Murillo’s, or Morelli’s, Lesson

Another song from Sunday’s shapenote singing — one that we don’t sing a lot: Murillo’s Lesson, #358, an exercise in scales and arpeggios whose words burst into florid patriotism in its second half.

From the 1991 edition of the (Denson) Sacred Harp:

(As a bonus, you get #359b, The Bride’s Farewell, a commentary on family life in 19th-century rural America; note that the words are by a woman.)

As for Murillo, the tune is Morelli, or Lesson by Morelli, entitled Star of Columbia in the Southern Harmony (p. 260); it’s an old fiddle tune known as Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine, performed here. On the tune:

MORELLI is the presumed composer of a march tune well known to nineteenth-century fifers and published in several collections as “Morelli’s Lesson” or “Lesson by Morelli.” As a military fifer, B. F. White surely knew the tune at an early age; he arranged it for the 1859 appendix to The Sacred Harp as MURILLO’s LESSON. (D. Warren Steel with Richard H. Hulan, The Makers of the Sacred Harp, Univ. of Illinois Press, 2010)

(Somewhere along the line, Morelli turned into Murillo, presumably as a result of oral transmission of the name.)

To hear the melody clearly, listen to Martha Woodward playing Murillo’s Lesson on the banjo (shot by Alan Lomax and crew at the home of Martha and George Woodward, Gaston, Alabama, in June 1982):

Then a video of singing “down south”, at Mount Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church in Stroud AL:

and one of singing further north, from the Michiana Singing in Goshen IN in 2007:

White took the words for Murillo from the Sacred Melodeon of 1848, but they had a long history before that. Warren Steel (here) gives a full text from The American Musical Miscellany (1798):

Columbia, Columbia, to glory arise,
The queen of the earth, and the child of the skies;
Thy genius commands thee with rapture behold,
While ages on ages thy splendor unfold.
Thy reign is the last, and the noblest of time,
Most fruitful thy soil, most inviting thy clime;
Let the crimes of the East ne’er encrimson thy name;
Be freedom and science and virtue thy fame.

To conquest and slaughter let Europe aspire;
Whelm nations in blood, and wrap cities in fire;
Thy heroes the rights of mankind shall defend,
And triumph pursue them, and glory attend.
A world is thy realm: for a world be thy laws,
Enlarged as thine empire, and just as thy cause;
On freedom’s broad basis thy empire shall rise,
Extend with the main, and dissolve with the skies.

Fair science her gates to thy sons shall unbar,
And the East see thy morn hide the beams of thy star;
New bards and new sages unrivalled shall soa
To flame unextinguished, when time is no more.
To thee, the last refuge of virtue designed,
Shall fly from all nations the best of mankind;
Here, grateful to heaven, with transport shall bring
Their incense, more fragrant than odors of spring.

Nor less shall thy fair ones to glory ascend,
And genius and beauty in harmony blend;
The graces of form shall awake pure desire,
And the charms of the soul ever cherish the fire.
Their sweetness unmingled, their manners refined,
And virtue’s bright image instamped on the mind,
With peace and soft rapture shall teach life to glow,
And light up a smile in the aspect of woe.

Thy fleets to all regions thy power shall display,
The nations admire, and the ocean obey;
Each shore to thy glory its tribute unfold,
And the East and the South yield their spices and gold.
As the day-spring unbounded, thy splendor shall flow,
And earth’s little kingdoms before thee shall bow,
While the ensigns of Union, in triumph unfurled,
Hush the tumult of war, and give peace to the world.

Thus, as down a lone valley, with cedars o’erspread,
From war’s dread confusion I pensively strayed;
The gloom from the face of fair heaven retired;
The winds ceased to murmur; the thunders expired.
Perfumes, as of Eden, flowed sweetly along,
And a voice, as of angels, enchantingly sung,
“Columbia, Columbia, to glory arise,
The queen of the world, and the child of the skies.”

Earlier versions of the patriotic poem “Columbia” (not “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” or “Hail, Columbia”) have been found in 1784 and 1790, and the original composition is probably from 1783 or earlier — which takes it back to the American Revolutionary War; that brings us to Timothy Dwight of Yale.

According to this site, the shapenote hymn called Star of Columbia (or simply Columbia) in the Social Harp (1855) begins as above (complete with the wonderful verb encrimson);

Words are credited to “Dr. Dwight” and music to “Miss M.T. Durham” (although the melody employed is a traditional fiddle tune called “Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine”). Timothy Dwight (1752-1817) was one of the “Hartford Wits,” a group of Connecticut men associated with literary work during and after the American Revolution. Dwight would go on to become president of Yale College, but he was a young man when he wrote his lyric “Columbia” in 1778, when he was a chaplain in for George Washington’s Continental Army. Dwight’s song suggests that America would be the seat of God’s kingdom and Americans its saints, and it was popular for a long time. So popular, in fact that some of the lines were incorporated into another shape-note hymn, “Murillo’s Lesson”

Wikipedia on Dwight:

Timothy Dwight (May 14, 1752 – January 11, 1817) was an American academic and educator, a Congregationalist minister, theologian, and author. He was the eighth president of Yale College (1795–1817).

… Dwight graduated from Yale in 1769 (when was only 17 years old). For two years, he was rector of the Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven, Connecticut. He was a tutor at Yale College from 1771 to 1777. Licensed to preach in 1777, he was appointed by Congress chaplain in General Samuel Holden Parsons’s Connecticut Continental Brigade. He served with distinction, inspiring the troops with his sermons and the stirring war songs he composed, the most famous of which is “Columbia”.

Oh yes, the name Columbia, a derivative from Columbus, as in Christopher. From Wikipedia:

Columbia … is a historical and poetic name used for the United States of America and is also the name of its female personification. It has inspired the names of many persons, places, objects, institutions, and companies — such as the District of Columbia, the site of the national capital, and Columbia University. Columbia was largely displaced as the female symbol of the U.S. by the Statue of Liberty after about 1920.

… The name Columbia for “America” (in the sense of “European colonies in the New World”) first appeared in 1738 in the weekly publication of the debates of the British Parliament in Edward Cave’s The Gentleman’s Magazine… The name appears to have been coined by Samuel Johnson, thought to have been the author of an introductory essay (in which “Columbia” already appears)

So we’ve gone from Sunday’s singing back to Dictionary Johnson.


One Response to “Murillo’s, or Morelli’s, Lesson”

  1. Two mother songs | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] I said in an earlier posting (on Murillo’s Lesson, #358, which goes on to a second page that has The Bride’s […]

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