Stephen Foster was the first professional composer in American history, the first in a line reaching to Irving Berlin. When Foster decided to pursue a musical career, he put himself to work with a pragmatic thoroughness. Although only a few of his letters have been handed down, his carefully kept sketchbook remians intact. It is preserved with many other documents in the Stephen Foster Memorial, in the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

sketchbook

Foster’s remarkable struggle for the right lyrics is evident in his sketchbook. Over and over, words were crossed out and replaced to express his change of mood. Foster required weeks to write a good song. It took him the enitre summer of 1852 to write My Old Kentucky Home.

Firth, Pond & Co.

The success of the year 1849 enabled Foster to give up his work as a bookkeeper in Cincinnati and resulted in a contract with the publisher Firth, Pond & Co., N.Y.

Henry Kleber

After deciding to become a professional composer, Foster took instruction in composition and songwriting in Pittsburgh from the musician Henry Kleber, a German immigrant.

sketchbook

The composition technique he learned would become characteristic of his later work.This distinctive division into eight bars may be found throughout Foster’s work.

Foster’s piano

Foster’s piano