by Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791)
The first extant art songs composed in the United States are credited to Francis Hopkinson, a friend of George Washington and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hopkinson, the only American-born composer for whom there is evidence of having written songs prior to 1800, penned "My Days have been so Wondrous Free" (words by Doctor Parnell) in 1759. Scored for voice and harpsichord, this song by Hopkinson is America's earliest surviving secular composition.
The song is contained in a collection of Hopkinson's manuscripts, dating 1759-60, and housed in the Music Division of the Library of Congress. As was the performance practice at the time, Hopkinson composed "My Days have been so Wondrous Free" in but two parts, the treble and bass, leaving the harmonic details to be filled in by the accompanist. The song posses a charming, graceful melody, which is often punctuated by a repeated passing-note, resulting in a somewhat syncopated effect. A brief postlude concludes the piece.