With Spring flowers in full bloom, this week’s deep dive celebrates the many floral lithograph covers in the Levy Sheet Music Collection. It took a while to choose my favorites (almost 500 songs are tagged with the subject heading “flowers,”) and as I’m far from a florist, I’ll refrain from trying to identify any of the flowers below.
The Spirit of Spring always makes me smile when I stumble upon it—the cover is an explosion of colors and textures. I also tend to find something new each time I see it (for example, I only noticed today the little house tucked into the background).
The Lament of the Blind Orphan Girl, published in 1847, is written from the perspective of a blind woman describing the world she’d like to see—her brother’s face, her parents, the sun, the moon, and the stars. The floral border surrounding her image appears to depict her parents at the top in addition to another image of her at the bottom. The cover also notes the song was made famous by Abby Hutchinson, of the Hutchinson family singers.
Thanks to the title of this song, The Lily of the Valley, I was able to identify one of the flowers on the cover. Published in Boston by Oliver Ditson, this version contains no text.
Heart’s Ease Waltz makes it easy to identify the cover flowers as well. Also known as viola tricolor or wild pansies, these stunning blooms were published in Baltimore in 1860. Similar to a song in last week’s post, they were lithographed at the Hoen & Co. building in East Baltimore.
The cover of Climb a Tree With Me seems to be a use of photolithography, rather than hand-drawn flowers. Composed by Charles Harris, an early pioneer of Tin Pan Alley in New York City, the chorus is from the perspective of a young couple: “Oh come and climb a tree with me, As we climbed long years ago. All the birds sang birdie words, and they meant “I Love you so.”
Of course, these digitized images pale in comparison to the vibrancy and shine of the actual covers. Want to peruse the collection in-person? You can request individual boxes for view in our Special Collections Reading Room (you can also read about our COVID-19 restrictions here).
As the curator of the Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection, a phrase I hear often is “I didn’t know sheet music could be used to study…”
Levy collected 30,000 songs over 50+ years not to perform, but to use as a lens for studying history. To make this easier, Levy organized his collection by subject, rather than title or composer. As a result, there are hundreds of unique subjects that can be used to filter the collection. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to dive into some of the more fascinating, obscure, and strange subject headings in the collection. Each week, I’ll focus on a different subject — stay tuned for more deep dives! You can view the entire digitized collection here.