Stephen Foster and nostalgia


The dates of Stephen Foster’s life bracket the transformation of U.S. culture from a patrician society with a stable hierarchical structure to a democratic society stressing individual responsibility and freedom.

The dynamic interaction of individual alienation, cultural idealism, and popular culture assumed a particularly vivid dimension in music; the portrayal of bittersweet emotions stimulated by the contemplation of something lost to the narrator became the favorite device of 19th-century songwriters.

Nostalgic topics in Foster’s songs include the middle-class domestic woman, the Old South, and traditional Celtic ballads.

This according to “Sound and sentimentality: Nostalgia in the songs of Stephen Foster” by Susan Key (American music XIII/2 [summer 1995] pp. 145–166).

Today is Foster’s 190th birthday! Below, Gentle Annie, one of the songs discussed in the article.

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