DESCRIPTION: "Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me, Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee." The singer tells how the "sounds of the rude world" have faded in the night, and hopes for an end to sorrow
AUTHOR: Stephen C. Foster
EARLIEST DATE: 1864 (sheet music by Wm. A. Pond & Co.); probably typeset in 1862 (see NOTES)
KEYWORDS: dream love nonballad
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Silber-FSWB, p. 261, "Beautiful Dreamer" (1 text)
Saunders/Root-Foster 2, pp. 237-244+437, "Beautiful Dreamer" (1 text, 1 tune)
Emerson, p. 56, "Beautiful Dreamer" (1 text)
Messerli, pp. 116-117, "Beautiful Dreamer" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, p. 135, "Beautiful Dreamer"
ADDITIONAL: Aline Waites & Robin Hunter, _The Illustrated Victorian Songbook_, Michael Joseph Ltd., 1984, pp. 80-81, "Beautiful Dreamer" (1 text, 1 tune)
ST FSWB261 (Full)
NOTES [527 words]: The 1864 sheet music to this piece lists it as Foster's last song, composed shortly before his death (and Spaeth says the song "undoubtedly" belongs to the last two weeks of his life), but Fuld notes a curious reference to a Foster song "Beautiful Dreamer" in 1863, and the copyright claim on the 1864 sheet music appears to have been altered (though the LC records report the song as entered in March 1864).
Note that while the cover of the sheet music gives the date as 1864, the copyright on page 2 still appears to read 1862.
Harry Dichter and Elliott Shapiro, Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889, R. R. Bowker, 1941, p. 92, note that the third edition of the music merely calls it "one of the latest songs" written by Foster.
Even so, it appears that "Beautiful Dreamer" was Foster's last noteworthy song -- certainly the last published, and probably the last written; while there is no real evidence that it went into tradition, it at least has endured in popular circles, unlike anything else he wrote after "Old Black Joe" in 1860.
There is, I think, some internal evidence that the song is late; one of the key features of the melody is an accidental (the sharpened tonic in the second measure, repeated in the sixth). Foster's early music very rarely used accidentals; the first one I can think of is the tritone in "Hard Times Come Again No More." The prominent use in this song strongly implies a late date.
As an aside, "She was all the World to Me" was also marketed as Foster's last song, as was "Our Darling Kate." Indeed, "Beautiful Dreamer" isn't even the first of Foster's "last songs"; Horace Waters got there first with "She Was All the World to Me," published February 23, 1864; William A. Pond & Co. answered with "Beautiful Dreamer" on March 10 (John Tasker Howard, Stephen Foster, America's Troubadour, 1934 (I use the 1939 Tudor Publishing edition), p. 347).
Thus the possibility must be admitted that the song is in fact older, and had been sitting in someone's files for some time, only to be pulled out to capitalize on Foster's death. It's quite likely that the song was typeset in 1862 but not issued at the time. This was by no means uncommon -- the Saunders/Root bibliography lists 16 songs credited to Foster but first printed in 1864 and after (though many of these are in fact the works of others).
Two of these posthumous claims are rather humorous; "Give this to Mother" is listed as "Stephen C. Foster's last musical Idea" (! -- so Howard, pp. 347-348, who gives the text that the publishers used to justify this claim. It claims that Foster gave them the song three days before his death -- quite a trick, given that he took his final injury three days before he died. It also uses a tune very, very close to another Foster song, "Tears Bring Thoughts of Heaven"), Even more absurdly, "Little Mac! Little Mac! You're the Very Man" refers to events which took place months after Foster's death (Spaeth suggests Foster's daughter Marion actually wrote the piece, presumably because, according to Howard, p. 349, it was copyrighted in her name. But I know of no other published works by her). - RBW
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