FOSTER, Stephen Collins, an American composer, of Irish descent, born near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1826, entered, in 1840, the Academy at Athens, Pennsylvania, and, in 1841, Jefferson College near Pittsburg. Though not noted for studious qualities he taught himself French and German, painted fairly well, and exhibited a pronounced liking for the works of Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber. Before this he had shown his musical inclinations by teaching himself the flageolet when seven years old. His first composition, produced while at Athens, was a waltz for four flutes. His first published song, 'Open thy lattice, love,' appeared in 1842. This song is one of the very few set by him, the words of which are not his own. In 1845–46 there were published 'The Louisiana Belle,' 'Old Uncle Ned,' and O, Susanna.' The following are the titles of his ballads:—'My old Kentucky Home,' 'Old Dog Tray,' 'Massa's in de cold ground,' 'Gentle Annie,' 'Willie, we have missed you,' 'I would not die in spring-time,' 'Come where my Love lies dreaming,' 'I see her still in my dreams,' 'Old Black Joe,' 'Ellen Bayne' (which, it has been claimed, provided the theme of 'John Brown's Body,' the war-song of the Federal troops 1861–65), 'Laura Lee,' and 'Swanee Riber' (more generally known as 'The Old Folks at Home' and sung all the world over).
Altogether some 175 songs are credited to him. 'Beautiful Dreamer' is the title of his last ballad. In style they are all completely melodic, with the most elementary harmonies for the accompaniments or in the choral portions. But there is a pleasing manner in them, and they reflect a gentle, refined spirit. It will be seen that some of the titles betray the influence of the African race in the country near Foster's home, and it has even been said that he was indebted for some of his themes to the untutored plantation-negroes. But it is more probable that the negro dialect was adopted in order to meet the demands of the market which happened to be open to him—the entertainments by minstrel companies of the Christy type. The appearance of the name Christy as author of 'Swanee Riber' on some publications of that song is explained by the fact that Foster consented thereto for a stipulated sum—not the first time that genius has had to sacrifice principle—though for the first edition only. Foster died in New York on Jan. 13, 1864, at the American Hotel, where he had been attacked with fever and ague. While yet too weak he attempted to dress himself, and swooning, fell against a pitcher which cut a small artery in his face. He died within three days from the consequent loss of blood, and was buried in the Alleghany Cemetery at Pittsburg, beside his parents, and within sight of his birthplace. Probably there is no song-writer whose works show a larger circulation than is recorded for Foster's pretty and sometimes pathetic ballads. The following information concerning the sales of some of these homely lyrics was published in December, 1880:—'Old Folks at Home,' 300,000; 'My old Kentucky Home,' 200,000; 'Willie, we have missed you,' 150,000; 'Massa's in de cold ground,' 100,000; 'Ellen Bayne,' 100,000; 'Old Dog Tray,' 75,000. 'O, Susanna' and 'Old Uncle Ned' have been sold in immense numbers, but not being copyrighted the sales cannot be estimated. The copyrights of many of Foster's songs are still valuable. There have been numerous imitators of his style, but none have shown his freshness and taste, and he still stands as the people's composer in America, as well as the only American musician whose works, simple as they are, have a distinctive individuality.
The greater part of the material for this sketch was taken from 'Music in America,' F. L. Ritter, New York, 1883.
[ F. H. J. ]
FOUGT. See Music-Printing in Appendix.
FRANC, or LE FRANC, Guillaume, the son of Pierre Franc of Rouen, was probably one of the French Protestants who fled to Geneva as an asylum from the persecution to which those who embraced the doctrines of the reformation were then exposed. He settled in that city in 1541, shortly before the return of Calvin from Strasburg, and obtained a licence to establish a school of music. In 1542 he became master of the children and a singer at St. Peter's at a salary of 10 florins. In 1543 the Council of Geneva resolved that 'whereas the Psalms of David are being completed, and whereas it is very necessary to compose a pleasing melody to them, and Master Guillaume the singer is very fit to teach the children, he shall give them instruction for an hour daily.' His pay was increased from 10 to 50 florins, and afterwards raised to 100, with the use of part of a house, but on the refusal of the Council to grant a further addition to his salary Franc left Geneva in 1545 and joined the choir of the Cathedral of Lausanne, where he remained until his death about the beginning of June, 1570.
Franc's name is chiefly known in connection with the Psalter published at Geneva by Calvin for the use of the Reformed Churches. The first edition of this celebrated work appeared in 1542, containing 35 psalms, and was enlarged from time to time until its completion in 1562. Of this Psalter Franc has been generally believed to be the musical editor; but recent researches, especially those of M. O. Douen, show the claim set up for him to be devoid of foundation. [See Bourgeois, vol. iv. p. 557.] He certainly had nothing to do with the Psalter after leaving Geneva in 1545, and although the resolution of the Council quoted above may appear to indicate an intention of employing him to adapt melodies to some of the psalms then newly translated by Marot, there is no evidence that this intention was ever carried into effect.
Franc, however, did edit a Psalter. The church of Lausanne had on several occasions shown a spirit of independence of that of Geneva, and at the time of Franc's arrival sang the
- Copyright 1889 by F. H. Jenks.
- This refers to the additional variations then being written by Marot.