Early American Songbook
BILLINGS, William. Continental Harmony. Containing a Number of Anthems, Luges, and Chorusses, in Several Parts. Never Before Published. Composed by William Billings, Author of Various Music Books... Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer T. Andrews , 1794.
First edition. Oblong octavo (8 3/4 x 5 1/4 inches; 225 x 130 mm.). xxxiv, [35]-199, [1, index] pp. With an illustrated engraved frontispiece. Title-page within an engraved boarder. The first 34 pages are text and then pages 35-199 are sheet music. We could only find one other copy at auction in over 50 years.

Original quarter calf, over wooden boards. Boards are covered in very early original printed yellow and green printed floral paper. Inner hinges cracked but firm and all pages secure. Decorative paper boards are chipping along edges and calf with a few minor wormholes. The first leaf after the title-page with an unobtrusive closed tear, with no loss. Leaves are evenly toned throughout, but very clean. A small ink stain at upper margin on pages vii-x, barely affecting text on pages viii and ix. Previous owner’s old bookplate on front pastedown and a few occasional light pencil notations. Overall very good copy.

“William Billings, foremost composer of the early American primitive style, whose works have become an integral part of the American folk tradition. A tanner by trade, he was self-taught in music. Among his friends were many prominent figures of the American Revolution, including Samuel Adams and Paul Revere.Billings’s compositions include hymns, anthems, psalms, and fuging tunes. His music is noted for its rhythmic vitality, freshness, and straightforward harmonies.” Brittanica

“Billings was a prominent Boston composer. In 1770, he was the first American to publish his own collection of original music. The present compilation was published by an alliance of several Boston music societies as a charitable endeavor when Billings and his family slipped into poverty. It includes 51 compositions, all but five of them appearing here for the first time. Many of the tunes are named after towns in the Boston area, such as "Dedham," "Hopkinton," and "Cohasset." One composition is engraved on the frontispiece, with four voices arranged to show that ‘every tune is a Compleat circle.’ A long instructional introduction is addressed ‘to the several teachers of music, in this and the adjacent states." (Britton & Lowens, American Sacred Music 104 and pages 169-170).

Evans 26673; Sabin 5415.

HBS # 68367 $12,500