[Fraktur Songbook ] [Kulp, David. (1777–1834)]
Early 19th Century German Manuscript Fraktur Songbook from Pennsylvania
An extraordinary example of fraktur, the highly artistic and elaborate illuminated folk art created by the Pennsylvania Dutch, named after the Fraktur script associated with it. Oblong octavo. Stiff gray paper wrappers, probably original; 16 leaves (one signature). Ornate title page (fol. 2r) with illustrations and ornaments in black and red ink and red and gold watercolor. Full title, within a circle: "[in Fraktur] Dieses Harmonische Melodeyen büchlein Gehöret Elisabeth Cassel'n, [continued in German Kurrent cursive] Sing Schüler in der birkenseher Schule Geschrieben d 25ten May im Jahr unsers Herrn 1812" (This harmonious tune booklet belongs to Elisabeth Cassel, singing scholar in the Perkasie School, written the 25th of May in the year of our Lord 1812). In very good condition. Slight water damage to upper wrapper and small stain to head of fol. 11v; punches to upper wrapper (but not punched through); minimal foxing.
To head of title (within circle) and to left and right, around the circle, inscriptions in Fraktur: "Lerne Wie du kanst Allein" (Study as you alone can); "Wie ein Blümlein bald vergehet, so ist Unser leben sehet" (Like a little flower wilts soon, thus is our life, look), "Singer Buch und Tempel sein" (To be a singer's book and a temple). Name "Elisab[eth] Cassel'n" in ink to the head of the flyleaf (fol. 1r). Fol. 3r–7r: Thirty-six numbered hymn incipits (melody on hand-drawn staff and, as headers, text in German cursive), always four staves per page and in soprano clef (C1). Fol. 7v–10v and 11v in a different hand, with texts in Fraktur and some hymns extending over more than one staff (even a few complete texts), partly in soprano, partly in G clef. Three tunes with added names in English ("Greenfield," Lenox," "Lord") in red ink and Latin cursive but probably by the same scribe. Later penciled annotations to previously blank pages: "B.K.M. JOX" (inside of upper wrapper) and, in a child's hand, "James S. Hoot Elabeth [sic] Hoot" (fol. 1v), "James S. Hoot" (inside of lower wrapper) and other scrawls (inside of lower wrapper and fol. 16v). 11r and fol. 12–16 blank.
Most of the hymns belong to the mainstream German Protestant repertory, but at least the text of "Da Joseph sein Brüder ansah" (As Joseph looked as his brothers; melody identified as "Greenfield"), and "Die Zeit gehet zum End, nicht aber Gottes Treu" (Time ends, but God's fidelity does not; identified as "Lenox") seem to be of American origin (the "Lenox" melody, by Lewis Edson, 1782, certainly is). Both hymns are given with full text.
The design of this item is almost a twin to a volume at the Free Library of Philadelphia (shelfmark frkm040000), whose title leaf is exactly in the same style, with the almost identical title, "Dieses Harmonische Melodeyen büchlein Gehöret Johannes Honsperger, Sing Schuler in der birkenseher schule, geschrieben d 17ten Januarius Im Jahr 1815" (This harmonious tune booklet belongs to Johannes Honsperger, singing scholar in the Perkasie School, written the 17th of January in the year 1815.). The overall design, including the inscriptions on the title page, and the hand are the same, but the musical content is different.
The catalog of the Free Library of Philadelphia identifies the hand as that of David Kulp (1777–1834), formerly known as the Bucks County [Pennsylvania] Brown Leaf Artist, who studied under Johann Adam Eyer (1755-1855) from 1782-1786, and like him became a school teacher. He taught at the Deep Run and Plumstead schools from 1801 to ca. 1819. Kulp had a copybook that he kept from 1806-1822, and challenged anyone to exceed his writing skills: “David Kulp, his hand and pen, Beet [sic] it if you can.” As a Fraktur artist and penman, he designed and wrote with controlled architectural precision, but never lost the natural artistic flow of the work.
For a detailed description of the item at the Free Library of Philadelphia and its background, as well as background information on the Pennsylvania German tradition of tune books, most of which also applies to the present item, see https://libwww.freelibrary.org/digital/item/41594.
History & Historiography