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Heart songs: When you and I were young, Maggie

February 18, 2012

As Mignarda, we typically perform music for voice and lute from the 16th century, an enterprise that keeps us busy enough.  But it turns out that our musical tastes do extend to the repertory of 19th century ‘heart songs’ or, the better-known descriptor, parlor songs.

We are currently finishing a recording project of the music of John Dowland from his last book of songs, A Pilgrimes Solace (1612).  While taking a break from the headier music – and with Ron’s 19th century parlor guitar close to hand – we decided to sing an impromptu rendition of this lovely old heart song.

The poem was written for Maggie Clark of Glanford, Ontario by poet George Washington Johnson. George and Maggie became engaged, married, and moved to Cleveland (Donna’s home town), but Maggie died less than a year later in May 1865 and was buried near her old home. Washington returned to Canada where he taught at the University of Toronto. The poem was published in 1864 in a collection entitled ‘Maple Leaves’ and, after Maggie’s death, Johnson arranged for it to be set to music by James Austin Butterfield, a music teacher then living in Detroit.

The song attained great popularity in post-Civil War America, and has been recorded countless times – first in 1905. This is our own spontaneous arrangement.

While we have no intention of veering off course from our more typical repertory, we do have a rather large number of heart songs and ballads from the 19th century residing in our collective memory, available to rise to the surface from time to time.  Write and let us know what you think.

Recorded by Will Russell at Electric Wilburland

UPDATE 2020 – 2021

As of November 2020 our new album called Heart-Songs is now available, including “When you and I were young, Maggie” and several other parlor songs from the turn of the last century.

  1. Alan Hoyle permalink

    Yes, it’s sentimental, but it doesn’t exploit one’s feelings cheaply. I love the simple honesty of this song – it could have been by Stephen Foster – and I love your performance of it. Thank you. Alan

  2. Well, I’m a sucker for this stuff. Put me down in advance for an album…Remember, there are hundreds of published songs for voice and gut-strung fingerstyle banjo from the 1850s to 1900, and no one is doing them.

  3. Gustave Dedronez permalink

    Please do an album of this sort of music; Stephan Foster and other 19th century sentimental songs. That sort of beauty is something totally lacking in music today, and something for which I am also a “sucker”.

  4. I have listened to many many recordings of this sad, lovely song, while searching for suitable background music (for which permission will be sought and royalties paid). THis is the most beautiful vocal recording I have heard.
    It was a great pleasure listening to your clear, beautiful voice, echoing so wonderfully George W. Johnson’s love for Maggie, in Adelaide, South Australia. A sad story, and even more sad is the fact that tuberculosis is still prevalent and takes human lives in underprivileged countries.
    Best wishes,
    Ranjit Ratnaike

    • Thank you for your kind words regarding our performance this lovely song. We love the sentimental music of this era and have an alter-ego, Eulalie, specializing in what we call Heart Songs. In 2020 we released an album of similar music with “When you and I were young, Maggie” included. You can find the album at

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. John Dowland: A Pilgrimes Solace. Our new CD is now available! | Unquiet Thoughts
  2. Saturday morning quotes 8.5: Nouvelles oeuvres | Unquiet Thoughts

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