Notes 60.1 (2003) 240-254
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Music of the Civil War Era :
This column offers brief reviews of significant new compact disc releases in a variety of musical styles and genres, covering both new releases and reissues. In alternating issues, the column also features a discographical essay focusing on a specific genre, historical period, instrument, or style of music.
Some of the songs and much of the instrumental music known to have been loved and performed during the American Civil War, 1861-65, predate the years of the conflict ("Home, Sweet Home," "Lorena," and "Dixie," for example). Even so, the publishing of new works thrived during those four years, and many of those works are clearly associated with events of the war ("We Are Coming, Father Abra'am," "Marching through Georgia," and "All Quiet along the Potomac To-night" are prime examples). 1 A core list of the most recorded of these songs might number fifty or fewer. 2 The sources for the recorded music of various regimental bands and other instrumental ensembles appear to be less "core-oriented," although material from a small number of regimental band books (for example, those of the Twenty-seventh North Carolina) appears with some frequency; instrumental arrangements of songs abound.
This vocal and instrumental repertoire has been recorded frequently over the years since the dawn of commercial recordings and the early availability of various playback machines, such as the Victrola (from [End Page 240] 1906). The first recorded examples appeared before the end of the nineteenth century, notably from the studios of Emile Berliner, where the platter or disc format (as opposed to the cylinder) was developed. Both Victor Records and the Columbia Phonograph Company added Civil War songs to their early catalogs. A relatively small number of recordings seem to have survived from the late 1920s, that is, the beginning of the electrical era, up to the introduction of long-playing recordings in the late 1940s. By the time long-playing 33 1/3 rpm (LP) recordings were firmly established in the 1950s, significant advances in recording technology had been made, and bands were beginning to record with Civil War Era brass and percussion, or faithful reproductions of these instruments, in high fidelity. The celebrations of the Civil War Centennial in the 1960s and the National Bicentennial in 1976 seemed to heighten interest in this musical repertoire. Some years later, another big stimulus was provided by the famous nine-episode documentary, The Civil War (1990), directed by Ken Burns. From the soundtrack of The Civil War, a new "Civil War tune" was born, in the form of Jay Ungar's "Ashokan Farewell." By the end of the twentieth century, hundreds of recordings had been issued in all the standard commercial formats, especially LPs, cassettes, and compact discs. Many recordings originally on LPs or cassettes were reissued as compact discs.
Well-known popular singers (for example, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, and Tennessee Ernie Ford), Civil War specialists (Bobby Horton, Wayne Erbsen, and Douglas Jimerson), small groups (the Cumberland Three), large choirs (the Mormon Tabernacle Choir), a number of regimental bands (the Eleventh North Carolina, the Thirty-seventh Georgia, and the Wildcat Regiment Band from Pennsylvania), and professional bands (the Americus Brass Band and the Dodworth Saxhorn Ensemble) issued one or more recordings, typically entitled Songs of the Civil War, Music of the Civil War, or simply The Civil War. There has been a good deal of overlap among the songs and instrumental pieces represented in these recordings, but also much variety in interpretation and arrangement.
Some recordings deal exclusively with pieces associated with the North or the South, and some are paired (for example, The Confederacy [AK 47123] and The Union [AK 47124] in the Columbia Records Legacy Series). Many bring together both sides, since it is difficult to determine in some cases which side has the priority.
The following chronological sections briefly describe recordings considered important or exemplary in the history of the recorded music of the Civil War Era. Civil War music available through the Internet (involving MP3...