Best Kept Secrets

A Treasury of Passionate American Song
Heard in 19th Century American Salons and Concert Venues

New CD release from MARIA FERRANTE
Maria Ferrante ,soprano
Lincoln Mayorga, piano

$16 plus $4 priority mail shipping for the first CD, add $1 shipping each additional CD

Click on MP3 to listen to excerpts below
  Far Away *  Mrs. Bloede 3:09
  Tell Me, O Bird! Of the Merry Green-Wood! *  Franz Abt  2:50
  The Musical Box *  John Barnett 3:14
  Mother, Is the Battle Over?       Benedict E. Roefs 3:15
  Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead *  William Bassford 3:16
  Come In and Shut the Door *  J. G. Callcott 2:06
  Do You Really Think He Did? *  Francis H. Brown 3:42
  The Katy-Did Song *  Thomas Baker 3:25
  Little Fay, Pretty Fay *     Francis H. Barnett 2:43
  Why, No One to Love? Stephen Foster 3:07
  O Loving Heart, Trust On! Louis Gottschalk 3:41
  Le Papillon    Louis Gottschalk 5:58
  Ah, Love, But a Day Amy Beach 3:06
  The Year’s at the Spring!    Amy Beach 1:03
  Ave Maria         Louis Gottschalk 5:33
  Viens O Ma Belle! Louis Gottschalk 2:49
  I Don’t See It, Mama  Louis Gottschalk 2:32
  Pensez a Moi  Louis Gottschalk 2:37


Total time:61min


Music was everywhere in nineteenth-century America. But it was a different kind of ubiquity than we have today, where, by far, the greater part of the music is presented through electronic media at a distance from the live performance. A century and a half ago, music took place first of all in the home. The parlor was the place where family and friends gathered on a Sunday afternoon, or following dinner on a weekday evening, to make music and entertain one another until bedtime.

Of course, the major cities also boasted theaters or other performance venues in which professionals performed for a paying audience. Some of these performers were home-grown artists, others were superb European singers who made a fortune touring America. (The most famous of these was the “Swedish Nightingale,” Jenny Lind, but many others followed in her footsteps.) But relatively few people had the opportunity

to hear a Jenny Lind, whereas many thousands of American homes had a piano and at least one person in the family who could play the instrument. Others might join in with flute, violin, or some other instrument, and nearly everyone sang to some degree.

With so many musicians all over the country, ranging from rank beginners to professional performers, music publishers naturally issued large quantities of music to meet the available market. Songs most of all went straight to the hearts of listeners. The vast repertory of American song published, particularly from the middle of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, offered a wide range of musical styles and approaches.

It was a sentimental age. Many of the songs dealt with home and hearth, with family ties and friendship. Not surprisingly, many songs dealt with love in various ways—courting, passionate involvement, commitment, marriage, and—yes—also heartbreak. Composers often set words of significant poets (Tennyson and Browning are both represented here), but even more often, the songs were set to texts by currently popular writers like Mrs. Felicia Hemans or the Irish writer Thomas Moore or all-but-unknown writers.

Sentiment has come onto hard times in recent decades. But there is a difference between sentiment (honestly felt emotion, directly expressed) and sentimentality (over-emotionalized sentiments pushed for all they are worth). Though there were certainly plenty of songs that descended to bathos, the vast majority of them touched a real chord of human emotion, arousing the various passionate responses as they touched on some element of actual experience. It may surprise many listeners who think of the “sentimental age” as one that must have been unmitigatedly dreary to find the large number of songs that express their sentiments with wit and humor.

Indeed, hardly any aspect of human emotion is missing from the repertory. And among the many thousands of songs published in this half-century or so, there are superb pieces by well known composers, and delightful, catchy, touching, or even deeply moving pieces by virtually unknown composers who were able, once or twice, to capture the essence of real feeling in the form of a song. Of the composers represented here, three are among the best known among American composers of the time.

Stephen Foster’s fame has never been eclipsed and has even, in recent decades, grown to new heights as we understand the role he played in creating American songs out of the several traditions of bel canto opera, Irish ballad, and blackface minstrelsy. Though the songs associated with minstrelsy have remained generally the best known (“Oh Susannah,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” and “Old Folks at Home” (better known as “Way Down Upon the Swanee River”), the songs most highly regarded in his own day, and the ones on which he aimed to build a successful songwriting career, were the ones aimed at the American parlor, such as “Why, No One to Love?” heard here.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was a brilliant and very successful pianist from New Orleans who enjoyed a brief, but spectacular, career. He captured the attention of audiences in France as well as in America and the Caribbean. Known primarily for his many piano works, ranging from the sentimental to the extremely virtuosic, he wrote wonderful songs, which have only recently been rediscovered as part of the American tradition. As befits his background in the “exotic” world of New Orleans, Gottschalk wrote songs in both French and English.

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach was the first American woman to have a symphony and a piano concerto performed (by the Boston Symphony Orchestra) and throughout her long life served as a model and inspiration to other women composers. Of her many dozens of fine songs, the three poems by Robert Browning have always been the best known.

Other songs are by composers who are little remembered or, indeed, virtually unknown. (It is possible that some of the names of composers are pseudonyms, which can make them even harder to track down.) These include an English translation of a German song by Franz Abt, a composer whose music was as popular in German parlors of the nineteenth century as were the songs by Americans here. Abt’s popularity in America—both in German and in translation—reflects the large influx of German immigrants in the middle of the nineteenth century and their powerful effect on the nation’s musical life.

The remaining selections include songs of longing for far away places or people (“Far Away”), humorous songs of courtship (“Come In and Shut the Door”), a musical “specialty number” calling for the pianist to imitate the sound of a music box (“The Musical Box”), and songs reflecting the most devastating experience of Americans during the course of the nineteenth century, the Civil War, which produced an entire literature of songs ranging from the aggressively patriotic to powerful expressions of loss and mourning (“Mother, Is the Battle Over?”).

The rediscovery of these and many other songs from the vast repertory of American music in the nineteenth century gives us in the twenty-first century a touchstone of what life was like 150 years ago—and helps us realize that we share the same universal human experiences as our forebears did in our great-great-grandparents’ generation.

© Steven Ledbetter (

$16 plus $4 priority mail shipping for the first CD, add $1 shipping each additional CD