The Old Man's Love Song

(1908)

“The Old Man’s Love Song” is based on an Omaha tribe melody that Farwell had already arranged as a solo piano version. The vocal setting features the chant-like melody supported by a straightforward accompaniment containing a few harmonic surprises. It is the third of Three Indian Songs, op. 32.

The Old Man's Love Song

Perhaps in response to Antonín Dvorák's challenge to American composers to use Native American themes in their compositions, Arthur Farwell consulted Alice C. Fletcher's Indian Story and Song from North America (1900) for inspiration. In 1901, Farwell published his American Indian Melodies in his recently founded Wa-Wan Press, a publication dedicated strictly to American contemporary music. American Indian Melodies, scored for piano solo, contained arrangements of ten melodies that were transcribed from the songs of the Omaha tribe and preserved in Fletcher's book. The second arrangement of the set, entitled "The Old Man's Love Song," features a beautiful melody, which, according to Farwell, "wafts like the breath of a zephyr over the grasses of gentle hilltops, and is not inferior, in its idyllic quality, to the music which [Richard] Wagner conceived for the 'Flower-Maidens' in Parsifal."


Farwell later arranged three of his ten American Indian Melodies as solos for voice with piano accompaniment; they were published as Three Songs for a Low Voice by G. Schirmer in 1908. The third song from this publication was "The Old Man's Love Song," and was preceded with the following annotation by Farwell:


With the Omahas the early morning, when the maidens go to the springs for water, is the hour for the singing of love-songs. Choosing this hour, an old man of the Omaha tribe toward the close of his life went at sunrise every morning to the summit of a hill near the village and sang his radiant and peaceful song, “With the dawn I seek thee.” The precise meaning of this ceremony was never made clear, but after the old man's death his song became a favorite, and was sung by the young people of the village.


Farwell was apparently taken by the melody of "The Old Man's Love Song" because it reappeared in another of his compositions, his piano work entitled “Dawn,” op. 12 (published in 1902). For this work, Farwell combined the melody of "The Old Man's Love Song" with another American Indian tune, an Otoe melody. The melody of "The Old Man's Love Song" is first heard in “Dawn” in the left hand of the piano accompaniment, which then alternates to the right hand in measure eight. In addition, Farwell adapted "The Old Man's Love Song" for eight-part mixed chorus, published in Four Songs for A Capella Chorus, op. 102, in 1937. Farwell's numerous renditions of this Omaha melody have allowed many generations to experience and appreciate America's musical heritage.


--Library of Congress


The Old Man's Love Song
by Arthur Farwell
words adapted from the "Indian"


Ha hae ha ha hae ha hae ha nae thae ha tha ae ha tho-e.
Daylight! Dawnlight! Wakes on the hills.
Singing I seek thee, when young is the morn.
Ee-ha! Ee-ha!
Ha hae ho Ha hae ho hae ha wae thae tho-e.
Daylight! Dawnlight! Wakes on the hills.
Singing I seek thee, when young is the morn.
Ha hae ha!


Photo: [Deer dancer] / Crumbo. c 1952. Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.


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