Francis Hopkinson is the only American-born composer for whom there is evidence that he wrote songs before 1800. This song was written in 1759, to a poem by Irish clergyman Thomas Parnell (also known as Doctor Parnell). Scored for voice and harpsichord, the song is America’s earliest surviving secular composition.
The song is contained in a collection of Hopkinson’s manuscripts, dated 1759-60, housed in the Music Division of the Library of Congress. As was the performance practice at the time, Hopkinson composed “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free” in just two parts, the treble and bass, leaving the harmonic details to be filled in by the accompanist. The song has a charming, graceful melody, which is often punctuated by a repeated passing-note, resulting in a somewhat syncopated effect. A brief postlude concludes the piece.
–Library of Congress
My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free
by Thomas Parnell
My days have been so wondrous free,
the little birds that fly
with careless ease from tree
to tree were but as blest as I.
Ask gliding waters if a tear
of mine increased their stream.
And ask the breathing gales if e’er
I lent a sigh to them.
Photo: The lovers walk. Currier & Ives, [between 1856 and 1907]. Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.