Monday, February 4, 2013

Black History Month: Music in the 19th Century

Slave culture of the American South famously gave rise to diverse genres of song, from field hollars to spirituals.  In other areas, men (mostly) of color in both Europe and the Americas cultivated European music throughout the century.  A few rose to prominence as performers and composers:

"Blind Tom" Wiggins (1849 - 1908) was a child prodigy born into slavery, who learned to play the plantation owner's piano.  He concertized from the age of eight, though more a curiosity than an artist to his audiences.  The plantation owner, General Bethune was his manager for much of his life.  He may have been a savant, having the ability to reproduce a piece he had heard only once.  He toured the United States and Europe, and in his twenties began to compose (though he published under pseudonyms).  He was the first African-American musician to perform at the White House, in 1860.  You can find some of his published music, such as The Battle of Manassas, online at the Library of Congress.  To mimic the sound of cannons, Tom used the flat of his left hand, a technique that would not be used by other composers until fifty years later.
(Read more: links to CardCat)

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875 - 1912) was born to an English mother and a Creole father from Sierra Leone.  His mother's family encouraged him in music, and he studied at the prestigious Royal College of Music.  His best-known work is the cantata, The Song of Hiawatha, one of several works he composed on the theme of Hiawatha.  (He also named one of his children Hiawatha!)  Though he lived in England, he was influenced by African-American leaders of his day and by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.  He made it his mission to ennoble the black man through his music.  His best known works in that vein are 24 Negro Melodies, Op. 59 (for piano) and his African Suite, Op. 35 (for orchestra).

Read more: links to CardCat; Oxford Music Online biography (log-in required).  Listen online at Naxos Music Library (log-in required)

1 comment: