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Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music$
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Michael Broyles

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780300100457

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300100457.001.0001

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William Billings

William Billings

Rebel with Many Causes

Chapter:
(p.13) Chapter 2 William Billings
Source:
Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music
Author(s):

Broyles Michael

Publisher:
Yale University Press
DOI:10.12987/yale/9780300100457.003.0002

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.

Keywords:   church music, William Billings, Chester, nature, Puritanism, singing schools, sacred music, Boston, New England, tunebooks

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