The Ghost Writer of the “Seaman’s Ghost”

The following post has been written by Sierriana Terry, one of 36 college students who participated in the 10-week Library of Congress Junior Fellow Summer Intern Program. A senior at North Carolina Central University studying music performance with a licensure in K-12 education, Terry worked in the Library’s Music Division. Her plan after the program is to attend graduate school and study musicology (music history).

“The Shipwrek’d Shipman’s Ghost,” credited to Stephen Storace manuscript. Music Division.

As part of the Junior Fellows program, I have had the opportunity to catalog and research different sheet music collections. The David Lewin Papers, the Early American Sheet Music Collection and the Koussevitzky Commissions are major projects I worked on, just to name a few. The physical copies of these collections are housed in the Library’s Music Division, each containing sheet music original to the topic (i.e. Early American Sheet Music contains sheet music written pre-1820 by American composers and publishers).

I encountered quite an interesting item while working on the Early American Sheet Music collection: a manuscript of a song “The Shipwrecked Seaman’s Ghost” from “The Pirates” (an opera), credited to English composer Stephen Storace. Closely examining the manuscript, I noticed notes on the back (originally I assumed them to be initial sketches of the song) that appeared to be from a basic music theory lesson. The writing had several labels on each staff such as “principal chords” and solfège symbols for each note, which led me to assume that someone copied the song to practice for a singing lesson.

I cataloged the hand as “unknown,” for the hand on the manuscript and Storace’s hand were not a match according to the Library’s resources. I could not help but wonder, “Why would this be in this collection if it’s from an English opera?” After completing a few more items in the collection I decided to conduct more research on the manuscript.

Notes on page two appear to be a music theory lesson.

Notes on page two appear to be a music theory lesson.

Using the Library’s staff and resources, I was able to find that “The Pirates” was composed by Stephen Storace – a composer whose comic operas were popular during their time – and premiered in 1792. It was well received by audiences and is considered to be Storace’s best composition. Opera at this time in England and early America could often resemble a musical potpourri, or a set or series of thematically connected songs. By looking at the score, there are no characteristics of a “proper” opera, including characters, plot and separate libretto.

Through the Library’s website I found a 1790 print edition of the opera and consulted it as a possible lead. Immediately, I noticed that none of the songs in the opera contained proper titles; each one had listed the performer(s) at the top as a title. As I skimmed through the score, I had to find the manuscript by the notation and words. After finding the song, I encountered two differences between the manuscript version of the song and the printed score – the first being that the manuscript is actually incomplete and the second, a modified bass clef in the piano accompaniment. Slightly frustrated coming to another “dead end,” I put the manuscript aside, hoping I could find something later.

The original version of the song in the opera "The Pirates."

The original version of the song in the opera “The Pirates.”

I moved back to the other items in the box and saw a published song, also from “The Pirates,” credited to Stephen Storace and published by B. Carr in Philadelphia. I referred back to the opera using the sheet music in front of me as a reference to find the same difference I found with the manuscript – a modified bass clef part in the piano accompaniment. I conducted some research on B. Carr and came across the name Benjamin Carr. Carr was an American composer, publisher, singer and teacher also known as the “Father of Philadelphia Music.” Born in London, he traveled to Philadelphia in 1793 with a stage company and remained there for a short period of time publishing and selling music. In the 1790s, Carr became the most important and prolific music publisher in America. Also, he was one of the founding members of the Musical Fund Society (one of the oldest musical societies in America) of Philadelphia.

My theory is that Carr received a copy of the score and published the songs, while giving them titles and revamping the bass clef. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find anything in Carr’s hand to match to the hand of the manuscript, but it is plausible that it is indeed his hand.

The Library’s collections and resources have many fascinating stories to tell, which several of the Junior Fellow interns have discovered. You can read about them here

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