28 December 2013

Anna Case, She Writes Some Songs


Anna Case, the Metropolitan Opera soprano and noted concert artist, filed her first copyright notice with the United States Library of Congress on March 5, 1914.  The composition, an uncharacteristically up-tempo ragtime tune titled "Metropolitan Rag", went unpublished for more than three years before being picked up by Newark, N.J. publisher T.W. Allen.  A rather inauspicious beginning for what would be an on-again, off-again preoccupation for the Hillsborough native over the course of the next fifty years.



New York Post, April 11, 1938




For the multi-talented diva - she was skilled on piano, organ, and violin, and was known to occasionally play her own accompaniment during recital encores - extending her endeavors to include songwriting seems only natural.  But for the time, the notion of a young female opera singer becoming a published songwriter was something wholly out of the ordinary.  Yet her next composition, the patriotic "Our America", was so popular that she was requested to perform the song numerous times at appearances during World War I , and it was published by Harold Flammer over the next two years in no less than four different popular arrangements.





In her later years, Anna Case claimed to wake up in the middle of the night and rush to the piano with a melody in her head.  But on at least one occasion, inspiration came more directly.  In the spring of 1919, while sitting on the enclosed porch of her summer home in Mamaroneck, she chanced to hear a single robin perched on the broken branch of a tree, singing a tuneful melody.  She is reported to have jumped from her seat, quickly retrieved a notepad, and wrote out the notes as she and the red breasted bird sang back and forth in collaboration. 




Sheet music published by Harold Flammer
Sheet music published by Harold Flammer


She debuted "Song of the Robin" at her July 5, 1919 Ocean Grove Auditorium concert, and recorded a popular "Diamond Disc" version for Thomas Edison in 1920 - no easy task, as Edison personally approved all recordings. 


Anna Case in "La Fiesta", 1926

For her next two compositions, Anna Case added musical scores to established poems.  "Anhelo (Longing)" a Spanish language poem by Simon Martinez with English lyrics by Cecil Cowdrey was given the Anna Case treatment and quickly became a concert staple.  She is seen and heard singing her composition in the 1926 short Vitaphone film "La Fiesta" - one of the very first "talkies". 
Sheet music published by Harold Flammer


Around the time she was making "La Fiesta", she sat down with a poem by Robert Burns and wrote "Ye Bonnie Banks O' Doon", once again published by Harold Flammer - with a fine photo portrait of the composer on the cover.  But it was something else that happened in 1926 which may have, arguably, sent Anna Case into a ten year dry spell.  That was the year her beau, Postal Telegraph tycoon Clarence H. Mackay, by virtue of his daughter Ellin's wedding, became the father-in-law of one of America's greatest and most prolific songwriters, Irving Berlin.  Her eventual marriage to Mackay in 1931 made Anna Case the stepmother of  Berlin, her contemporary!  What the two musicians shared in maturity, however, did not extend to songcraft.  So it's worth noting here that while Anna Case's compositions show talent, and while her songwriting accomplishments were real (recording her own song for Edison!, singing her own composition in the first motion picture with sound!) she was no Irving Berlin.


It wasn't until 1936 that Anna Case once again caught the songwriting bug.  The impetus was her husband's birthday.  With his unimaginable wealth reduced by the great depression to a mere imaginable level, Clarence Mackay still had everything he could possibly ever need or want, so his wife gave him something he couldn't buy - a song - which she sang for him on his birthday, "My Irish Eyes".

"I Know An Irish Garden" - one of the many Irish-themed songs written by Anna Case.


Mr. Mackay so enjoyed the song, that he enlisted it's use - with a few tweaks in the lyrics - for his new "song-o-gram" service, a kind of singing telegram delivered for a fee over the telephone.  The tune was a hit on St. Patrick's Day, and led to Anna Case composing additional ditties for other occasions, including more substantial works such as "Just and Old Fashioned Picture", which she sang on a special Mother's Day radio broadcast in 1938, and "Daddy, This is Your Day", introduced by popular young singer Mary Small on a similar radio broadcast for Father's Day.




"Daddy, This is Your Day" popularized by Mary Small


"Just an Old Fashioned Picture" was a collaboration with lyricist Gerald Fitzgerald, as was "I'm a Dreamer of Dreams (That Never Come True) - popularized by Ozzie Nelson - and many other songs during this period.


"I'm a Dreamer of Dreams" popularized by Ozzie Nelson

Inspired by her husband, Anna Case returned again and again to Irish themes in her music, with such songs as "I Know an Irish Garden" - another collaboration with Fitzgerald - and "By the Lakes of Killarney I Met My Kathleen", recorded contemporaneously by well-known Irish tenor John McCormack, and available on iTunes today.



"By the Lakes of Killarney..." recorded by Irish tenor John McCormack

Anna Case copyrighted about fifty songs between 1936 and 1940, mostly unpublished.  As World War II began,  she collaborated with Gladys Shelley on a patriotic song, "Long Live Our Democracy", and in 1943 with Roslyn Wells, more successfully, with "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We'll Pull Together".



Sheet music published by Harold Flammer

After another ten year break, we find "Un Papillon Capricieux", with French and English words by Mitchell Carroll and music by Anna Case - who received prominent top billing on the sheet music published by Harold Flammer - and, in a reversal, "When I Hold You in My Arms", with words by Anna Case, and music by Harold J. Stewart.


An exhausting, if not exhaustive, search of U.S. copyright records finds one final unpublished song, "You've Got Ireland In Your Eyes", copyrighted words and music by the seventy-four-year-old Anna Case, 23 April 1962.






No comments:

Post a Comment