George Frederick Root

Sheet music for Hazel Dell from MPAL's Historic US Sheet Music Collection

George Frederick Root, who composed under the pen name George Frederick Wurzel, was most prominent for his work within music education and the training of future music educators. In his lifetime he published over 50 different books, both musical compilations and textbooks. Many of his compositions were created for his vocal students including The Trumpet of Reform. These were not limited to solo airs, but also included choral works and cantatas like The Flower Queen. He worked at several different schools instructing voice, including Rutgers Female Institution, Abbot’s School for Young Ladies, and Miss Haine’s School for Young Ladies to name a few. He opened his own school to educate America’s future music educators in 1853 and would continue to influence the progress of music education through his compositions. Although he received acclaim as a composer, he did not begin writing his own compositions until 1850.

Broadside ballad of Hazel Dell from MPAL Special Collections

In his lifetime Root published over 200 pieces of vocal sheet music. He was greatly influenced by the work of Stephen Foster, taking notes on the format and structure and at times attempting to make his own renditions of Foster’s songs, including The Old Folks are Gone, meant to resemble Old Folks at Home.[1] He composed ‘people’s songs,’ which he loosely defined as music written for the common man.[2] In his autobiography he affirms his belief that the cultivated musical traditions of Europe were not applicable to the American layman. Instead of illustrious orchestration with complex harmonies and embedded subtext that were known to the European upper class, the common American needed a simple, singable melody on a common theme.[3] Often, these ‘people’s songs’ would be written in one key and would use only tonic, dominant, and subdominant chords. Examples of this simplified song style can be seen in Root’s Rosalie the Prairie Flower, The Battle Cry of Freedomand The Hazel Dell.

Root’s first song to become popular was The Hazel Dell written in 1852 with lyrics that are believed to have been written by Fanny Crosby. The central theme is one of grief, sung by the lover of Nelly who mourns her passing. The idea of grief is carried throughout the entire song, although contrasts with the musical setting. The air and chorus setting is very buoyant, written in the key of G major with moving melodic lines and large leaps of fifths and sevenths throughout. Even given the juxtaposition of text and music The Hazel Dell became quite popular, eventually leading to the parody Fairy Dell. The parody is better suited to the music depicting a secret meeting of two young lovers in the garden at night. The playful and joyous melodies help propel the text Fairy Dell.

Sheet music for Hazel Dell 

Hazel Dell Fairy Dell

In the Hazel Dell my Nelly’s sleeping,
Nelly lov’d so long!
And my lonely, lonely watch I’m keeping,
Nelly lost and gone;
Here in moonlight often we have wandered
Thro’ the silent shade,
Now where leafy branches drooping downward,
Little Nelly’s laid.

All alone my watch I’m keeping
In the Hazel Dell
For my darling Nelly’s near me sleeping,
Nelly dear farewell.

In the Hazel Dell my Nelly’s sleeping,
Where the flowers wave,
And the silent stars are nightly weeping,
O’er poor Nelly’s grave:
Hopes that once my bosom fondly cherish’d
Smile no more on me,
Ev’ry dream of joy alas has perish’d,
Nelly dear with thee.


Now I’m weary, friendless and forsaken,
Watching here alone.
Nelly thou no more will fondly cheer me,
With thy loving tone:
Yet forever shall thy gentle image
In my mem’ry dwell,
And my tears thy lonely grave shall moisten,
Nelly Dear farewell.


Wilt thou meet me in the fairy dell, love,
When twilight draweth near,
And I’ll whisper what I have to tell, love,
Softly in thine ear.
We will roam where fairies lightly trip, love
When mortal steps are gone,
And the cup of happiness we’ll sip, love,
Ere night shades come on.

Then meet me here at twilight,
For I’ve something sweet to tell,
And you’ll hear it with more true delight,
If told in fairy dell.

Soon the hour of twilight will be past, love,
That hour so dear to me,
When all sorrow far behind I’ll east, love
As I fly to thee.
Hasten quickly ere the coming night, love,
My fondest hopes dispel,
Ere the joyous dreams I’ve formed take flight, love,
Haste to fairy dell.


I am weary watching here alone, love,
I’d never be with thee,
Could I notice more hear thy gentle tone, love,
Ah, what joy to me.
For my heart is so entwined with thine, love,
It lives but where thou art,
Oh come tell me that thou wilt be mine, love,
Never more to part.


[1] Richard Crawford, “George Frederick Root (1820-1895) and American Vocal Music,” In The American Musical Landscape(Berkley: University of California Press,1993), 157-159.

[2] Crawford, “George Frederick Root,” 157.

[3] Crawford, “George Frederick Root,”.