Foster, Stephen Collins. (1826-64) America’s first professional songwriter. Many of his songs remain popular
today, over 150 years later. They include ."Oh! Susnna," "Camptown Races,", "My Old Kentucky Home," "Old Black Joe," "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Old Folks at Home."
Autograph Manuscript Signed "S.C. Foster," being a presentation copy of a musical composition titled "Autumn Waltz," with a decorative cartouche and banner drawn by Foster, and the inscription "Composed for the Piano Forte by S.C. Foster & dedicated to Miss Thalia Bentel," one page, 11 5/8" x 9 5/8", in ink on heavy wove paper, n.p., n.d (c. 1846-50). The sheet is lightly toned and is stitched along the left-hand edge into a volume of contemporary sheet music bound for Miss Thalia Bentel, who lived at Freedom (Beaver County) near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1840s.
"Autumn Waltz" is a 56-bar composition for piano in the key of E-flat Major, notated in Foster's hand on five two-stave systems. This is the only extant source of this unpublished, early instrumental work by Foster. It was probably written when Foster was between 20 and 24 years of age.
Foster manuscripts are of legendary rarity, almost all of them being held by the Stephen Foster Memorial at the University of Pittsburgh.
The covers of the volume are in rough shape; the front cover, which is separated, has a name plate, "Thalia Bentel"; there is another separation two pages before "Autumn Walz," not affecting Foster's manuscript. The remainder of the contents is sheet music published between 1846 and 1850; it includes music by Foster and Henry Kleber (Foster's mentor), as well as by Beethovern and other composers.
In 1846, Foster moved from Pittsburgh, where he was born, to Cincinnati, Ohio and became a bookkeeper with his brother's steamship company, While there, he wrote his first hit songs, among them "Oh! Susanna," which would become the anthem of the California Gold Rush. In 1848, he returned to Pittsburgh, when he began to make an income from sales of his music. He married in 1850.
Since songwriting was a new profession, adequate provisions for music copyright and composer royalties were not available and Foster had no recourse when music publishers printed their own editions of his work and paid him nothing. He died in a poverty ward in New York City. In 1970 Stephen Foster was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.