For 22 Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

For the purposes of theis dissertation I shall give a broad analysis of the  24 Negro melodies as a whole, rather than a complete analysis of each of the melodies separately. I shall then follw this with  three of the melodies that  I  believe  SCT tried to do are labelled below.

The Three Melodies  are as follows

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1.    No 7 Oloba West African

2.    No 8 The Bamboula – West Indies

3.    No 22 Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child American Negro

In his interpretation of the melodies SCT does not reveal a deeper meaning and understanding  and of what  already existed and was looked at as  genuine Negro culture at that time.  The melodies themselves already existed and what he did was to give them a new  platform, interpretation and audience and most importantly a permanent status in the lexicon of music that they may not have gained without his input. In all 24 of the cases the melodies are expanded and the chance is given for them to me explored in greater detail in a style unfamiliar to them, that of the romantic classical style. The “Negro” characteristics that some composers have said to have used into their own compositions, have never really been successful,  they have in some way made African-American culture look towards buffoonery and comedy, giving the impression that the slaves were always singing, dances and generally being happy in spite of the very harsh realities of their captivity.

Was there any significance to the number 24? The book that melodies came from was a book published by the Oliver Ditson company. I have not found any research that suggests that these 24 melodies were the only ones in the book so we cannot be sure of that. They could have been selected randomly form a book contacting 100’s of melodies. We can only assume that these melodies were amongst the most popular that SCT had heard, especially through his introduction with the Fisk Jubilee singers during their visit it Britain in 1873-74. SCT was introduced to Spirituals by the leader of the Fisk Jubilee singers Frederick Louden at a meeting in 1900, so he did have some experience of them.

Seven of the 24 come from Africa, one from the West Indies and the rest come from the United States. In each of the melodies the traits that make them unique are preserved in the piano arrangement of the piece, with the original melody and text cited at the beginning of each and also  the original key and is preserved. There are numerous keys.,thirteen of the melodies are major and eleven are minor. The tempos vary,there are ten melodies in a fast tempo, ten in a moderate tempo and four slow.

As there are no dates to illustrate when each of the pieces were completed it is hard to assess how long each piece took, what order they were completed in and indeed how to critique the development of the piece as a whole. By this I mean we cannot get an idea of  SCT’s approach to  writing and the treatment of the melodies. If it changed  over the course of the work what did it start out as and if indeed it changed what did it change to?

1.1             Treatment and Style

In terms of the stylistic nature of the work, although it is by no means a virtuosic piece it is fairly clear that the performer must have a fairly good and competent technique to play through the work. During the 19th century the piano was the instrument that allowed many  competent amateurs to be able bring great works of the classical idiom into their homes. The music that SCT wrote for these melodies is at a standard that is challenging for amateurs and not too easy for professionals.

The 24 melodies are in basically a Theme and Variations style although not one that would be immediately recognizable as traditional. They are broken down into four main categories

1.    Theme and sectional variations

2.    Theme and continuous variations

3.    Theme and variations in a Ternary Form

4.    Theme and Variation in a Rondo Form


The melodies are treated with different accompaniments form the main melody in what could be described as a choral style. Because of SCTs training at the Royal College there are influences from great composers. SCT greatly admired Brahms and his influence can be heard through the work. His own teacher Stanford was a great advocate of professionalism and did not really like virtuoso displays and those I think also made an impression on SCTs work in this area.


On a more analytical note there are a few things that are characteristic of SCT that make their way into these pieces. SCT had a predilection for certain melodic progressions he used the drop of a 3rd at cadences as in melody…….

He wanted to have Cleary defined and regular forms as in the ternary form he used in melody ….

Split octaves before chords melody……

Virtuosic accompaniment figures with arpeggios etc.,

Bothe right and left hand thick chords and octaves.


The style of writing suggests that SCT approached the music from an orchestral point of view and condensed it down to a piano, making full use of the piano range and compass.

Ther is no information on what type of piano SCt used for the completing this work aprt from the fact that it was an upright piano. There is an idea that the piano he did use had a not very strong upper end of the piano and this is why it is believed that that the thick writing makes up for that upper end weakness. The architecture of the piano is such that the upper register is generally weaker than the lower because of the thickness of the strings. The strings of a piano are much thicker at the lower end oif the iano. This thickness gives them a greater resonance. The amplification and thickening of the right hand in the case of the melodies goes along with the preposition that the upper end of the piano was particularly weak and so there was an overcompensation for writing in this area.

With that all in mind SCT displays a remarkable variety of pianistic skills  that seem to be commonplace hallmarks of piano writing in the late 19th centyur. As stated before the texture throughtout the melodies is consistently with thick chords equateing to a very thick and melodius sound. This  thick chordal writing does I think at times lead to an obfuscation of the melodic intent but that is not always the case.

How does SCT treat the original phrases and dynamics, these are treated to no mucking about with them that is to say that he keeps the original dynamicas and phrases intact, this is one way for him to conncet with the spirit of the pieces and to maintain some authenticity and credibility into the pieces that may have disappeared had he left them out or altered them.

Three melodies that encompass what I have been talking about