Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 1: No 2) >> Simms's Musical Settings >> Page 2

image of pageExplore Inside

Page 2

Secondary Scholarship | 1993
Transcription 2
simply because she made a beginning upon it." 4 It is unknown whether she ever
completed the song in question.
Musical references in Simms's fiction are numerous. Examples include the
short story, "The Prima Donna," which deals with a young man's obsession with
a singer, and The Cassique of Kiawah, a colonial romance which has scenes
dealing with music or dance on at least 113 of its pages---over one-sixth of the
book. Only in rare instances do his fictional works not contain some musical
The most noticeable connections between Simms and music are in the titles
and subject matter of his poems. Of his 2000 poems, approximately one-fourth
have titles dealing with music. Included are such words as ballad, song, dirge,
trumpet, hymn, impromptu, minstrel, horn, carol, melody, harp, and chorus.'


During the early to mid-nineteenth century in America, the line between
cultivated and vernacular music was not as distinct as it is today.6 The parlor
song displays characteristics of both of these broad categories. Musical traits of
the parlor song include simple settings, declamatory style, predominantly strophic
form, and usually fairly simple harmonic progressions.' Typical themes include
love, nostalgia for a remembered past better than the present, death, estrangement,
and praise of nature.8 Composers usually wrote parlor songs as a sideline. In
fact, Stephen Foster was one of the very few composers who made a living from
the sale of his works.9
The song was the staple of the mid-nineteenth-century public recital in
America.10 Performers included professionals as well as amateurs." Many
works which were performed on stage were simplified for use in the home. The
average middle class home had some type of keyboard instrument, such as an
upright piano, a harpsichord, or a reed organ.12 Amateur performers usually
possessed at least a modest talent and had leisure time to indulge this diversion.1
Song writers and publishers acknowledged the new market by issuing songs in
periodicals, in song books, and as single copies of sheet music.14


The Songs of the South series was published between November 1841 and
1843 by Samuel Hart, Sr., in Charleston, South Carolina and by George Willig in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before Willig began to publish Stephen Foster in 1844.
Of nineteen poems set to music in the Songs of the South series, eleven are by
Simms. The musical settings of the nineteen poems are by seven composers.
Some of the accompaniments of the songs specify piano, and others, guitar. The
individual titles of the Songs of the South were released at one- to three-month
intervals over an eighteen-month period. From one to three titles would be
released at a time.