Rebel with Many Causes
Born in Boston in 1746, William Billings flourished as America's first major composer despite an environment that was not friendly to music. A product of the American Revolution, Billings fully supported the revolutionary side during the war for independence, even composing a song, “Chester,” that strongly justified the patriotic cause. Billings's affinity with nature, which he viewed as benign and a source of inspiration, influenced all aspects of his creativity, but also created a conflict with Puritanism, which considered nature as a hostile, savage wilderness to be reclaimed. During the period, singing schools, attended mostly by young people, were more social than religious and met almost as often in a tavern as in a church. This chapter documents Billings's rise to prominence in the world of music, his publication of original church music including tunebooks, and his contribution to New England sacred music. It also looks at the decline in his fortunes in the 1790s. Billings died on September 27, 1800, and was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Boston.
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