To Anacreon in heaven (John Stafford Smith)

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Editor: Christopher Shaw (submitted 2021-03-22).   Score information: A4, 11 pages, 178 kB   Copyright: Personal
Edition notes: Please click on the link for preview/playback/PDF download. Only the first verse is underlaid in the original source, following verses being appended below. This edition has underlaid the text in full, each verse separately; the clearest way to deal with the vagaries of the scansion. Bar-lengths have been halved (the original being notated in 6/4).

General Information

Title: To Anacreon in heaven
Composer: John Stafford Smith
Lyricist: Ralph Tomlinsoncreate page

Number of voices: 3vv   Voicing: TTB
Genre: SecularGlee

Language: English
Instruments: A cappella

First published: 1799
Description: Written for use as the club song by the Anacreontic Society. Admired at the time, the song's popularity continued into the twenty-first century in forms as diverse as a national anthem (The United States of America) and thence as a novelty instrumental by James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix. The Anacreontic Club existed c.1766 - 1792 and the song (written before 1773) was an essential part of each meeting's ceremony. The current version, published by Stafford Smith in 1799, appears to be a worked-up version of his original. Although contemporary accounts mention high musical capabilities, and although club practice was sometimes to employ professional singers in all but the chorus, this arrangement seems unfeasibly complex for a piece habitually performed in conviviality. Conversely, sparser arrangements, the template for the future national anthem, appear too simplistic to be the club song for a society of competent singers. An authentic realisation of the song probably lies somewhere between published versions.

External websites:

Original text and translations

English.png English text

To Anacreon in heav'n, where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent a petition
That he their inspirer and patron would be;
When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian:
"Voice, fiddle and flute no longer be mute,
I'll lend you my aid and inspire you, to boot;
And besides I'll instruct you, like me to entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine."

The news through Olympus immediately flew;
When Old Thunder pretended to give himself airs:
"If these mortals are suffer'd their scheme to pursue,
The devil a goddess will stay above stairs.
"Hark!" already they cry, in transports of joy,
"Away to the sons of Anacreon we'll fly;
And there with good fellows we'll learn to entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine."

"The yellow-hair'd god and his nine fusty maids
From Helicon's banks will incontinent flee;
Idalia will boast but of tenantless shades,
And the bi-forkèd hill a mere desert will be.
My thunder, no fear on't, shall soon do its errand,
And soundly I'll swinge the ringleaders, I warrant;
I'll trim the young dogs, for thus daring to 'twine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine."

Apollo rose up, and said: "Prithee ne'er quarrel,
Good king of the gods, with my vot'ries below,
Your thunder is useless", then shewing his laurel,
Cried: "Sic evitabile fulmen", you know!
Then over each head, my laurels I'll spread,
So my sons from your crackers no mischief shall dread;
While snug in their club-room they jovially 'twine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's wine".

Next, Momus got up with his risible phiz,
And swore with Apollo he'd cheerfully join:
"The full tide of harmony still shall be his,
But the song and the catch and the laugh shall be mine;
Then Jove be not jealous of these honest fellows".
Cried Jove: "We relent, since the truth you now tell us,
And swear by old Styx that they long shall entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine".

Ye sons of Anacreon then join hand in hand;
Preserve unanimity, friendship and love!
'Tis yours to support what's so happily planned;
You've the sanction of gods and the fiat of Jove.
While thus we agree, our toast let it be:
"May our club flourish happy, united and free!"
And long may the sons of Anacreon entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine.