by Stephen Collins Foster, 1826-1864
Acclaimed during his lifetime as one of America's best songwriters, Stephen Foster wrote nearly 300 songs in a variety of styles. Foster's early works, such as his first song, "Open Thy Lattice, Love" (1844), were modeled after the concert songs of English composers such as Henry Bishop and Charles E. Horn. Foster's first truly successful songs, however, were his minstrel songs (such as "De Camptown Races" and "Oh! Susanna"), often characterized by their brisk tempos, diatonic melodies, heavy use of dialect, and the inclusion of a three- or four-part chorus. Later, Foster focused on writing songs laced with nostalgia--feelings of lost youth, home, family, and friends.
Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" (published 1855) is a merger of his compositional styles. Melodically, it belongs to the category of minstrel songs; a four-part chorus is included. However, there is no dialect, no mention of slavery or other minstrel themes, and the song is identified on the cover simply as one of "Foster's melodies." In fact, the most "ethnic" feature of "Hard Times Come Again No More" is its basis in a melody that Foster had heard as a child in an African-American church in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania.
The text of "Hard Times Come Again No More" proved tragically prophetic for Foster, as it was reported that he sang this song quite often in his last days. Indeed, the composer died on January 13, 1864, at the age of 37, with only 38 cents to his name.