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Collection Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885

Religious and Devotional Music

Various types of sacred music were published during this period. The style of music that came to be called gospel received its name from the collection Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs, first published in1875 by gospel pioneers P. P. Bliss and Ira D. Sankey. (Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs, as a published hymnbook, is not part of this online collection.) Most of the hymns that were to make up the innumerable gospel hymnbooks of the era were in fact copyrighted as individual items, so-called "tearsheet hymns," which could be assembled into hymnbooks at the publishers' convenience. Some of the most prolific writers of hymn tunes of this period also wrote secular songs: H. P. Danks's "Silver Threads among the Gold" was a major hit of the 1870s. Other prolific writers who cultivated both the hymn tune and the secular song were George Frederick Root and John R. Sweney ("Jno. R. Sweney," as he liked to give his name). The equally prolific Robert Lowry devoted himself almost exclusively to the hymn tune.

"Wonderful words of life"
Composer: P. P. Bliss
Published: 1877
(Music Division, Library of Congress)

There were hymns for the Sunday school as well as for adults. William Batchelder Bradbury, whose 1861 collection The Golden Chain still served as a model for Sunday school songbooks, continued to copyright material in the 1870s.

"Beulah land"
Composer: Jno. R., M.B. Sweney
Published: 1878
(Music Division, Library of Congress)

For composers who were interested in larger-scale works there were anthems for the use of church choirs and quartets. There was also service music, both Catholic and Episcopalian, which gave the aspiring composer a chance to write utilitarian music of modest scope. Master of both the anthem and of Episcopal service music was Dudley Buck (1839-1909); J. Remington Fairlamb and W. W. Gilchrist (1846-1916) were also both able and prolific. There were also some settings of the Mass ordinary. There was an outpouring of music for Christmas and Easter; the Christmas music included many new works written as Christmas carols and a fair amount of secular music for Christmas. There were also many sacred songs, including well over one hundred settings of the Ave Maria.

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