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Portrait of S.L. Homer
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SIDNEY HOMER
(1864-1953)


At mid-twentieth century Sidney Homer was acknowledged as one of America's foremost song composers, whose works were familiar to all the prominent concert singers of the period. A list advertised by G. Schirmer cites Marcella Sembrich, Johanna Gadski, Lillian Nordica, Louise Homer, Alma Gluck, Christine Miller, Mme. Van Niessen-Stone, David Bispham, Herbert Witherspoon, Francis Rogers, Emilio de Gorzoga, Heinrich Meyn, George Hamlin, Cecil Fanning, Charles Clark, Carl Dufft, Charles Washburn, and Evan Williams as artists who regularly programmed Homer's songs from the fifty works that firm published.

Profile of S.L. Homer HEIGHT= The prolific composer who created over one hundred songs earned royalties of $13,577.14 in a five month period in 1914-1915--a considerable sum which indicates the pervasiveness and popularity of his music at the height of his fame. And yet in the years following his death, despite the efforts of his nephew, Samuel Barber, to issue compilations of his best work, the tireless attempts of his daughter Kathryn Homer Fryer to urge Schirmer to reprint works long out-of-print, and the championing of a few committed recitalists, Homer's songs have fallen into neglect and are eminently ripe for revival.

Homer's song catalogue is diverse. Because he wrote with his wife's contralto in mind, his vocal line tends to be expansive and often bold. His taste in texts was eclectic, encompassing the Anglo-Celtic Romantics (Blake, Browning, Yeats), the American jazz poets (Vachel Lindsay), nursery rhymes and children's verse (MOTHER GOOSE) and humorous folk narratives ( Ernest Lawrence Thayer/CASEY AT THE BAT); the musical genres in which he worked ranged from big Romantic old songs like DEAREST to Loewe-like ballads like THE SONG OF THE SHIRT with its socialist overtones, to delicate creations like A SICK ROSE, to tunes like A BANJO SONG or MAMMY'S LULLABY, imitative of the old slave songs. And finally the range of emotions he was able to evoke stretched from the impassioned and dramatic (MICHAEL ROBARTES BIDS HIS BELOVED BE AT PEACE), to the child-like (SING-SONG), to the ironic (THE KING OF THE FAIRY MEN), or to the melancholy tenderness of WHEN DEATH TO EITHER SHALL COME. These are colorfully indicated by the dynamic and phrasing marks he placed on his manuscripts: "allegretto with pessimism; molto lento with deep emotion; sostenuto, calmly with religious feeling; allegro energico, with fine irony; allegro, quaintly and with refinement; allegro molto with exulting freedom, adagio, with passion."

Real Audio
Thomas Hampson on GENERAL WILLIAM BOOTH ENTERS INTO HEAVEN
Requires RealAudio 2.0 or above

go next General William
Booth Enters into
Heaven


Perhaps Homer's greatest gift as a songwriter was his ability to let the story tell itself through the music. His GENERAL WILLIAM BOOTH ENTERS INTO HEAVEN is an admirable case in point, especially if one compares it to Charles Ives' idiosyncratic setting of the same text. Homer's setting incorporates the traditional Salvation Army tune, ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB? into the refrain of the song, juxtaposing this with the thrusting rhythms of Vachel Lindsay's text, thereby creating the dramatic effect of propulsion and reflection, as the song builds to its poignant closing encounter between Booth and Jesus.

Born in Boston on December 9, 1864, the youngest child of deaf parents, the Homer family were left an annuity by a wealthy uncle which insured their comfort and permitted sixteen year-old Sidney to travel to London to pursue his literary inclinations. It was there that a Mr. Green, music critic of the LONDON DAILY NEWS, discovered the youth's musical talent and encouraged him to study further first in Leipzig, then in Boston with Chadwick, and finally with Rheinberger in Munich.

Louise Homer

Louise Homer as Aida
Louise Homer as Aida
Returning to Boston in 1888, Homer opened his own music studio, where one of his first pupils was the Philadelphia contralto, Louise Beatty. They married two years later and departed for Paris where Louise completed her vocal studies and Sidney began to compose in earnest. Upon their return to New York, Louise became ensconced as one of the brightest stars of the Metropolitan Opera's Golden Age, while Sidney's songs, now published by G. Schirmer, became repertory staples.

A devoted couple, they raised six children, two of whom pursued musical careers: Louise Stires became a soprano, and Kathryn Fryer a pianist, who sometimes accompanied her mother's recitals. Sidney published a memoir of their marriage, MY WIFE AND I in 1939. After Louise Homer's retirement from the stage in 1939, the couple moved to Winter Park, FL, where Sidney Homer died seven years after Louise in 1953.


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