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Item of the Week: John Howard Payne’s Comic Turn

Thu, 03/02/2023 - 07:39

From the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection

John Howard Payne (1791-1852) wrote and composed “Have a Care Mon Ami,” the sheet music for which is seen here, around 1833, judging from the copyright date. Payne’s best-known song — “Home! Sweet Home!” — is thought to refer to the home he once lived in here. His East Hampton roots are celebrated at the Home, Sweet Home Museum on James Lane.

Payne wrote “Have a Care Mon Ami” for a musical farce called “Fricandeau, or the Cook and the Coronet.” After the production debuted in London, the song was performed by Clara Fisher Maeder (1811-1898), a beloved New York stage actress best known for her comedic roles. Born in England, Clara began her acting career at Drury Lane in London at the age of 6, and she continued making theatrical appearances until her late 70s.

According to an obituary in The New York Times, Clara “possess[ed] an admirable voice within certain limits,” but with extensive vocal training she proved to be an operatic singer of some skill, featured in a production of “The Marriage of Figaro.”

“Have a Care Mon Ami” is a short and spritely warning about the vagaries of love. This can be seen in the expression markings at the beginning of the piece — “allegretto,” meaning happy, and “scherzando,” or playful. The lyrics are meant for unwary suitors of young women. The refrain “have a care mon ami” sets the tone for the rest of the song, which cautions an imaginary young lover not to be taken in by the wiles of the women he is courting.

Musically, this piece would have demanded clear diction and a nimble tongue because of the expression markings. A piece marked allegro or allegretto is typically taken at a fairly fast tempo, so any lyrics would have to be delivered quickly and distinctly in order for every member of the audience to hear every joke and turn of phrase.

Julia Tyson is a librarian and archivist in the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.

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