“Songs My Mother Taught Me”: From Dvořák to Ives

Songs My Mother Taught Me is the fourth and most famous of Antonín Dvořák’s seven-song cycle, Gypsy Songs, Op. 55. Composed in 1880 at the request of the Viennese tenor, Gustav Walter, the texts are from a collection of poems by Adolf Heyduk. Songs My Mother Taught Me highlights the timelessness of music, and enduring truths, passed lovingly through generations:

Songs my mother taught me in the days long vanished,
Seldom from her eyelids were the tear drops banished.
Now I teach my children each melodious measure;
Often tears are flowing from my memory’s treasure.

The vocal line unfolds in 2/4 time, while the piano lines proceed in 6/8. This recording, featuring the American lyric mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade with pianist Rudolf Firkusny, begins with Songs My Mother Taught Me and concludes with the song which follows in the cycle, The String is Tuned:

Fifteen years later in 1895, and an ocean away in New England, Charles Ives created his own setting of Songs My Mother Taught Me, using an English translation by Natalie Macfarren (printed above). He dedicated the song to his own mother, Mollie Parmelee. Ives’ setting is haunting and hypnotic. The simple melody contains distant echos of a revivalist hymn. A single passing chord in the final moments threatens briefly to bend the tonal center. Often, Ives’ compositions don’t end, but instead drift away into a hazy dreamscape. Here, after the final chord, a single B-flat hovers in the air.

This recording features American mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani with pianist Gilbert Kalish:


  • Dvořák: Songs My Mother Taught Me, Gypsy Songs, Op. 55, Frederica von Stade, Rudolf Firkusny Amazon
  • Ives: Songs My Mother Taught Me, 114 Songs, Jan DeGaetani, Gilbert Kalish Amazon

Featured Image: Charles Ives’ birthplace in Danbury, Connecticut 

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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