AMERICAN musicians and scholars concerned with the history of music have tended to be eclectics, interested in many aspects of musical culture past and present. For a long time this interest was centered almost exclusively on the music of Western Europe. The “serious” musical culture of the North American continent was until well into the twentieth century a reflection, in varying degrees of vividness, of European music—England for white Protestant church music, Italy for opera, Germany and France for instrumental music. The vigorous growth of American folk and popular music was on the whole disregarded; American jazz was, for instance, given critical notice in Europe before it was in the United States. A few composers, most notably Charles Ives, became Americanist in outlook early in this century. Few performers of art music joined them, and scholars turned to the musical cultures of Asia, the Near East, and Africa before more than a handful of them got interested in American music.

To say that all this has now been reversed would be an exaggeration; and few of us would for that matter wish to see a musically chauvinistic United States. But American serious music has come of age in this country; and we have come to recognize the great importance of folk music, of all kinds of popular music, of the unique musical contributions of the Afro-American heritage. Scholars specializing in the history of American music have grown in number. Interest in and support for their work has also grown, if less rapidly than one could wish. Accurate and carefully prepared editions using the tools of professional scholarship have begun to appear, serving both the needs of the performer and the interests of the historian.

The Complete Works of William Billings is the first scholarly edition of an American composer’s opera omnia. It was planned by the American Musicological Society as commemoration of the bicentennial of the American republic, and its fitness for this role is unquestioned; the Boston composer and pedagogue Billings admirably represents the musical culture of our new nation. For all those interested in the culture of late-colonial and early-national America there will now be in Billings’s output a representative musical oeuvre to be studied along with the literature, painting, architecture, and decorative arts of the period. It is the hope of many of us that this edition will be the first of many devoted to our national musical heritage, not only in its beginnings but through all its history.

In the foreword to the second volume of this edition (published in 1977) Janet Knapp acknowledged the contributions of various individual scholars to the project; to those she mentioned should now be added the name of Karl Kroeger, the capable editor of the present volume and of those yet to appear. The collaboration of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts with the American Musicological Society and the financial support of those societies and of the Sonneck Memorial Fund of the Music Division in the Library of Congress have, as Professor Knapp said, made this edition possible.

james haar, President

American Musicological Society


During its ninety years of existence the Colonial Society of Massachusetts has expended most of its energy, time, and resources on the editing and publishing of its own volumes. From time to time, however, the Society has provided financial support for worthwhile projects that are edited and published by others. For example, the Society recently made a subvention to the Plymouth Court Records Program, under the direction of John D. Cushing, a member of the Society. Some years ago the Society’s late editor, Walter Muir Whitehill, was approached by representatives of the American Musicological Society with a proposal to publish four volumes to be entitled The Complete Works of William Billings. Since this project was a major undertaking—and an expensive one too—the representatives of the American Musicological Society asked the Colonial Society of Massachusetts to join forces with them by providing financial support. Shortly after this, on Mr. Whitehall’s recommendation, the Council of the Colonial Society voted to provide such support, even though the editing and publishing of the volumes would be done by others.

It was particularly appropriate for the Society to make a subvention for this project because it was in the process of preparing for publication two volumes entitled Music in Colonial Massachusetts that would contain the papers delivered at a conference on colonial music sponsored by the Society in 1973. The first of these volumes will be published in January 1981, the second sometime in 1982. These two sets of publications are certain to complement and reinforce one another; together they will represent striking evidence of the growing interest in early American music.

The appearance of Volume II of The Complete Works of William Billings in 1977 more than fulfilled the hopes of those concerned with this major endeavor. Impeccably edited and handsomely produced, the volume is unique in the history of American musicology. We are confident that Volume I, published herewith, and later Volumes III and IV will maintain the high standard of excellence that was demonstrated in Volume II.

frederick s. allis, jr.

Editor of Publications

The Colonial Society of Massachusetts