Monday, March 30, 2020

Home, Sweet Home—Murfin Home Confinement Music Festival

Home, Sweet Home sung by Deanna Durbin.

How is home confinement working out for all of you?  Is working from home amid all of the distractions, limited access to everything you need, and tech glitches driving you to distraction?  Or is being out of work stressing you to the max as bills pile up?  Is homeschooling a disaster and the kids in hyper-active overdrive?  Is unlimited time with your spouse, partner, or significant other putting a strain on your relationship?  Or are you isolated alone separated from you love ones?  Have you run out of shows to binge watch and finally reached the bottom of the pile of books to read on your nightstand?  Are hours on social media and watching daily briefings from the Cheeto-in-Charge, your governor, and a parade of doctors turning you into a raving paranoid?  Is that little scratch you are feeling in your throat this morning an omen of doom?
Ok, maybe now is the time to take a deep breath, assume a position of reverential openness, clear the mind, and meditate for a moment on what home really means to you.  Or maybe you just need a musical nudge….

Home, Sweet Home was so popular that this West Virginia savings and loan gave away copies of the sheet music to drum up business in the early 20th Century
 Home, Sweet Home is probably one of America’s oldest popular songs but it started out in 1823 in London as an aria by Composer Sir Henry Bishop with lyrics by American actor and Dramatist John Howard Payne from the opera Clari, or the Maid of Milan.  That opera may be long forgotten but the aria was hugely popular from the beginning.  It got its American premiere at the Winter Tivoli Theatre in Philadelphia on October 29 of that year and was sung by a Mrs. Williams.
In 1852 Bishop re-arranged the aria into a parlor ballad for piano and voice.  The sheet music sold like hot cakes rivaling the popular success of Stephen Foster ballads—and like those songs was widely pirated by other publishers despite Bishop’s copyright.  Dozens of versions were sold for decades.

Home, Sweet Home samplers hung in many American parlors.
In America the popularity of the song was reinforced during the separations of the American Civil War.  It became a camp ballad among troops on both sides while it was being sung longingly by the folks back home.  At one point it was banned in some Union camps because it was thought to encourage desertion. And it never failed to draw tears from concert stage and music hall audiences.
Home, Sweet Home was naturally one of the first songs recorded on Edison cylinders and then on gramophone discs.  Early recordings were made by John Yorke AtLee in 1891, Harry Macdonough in 1902, Richard Jose in 1906, the reigning queen of the opera Alma Gluck in 1912, Alice Nielsen in 1915, and Elsie Baker in 1915.
Often sung in school music classes in the 20th Century and referenced in movies, the song remains familiar to many Americans.  But because of the rampant sentimentality of the lyrics it is seldom performed except as an ironic statement about dysfunctional family life.
But in 1939 Deanna Durbin recorded a hit version on the Decca label and Vera Lynn scored a war-time 1944 hit in Britain.

Deanna Durbin sang Home, Sweet Home in her 1939 film First Love and had hit record of the song the same year.
 Durbin was a teen-age operatic soprano wunderkind when she made her film debut in 1936 in an MGM short with Judy Garland.  The film was sort of a test to help Louis B. Mayer decide which of the girls to keep under contract.  Hollywood legend has it that Durbin was cut loose by mistake.  She was snapped up by struggling Universal Pictures where she soon became their most bankable star. 
She sang Home, Sweet Home in her 1939 fifth feature film, First Love, a modern take on the Cinderella story produced by Joe Pasternak and directed by Henry Koster.  The public loved it.

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