Oliver Holden and The Winter's Sun

"The Winter's Sun" MS0190, 1/44
Each month, I have the opportunity to select an item from our archival collection to display in Representatives' Hall at the Old State House.  This month, I've chosen to embrace the time of year by selecting a musical score by Oliver Holden titled "The Winter's Sun." This score dates to 1830 and the music and lyrics are handwritten.  Written in December, "The Winter’s Sun" comments on the lack of daylight and the feebleness of the sun's rays, but it ends with a hope of spring, repeating the line “yet know we when it sinks away it rises, it rises on a land of spring.”

Oliver Holden (1765-1844) was born in Shirley, Massachusetts. As a young man, he served as a marine during the Revolutionary War, and afterward settled in Charlestown and helped to rebuild it from damage sustained during the war.  A carpenter and real estate dealer by trade, Holden also served as a town officer and a representative to the Massachusetts State Legislature between 1818 and 1833

Oliver Holden, 1899.0034.001
Though he wore many hats, Holden is best remembered as a Boston clergyman and a prolific composer who specialized in hymns.  Most of his work dates to the late 18th century, but he continued to publish sporadically into the 19th century.  From 1792 to 1807, he taught singing, composed over 245 works, and compiled more than a dozen anthologies.  During George Washington's visit to Boston in 1789, Holden led the chorus in "Ode to Columbia's Favorite Son," which was sung in front of the Old State House. Holden also provided the music for Washington's memorial service in 1800.  A portrait of Holden by Ethan Allen Greenwood (pictured at the left) and his pipe organ and accompanying wooden stool are part of our museum collection. Our archival collection includes manuscript scores and tune-books composed by Holden that date to 1798, 1830, and 1844.  Though the bulk of Holden's music in our collection is of a sacred nature, there are some romantic songs, such as "He's stole my Heart from me" and "What tho' 'tis true I've talk'd of Love."  Of all of these pieces, my favorite is "The Winter's Sun" because I believe it reflects that Bostonians past and present rely on the thought of spring to help get through the cold and dark days of winter.

Boston is blanketed in a layer of snow right now, but we should remember that in just a few short weeks we'll turn the clocks forward to enjoy more sunlight each day - eventually saying goodbye to the winter's sun and welcoming the spring's sun.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager