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(IX)William Billings

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Lara Housez

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William Billings
Lecture IX
January 28th 2014
William Billings
American composer
Self-taught musician
First publication: the new-England psalm singer (1770) enjoyed great commercial
success; it was the 1st published collection of musical works by an individual
American-born composer
Published more than 300 compositions, almost all for 4-part chorus
Died in poverty
Chester (1770)
Genre: song
Title comes from the name of a town in Massachusetts
This patriotic song stirred the hearts of colonialists fighting for freedom from
Great Britain. It become the unofficial anthem of the American Revolution (1775-
Melody: sung by the tenor, mostly conjunct (stepwise, notes move from neighbor
to neighbor – scale like)
Homorhythmic, following the conventions of a hymn, with 4 voices
moving for the most part together; largely syllabic with few melismas
(groups of extra notes that are attached more than on syllable or word)
Billings originally published “Chester” for four parts throughout. On our
recording, however, the texture thickens and the harmonies richen as parts
enter in succession
1st verse: tenors and basses; two part harmony
2nd verse: sopranos (double tenor), tenors, and basses; two part
3rd verse: sopranos, altos (new line), tenors, and base; 3 part
4th and 5th verses: sopranos (new line), altos, tenors, and basses;
four part harmony
Periodic Phrase Structure
1st verse: let tyrants shake their iron rode, and Slav’ry clank her galling
chains, We fear them not, we trust in God, New England’s God forever
Billings mirrored the grammatical structure of the text in the music
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