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Biography Septimus Winner (1827-1902)

Septimus Winner, 1906.
[Septimus Winner], 1906. From sheet music cover of Companions of Old by Sep Winner (Alice Hawthorne). Philadelphia: The Orpheus Music Co, 1906. Music Division, Library of Congress. Call number. M1622.W

Septimus Winner was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1827. He was the seventh child (hence the name Septimus) of Eastburn Winner, a violin-maker, and Mary Ann Hawthorne, a relative of New England poet and author, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Largely self-taught, Winner studied music as a youth with Leopold Meignen, a French-born composer, conductor, publisher, and teacher. Throughout his life he performed regularly with the orchestras of the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, one of the oldest music societies in the U.S.; the Cecilian Music Society, which often featured performances with large choral forces; and the Philadelphia Brass Band.

At age twenty, Winner opened a music store. Soon after, he began writing music and lyrics, many of them under the pseudonym Alice Hawthorne, one of several that he used over the years (e.g., Percy Guyer, Mark Mason, Apsley Street, and Paul Stenton). His earliest commercial success came in 1854 with the popular song, What Is Home without a Mother. The next year, he published Listen to the Mocking Bird, which eventually sold more than twenty million copies. He was a prolific composer, creating some fifteen hundred works for chorus and various instrumental ensembles. He was one of the first songwriters to form his own publishing company, Winner & Shuster. It allowed him to market both his songs and his music instruction books, several of which were published under the title Septimus Winner's Methods.

During the Civil War, he composed Give Us Back Our Old Commander: Little Mac, the People's Pride. It was intended as an appeal to President Abraham Lincoln to return Union General George McClellan to service. The song sold eighty thousand copies within a few days. It was branded anti-Union, however, and in 1862, Winner was court-martialed and jailed on a charge of treason. The charge was dropped after he agreed to destroy all remaining copies of the song. Shortly after Winner's release, he composed the popular Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone, set to the German folk-song melody, Lauterbach.

His choral compositions and arrangements were largely an extension of his popular-song style. They were usually written in strophic form to complement his poetic texts, which generally featured a rhyme scheme that repeated in each stanza. These short choral pieces typically were written in a verse/chorus style, with the verse in unison and the contrasting chorus in parts. Winner wrote many such pieces encompassing the gamut of popular themes from comical to romantic.

In addition to his music writing and publishing, Winner was a frequent contributor to Graham's Magazine, at that time edited by Edgar Allen Poe. He wrote a book of poetry, published posthumously, titled Cogitations of a Crank at Three Score Years and Ten(Philadelphia: Drexer Biddle Press, 1903). Other private writings were later published in The Mocking Bird: The Life and Diary of Its Author, Septimus Winner by Charles Eugene Claghorn (Philadelphia: The Magee Press, 1937). Winner died in Philadelphia of a heart attack on November 22, 1902.