To Anacreon in Heaven
DESCRIPTION: "To Anacreon in heav'n where he sat in full glee, A few sons of harmony sent in a petition." They ask the poet to be their patron, describe how they intend to drink and enjoy themselves, and wander off into sundry classical allusions
AUTHOR: Words: Ralph Tomlinson / Music: John Stafford Smith (?)
EARLIEST DATE: 1778 (The Vocal Magazine)
KEYWORDS: drink nonballad gods
FOUND IN: Britain(England)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Lawrence, p. 128, "The Anacreontic Song" (copy of the first page of a 1779/80 British printing)
Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 8-11, "To Anacreon in Heaven" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 528-533, "The Star Spangled Banner"
DT, ANCREON, ANACRON2
ADDITIONAL: Reginald Nettel, _Seven Centuries of Popular Song_, Phoenix House, 1956, p. 150, "(Anacreon in Heaven)" (1 short text)
cf. "The Star-Spangled Banner" (tune) and references there (including Same Tune references)
The Star-Spangled Banner (File: MKr015) and references there
NOTES [317 words]: Anacreon (c. 563-476 B.C.E.) was a Greek poet for whom the anacreonitic metre (^^-^-^--) was named. Only fragments of his poetry survive; what scraps remain are in praise of wine, love, and pleasure.
John Stafford Smith is most frequently listed as the author of this tune, and his name appears on the first dated sheet music (1799; the earliest printing, probably c. 1782, has no author listed). However, Samuel Arnold, who conducted the Anacreonitic Society's orchestra, has also been named. William Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal, Broadman Press, 1976, p. 167, considers the tune anonymous and thinks Smith simply responsible for the arrangement.
This song was written for the Anacreonitic Society, devoted (like Anacreon's writings) to wine and pleasure. The society broke up in 1786.
For commentary on the various obscure allusions in this piece, the reader is referred to Spaeth's Read 'Em and Weep. Those who wish to see a list of all the (generally dreadful) lyrics set to the tune around the beginning of the nineteenth century, see Spaeth's History of Popular Music in America, p. 40.
Supposedly the Anacreonitic Soceity died of its own success. According to Reginald Nettel, Seven Centuries of Popular Song, Phoenix House, 1956, p. 150, it became so famous that the Duchess of Devonshire wanted to attend. Even though she was behind a screen, the performers, whose songs were scandalous, could not deal with the situation, and soon were resigning on mass, resulting in its downfall. - RBW
Anyone who complains that our national anthem is bad poetry (and some do) should look at the lyrics to this song, its ancestor. They are immeasurably worse. The Library of Congress conducted a study of the song's origins in the early part of this century; among other issues, they considered (and rejected) a suggestion that the tune was composed by the Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan. - PJS
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