Boats, Ships & Songs of the Sea

Last month we looked at planes, trains & automobiles; transportation themed music. This month, we will look at another aspect of the transportation subject area; songs about boats, ships and songs of the sea. In addition, we have an essay feature this month that looks at the tradition of work songs and in particular, the sea shanty. These great songs originated aboard the clippers and merchant ships of the British and American marine services in the early 19th century. They are fascinating songs with interesting lyrics and an interesting history. Be sure to visit our essay "in search of the sea shanty". We hope you enjoy this month's edition.

The Ship That Never Returned


Music by: Henry C. Work
Lyrics by: Work
Cover artist: Lithograph by W.J. Morgan, Cleveland

This is one of the older items in the ParlorSongs collection and has a very nice lithographed cover image. Rarely does a song survive 140 years in the popular repertory but this one has, thanks in large part to a revival of the tune in 1960 or so by the Kingston Trio. Prior to that, the song had also been revived by The Original Carters, Sara & Marybell. In 1958 "Slim" Wilson performed it as well. I know you will recognize the tune and some of the words although it appears that the lyrics have been modified over time. As a result, this song has turned into what is known as an American Folk song but it really is not. Folk songs are usually culturally specific and come from the populace and oral and musical traditions. This song was written by an eminent composer and though popular and lasting, it was not an ethnic American song that grew out of cultural tradition. It's use over the years and presentation by a number of "folk" groups have resulted in it being incorrectly considered a folk song. I even found one reference listing it as a folk song from Wisconsin!

     The composer, Henry Clay Work was born in 1832 in Middletown, CT and died in 1884 in Hartford. His family moved to Illinois when he was still a child and he was educated there. The family later returned to Connecticut and young Henry was apprenticed to a printer. He studied music and wrote verse on his own and soon began to write songs, both the music and lyrics. He was inspired by the Civil War to write Marching Through Georgia, Wake, Babylon is Falling and other songs of the war that became popular. During the 1870's he wrote a number of temperance songs that were popular. One of his most popular temperance songs was Father, Dear Father, Come Home With Me Now. He also was known for sentimental songs such as The Ship That Never Returned and wrote the famous, My Grandfather's Clock. A man of many talents, Work was also an inventor and patented a rotary engine, a knitting machine and a walking doll. He lost his personal fortune by investing in a fruit farm that failed and lived in New York before returning to Connecticut before his death. His primary publishing association was with Cody's Music Publishing Company though this song was published by a Chicago publisher, S. Brainerd's Sons.

Enjoy this original song now (SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version

Out Where The Billows Roll High


Music by: W.H. Petrie
Lyrics by: J.T. Branen
Cover artist: unknown

The sea has always held a fascination for man. It has always represented a challenge, romance, beauty and even fear. One theme that often emerges is that of the sailor's love for home and sea which often creates conflicts for them. Here we have a story of a sailor who loves the sea and desires to be "out where the billows roll high". At the same time, though he feels the sea is his home, he feels pain in parting with his love at home. Once at sea, the sailors thoughts are for his love and a desire to return home safely. This song has a very classical feeling and sound to it. It musically complex and very sophisticated, but not quite as large scale as the next song featured.

     W.H. Petrie (Actually, Henry W.) was born in 1857 in Bloomington, Illinois. Petrie's songs were quite popular and he wrote a number of works that are still performed from time to time. His first published song, I'm Mamma's Little Girl was written in 1894. A number of his more popular works were sea related including his most famous work, Asleep In The Deep, written with A.J. Lamb . That song was first introduced by Jean Early in Chicago in a performance with the Havery Minstrels. He also collaborated with Lamb in writing At The Bottom Of The Deep Blue Sea in 1900. Petrie died in Paw Paw, Michigan in 1925.

Hear this great song of the sea (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version

Des Seemanns Los


Music by: Carl Heins
Lyrics by: H.W. Petrie-Martell
Cover artist: unknown

Not only was the sea a popular theme in American song, but also in other countries as well. Here we have an incredible song from Germany. This song is truly a masterpiece, at least in my opinion. A German lied (art song) in the tradition of the finest composers, it is musically something special. The song has a long introduction, an interlude with lyrics and then a long ending that together make for one of the best examples of fine music we have published at ParlorSongs. I have been fascinated with it and hope you will also find it a rare experience.

     I cannot find much information on Heins other than a few other titles from the period, most of which were art songs such as this one. Among the titles found are, Dance of the Bears from 1907, Fairy of the Roses, from 1909 and The Shepherd's Idyl. It is interesting to note the lyrics were written by an H.W. Petrie-Martell. Is it possible that the W.H. Petrie from the "Billows" song and this one are the same? Perhaps one of our readers can provide us with information on Heins?

     I want to thank our friend George Butler for his assistance again in translating the German text of this song. I have placed the English translation under the German words in the scorch score so you can see the translation as it plays. I have taken a small bit of poetic liberty in the translation in order to make the words more appropriately fit the music. The meaning has not been changed, only the way it is phrased. Stop by George's site (click on his name above), he has an interesting section on D-Day and the true story of Private Ryan.

Listen to this German lied & art song (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version

U.S. Fleet Sailing Around The World


Music by: Charles H. Graf
Arranged by: none, piano solo
Cover artist: unknown

From sailing on the high billows we move to the mechanical age and the steamships of Uncle Sam's Navy. This piece, billed as a song without words, commemorates the great white fleet's 'round the world voyage. The "Great White Fleet" was sent around the world by President Theodore Roosevelt from 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909 and consisted of sixteen new battleships of the Atlantic Fleet. The battleships were painted white except for gilded scrollwork on their bows. The fourteen-month long voyage was a grand pageant of American sea power. The squadrons were manned by 14,000 sailors. They covered some 43,000 miles and made twenty port calls on six continents. The Atlantic Fleet battleships only later came to be known as the "Great White Fleet." The trip was from the East Coast of the United States, down the coast of South America, up the West Coast - the Panama Canal was not yet open - and then a stay of almost two months in San Francisco harbor. During that time some of the fleet went to Seattle, then rejoined the rest in San Francisco, and on 7 July 1908, the fleet composition changed and they headed to Hawaii. Later stops were: New Zealand, Australia, Manila, Yokohama, Ceylon, Suez, various ports in the Mediterranean, and finally home to Virginia. The fleet arrived in Virginia on 22 February 1909. If you are interested in learning more about this important bit of US Naval history, visit the Naval Historical Centers pages about the Great White Fleet.

     This grand march is almost as long as the original trip, taking about twelve pages and 203 measures, settle in for quite a trip when you listen to it. It is a well done song and though the composer has called it a song without words, it is more of a tone poem that musically tells the story of the trip. Charles H. Graf is yet another composer who has faded into the sunset with nary a trace. By the way, though we do have a pretty extensive reference library, we often cannot find any mention of many of the composers represented in our collection. We are trying to establish a database of composer biographies and if any of you know anything about some of the composers who we are unable to find information for, we would sincerely appreciate your sharing the information with us.

Hear this super US Navy sea piece (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

Oceana Roll

Music by: Lucien Denni
Lyrics by: Roger Lewis
Cover artist: unknown

Here is a less serious look at one of the ships from the Great White Fleet, The USS Alabama, one of the battleships of the fleet. With this song we get words and great ones at that. We also get one great ragtime song that really rocks!

     You can find this song at a number of MIDI locations around the web as it is a pretty popular one. You can also find the lyrics in a number of places. But by golly, this is the ONLY place that you will find the musical score, lyrics and hear the music all in one presentation. Be sure to get your scorch player!.

     The composer, Lucien Denni was a native of France having been born in Nancy in 1886. He came to America sometime around 1900 and of course wrote this great song in 1911. Oceana Roll was his greatest hit and he wrote few other songs among them, My Skylark Love and You're Just A Flower From An Old Bouquet.

Enjoy this great ragtime ship song :(scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

WAIT!More Music and Covers? Go to part B.

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