Academy of Music

  • Complete texts
  • Notes by Richard Conrad
  • 55'00" total playing time

CD167      $15.95

Purchase from Canticle Distributing


1.   Oh! Susanna
2.   Beautfiul Dreamer
3.   My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!
4.   Wilt Thou Be Gone, Love?
5.   The Glendy Burk
6.   Old Dog Tray
7.   Old Folks at Home
8.   Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair
9.   Camptown Races
10.  Ah! May the Red Rose Live Alway!
11.  Maggie By My Side
12.  Gentle Lena Clare
13.  Open Thy Lattice Love
14.  Nelly Was a Lady
15.  Gentle Annie
16.  Ring! Ring de Banjo!


The documented facts of the life of Stephen Collins Foster are few; the legends are many. He was born on July 4, 1826 (the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of The Declaration of Independence!) in Lawrenceville, Pennsyvania, near Pittsburgh. (The Foster home, where the composer was born, is now in Greenfield Village in Dearbourn, Michigan).

We do know that he was considered a "difficult" child, and although he had little formal musical training, he began composing at an early age. By 1850 a number of his songs had been publlshed including the very successful Oh! Susanna, and he had signed a contract with the New York publishers, Firth, Pond & Co. 1850 was the year of his marriage, and he also entered into an agreement with E.P. Christy, Director of The Christy Minstrels, which allowed them the first performance of Foster's songs. The following year his only child, a daughter, was born. In 1852, his single trip to the South took place when he and his wife and some friends took a steamboat down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, where he remained but two days! Here the legends begin.

We know that from the late 1850's until his death in 1864, Foster was often separated from his family and lived in various hotels in New York City. In this later period of his life, he was a very famous man and easy prey for the journalistic media. After his death, articles appeared everywhere extoling him as a senstive artist who loved children, animals, his country, and his mother, and who was cheated by his publishers. The other side hurled invectives denouncing him as an untalented hack who plagiarized the works of others, and who drank himself to death in a sleazy rooming-house in New York.

Stephen Foster was the first American composer whose works were brought out in a complete edition, and the first musician to be nominated to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. His musical compositions consist of The Social Orchestra (a collection of favorite songs and arias arranged as duets, trios, and quartets), 21 Sunday School Hymns, and about 200 songs. The songs can be divided into two groups: "Parlor" songs and "Minstrel-show" songs. The latter, of which there are 28, were written for northern "black-face" shows, and although the texts are mostly in "negro" dialect, the musical heritage is that of American, Irish, and English airs, folksongs, and dances of the 18th century. Some are nostalgic and sentimental, qualitiies found in abundance in the "Parlor" songs. There's plenty of Victorian feeling here, with the mourning of departed loved-ones and the longing for bygone happy days. Two of the most sentimental of the minstrel songs, Old Folks at Home and My Old Kentucky Home, have been adopted as the official state songs of Florida and Kentucky. There are Civil War songs which strongly support the Union cause, and the Sunday School Hymns are full of pious goodness, and to modern ears they sound somewhat humorous. An interesting departure from the strophic form which Foster used almost exclusively in the songs is the Romeo and Juliet duet, Wilt Thou Be Gone. It's like a little Italianate operatic scena, and gives us an idea of what he might have done in that genre.

In this recording we have used Foster's original compositions published by Firth, Pond & Co. The only editing has been in the dialect in a few of the minstrel songs (marked by [] brackets in the texts).

--Richard Conrad

Conrad, Orlove, Chickering
Orlove   Chickering

RICHARD CONRAD made his debut in opera and in concert in 1961. Since then he has enjoyed a widely varied career as singer, actor, stage director, impressario, writer, and teacher. Though perhaps best known as a specialist in the bel canto repertoire of the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, he is also renowned for his perforamnces of operetta (especially he works of Gilbert & Sullivan and of Victor Herbert), 20th century composers (including many world premeries of the music of Daniel Pinkham), and classic musical theater composers (Coward, Porter, Kern, Gershwin, etc.)

He has made numerous recordings ranging from operatic works of Handel and the bel canto composers, songs of Arthur Sullivan and of Noel Coward, and American opera (Barber's Vanessa and Pinkham's The Cask of Amontillado, the latter written especially for him).

As a stage director, he has been praised for his productions of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, Puccini's Il Trittico and La fanciulla del west, and Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury / The Sorcerer and The Mikado. He was chosen by <Operaon Line.us> as the best leading male performer of 2004-2005 season, (for Gianni Schicchi) and as best leading male performer, best stage director, and best moment in opera of 2005-2006 (for The Mikado).

ELLEN CHICKERING sang many of the great prima donna roles with Boston Academy of Music in Verdi's La forza del destino and Un ballo in maschera, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (Elisabetta) and Anna Bolena, Puccini's Suor Angelica and La fanciulla del west, Strauss' Arabella, and Barber's Vanessa. She has also performed with the Minnesota Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Kansas City Lyric Opera, Commonwealth Opera, and Connecticut Concert Opera.

She has traveled to Japan for four concert tours and to Kiev to sing and record the title role in Barber's Vanessa with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Ms. Chickering is Associate Professor of Voice at the University of Southern Maine and directs the apprentice program of Portland Opera Repertory Theater.

BEVERLY ORLOVE grew up in Alabama and is a graduate of The Julliard School of Music. For many years (as Beverly Gibbons) she was the leading accompanist and chamber music pianist in Atlanta, Georgia, and worked closely with Robert Shaw. In 1980 she moved to Boston where she has performed with Opera Company of Boston, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Academy of Music, and Bostonian Opera and Concert Ensemble.

Ray Bauwens • Emily Browder • Ellen Chickering • Gale Fuller • Roberta Janelle • Laurie Lemley • Philip Lima • Daniel Lockwood • Bryan McNeil • Drew Polling • Douglas Schneider • Kathleen Theisen

BOSTON ACADEMY OF MUSIC was founded by Lowell Mason in the 1830s, becoming an important and influential organization in the city's early cultural life. Richard Conrad refounded the Academy in 1980 as a repertory concert and opera company. For twenty-three years Boston Academy presented many New England premieres: choral works, songs, chamber music and Strauss' Arabella, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, Rossini's La pietra del paragone and L'italiana in Alegri, Verdi's La forza del destino (the original "Russian" version), and the first performance in America of Arthur Sullivan's Ivanhoe.

The Academy also gave the world premiere of early sacred works of Vincenzo Bellini and of the opera, The Cask of Amontillado by Daniel Pinkham. In the decade of the 1990s, Boston Academy was continually on the "Best of the Year" lists of the Boston press. In 2003, the company's vocal and instrumental soloists joined Richard Conrad in forming The Bostonian Opera and Concert Ensemble.

Recorded September 5 & 6, 2000 at Pickman Hall, Cambridge, MA and March 26, 2007 at Futura Productions Studio, Roslindate, MA
Producer: John Ostendorf
Recording Engineer William P. Wolk
Mastering Engineer: Antonio Oliart Ros