Glen Mary is the common appellation given to sets of waltz compositions, a quadrille composition and to a Southern antebellum plantation home. It is fascinating to speculate from a vantage point of 160 years later how that came to be and what the connection was between Glenmary Waltzes and Glen Mary Plantation at Sparta Georgia? Composer Richard Storrs Willis visited his brother, N.P. Willis, at Glenmary, in Owego, New York and must have felt so enchanted by its beauty that he named his waltz compositions “ Glenmary” enshrining the beautiful scene in his melodious music. Around the time Glen Mary Plantation was built these waltzes were the rage of popularity and they remained popular for more than a quarter century.
Regionally, many Southern folks had personal connections to the North. By books, magazines or family they were well acquainted with the latest news in the arts as well as the fashions of the day. Brother to the composer, Nathaniel Parker Willis, was well known as an author and poet in Milledgeville, Georgia. Cited on the front page of “The Southern Recorder“, Milledgeville’s newspaper, dated December 13, 1842 is an excerpt from Godey’s Lady’s Book for December 1842, “Letter from Under a Bridge” by N.P. Willis: “To the unknown purchaser and next occupant of Glenmary”. N.P. Willis writes with ardor about his beloved Glenmary that he is now forced to sell, describing this little postage stamp of earth: “In selling you the dew and sunshine ordained to fall hereafter on this bright spot of earth – the waters on their way to this sparkling brook,–the tints mixed for the flowers of that enameled meadow, and the songs bidden to be sung in coming summers by the feathery builders in Glenmary, I know not whether to wonder more at the omnipotence of money, or my own impertinent audacity toward Nature. How can you buy the right to exclude at will every other creature made in God’s image from sitting by this brook, treading on that carpet of flowers, or lying listening to the birds in the shade of these glorious trees—how can I sell it—–“
Very possibly, Theophilus J. Smith, builder of Glen Mary, named his plantation in appreciation of these delightful waltzes or was it in honor of his wife, Mary? N. P. Willis’ wife was also named Mary.
Glenmary Waltzes were composed and published in four distinct successive sets between 1842 and 1859. Attesting to their popularity, the sheet music can be found today at the Emily Dickinson’s archives at the Dickinson Family Library at The Houghton Library, Harvard University and in Rosalie Poe’s Book of Sheet Music held at the Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. The sheet music is also in The Chapel Hill Music Library at the University of North Carolina, which generously provided the scans for the Glenmary Waltzes CD.
The Glen- Mary Quadrilles, composed by Allen Dodworth and first published in 1847 were possibly named after the famous Waltzes.