Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Black History Month: 20th Century Composers

David Baker
David Baker (b. 1931) is an Indianapolis native who composes in a symphonic-jazz idiom.  He teaches at Indiana University.

Margaret Bonds (1913 - 1972) collaborated with poet Langston Hughes to creat art songs and settings for voice and orchestra.  She also composed for the stage.

Leo Brouwer (b. 1935) is a Cuban composer of African descent who has composed music for guitar and film music.

Ulysses Kay (1917 - 1995) composed in a Neo-Classical style and taught composition at the City University of New York.

Undine Smith Moore
Undine Smith Moore (1904 - 1989), known as the "Dean of Black Women Composers," she composed in a variety of genres but is best known for her choral works.

Zenobia Powell Perry (1908 - 2004) composed in many vocal and instrumental genres.  She taught for many years at Wilberforce University in Ohio (near Dayton), the first university owned by blacks.

Hale Smith (1925 - 2009) composed mainly instrumental music, sometimes incorporating jazz and other African-American idioms.

Howard Swanson (1907 - 1978) is best known for his songs, especially settings of poetry by his friend, Langston Hughes.

Olly Wilson
George Walker (1922 - 2012) won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for his work, Lilacs, which sets a Walt Whitman poem for voice and orchestra.

Olly Wilson (b. 1937) is professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught for over thirty years.  His works reflect the diversity of his interests, including electro-acoustic music, jazz and West African music.

For more information on African-American composers:
International Dictionary of Black Composers,
edited by Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. 

From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and their Music, by Helen Walker-Hill 

The Music of Black Americans: A History, by Eileen Southern (3rd edition) 

Racial Uplift and American Music, 1878-1943, by Lawrence Schenbeck.

CardCat Subject Search:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Grammy Winners in the Music Collection

Congratulations to the hard-working musicians who won Grammy Awards last night.  The Music Collection includes the best music from every genre or style.  Check out these winners:

Black History Month: Classical Music and the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and beyond was known primarily as a literary movement, but also encompassed the visual arts and music.  The goal of the movement was to venerate Afro-centric themes and artistic styles within art forms developed in Western Europe.  In the visual arts, African design was a main element, but African-American scenes were also depicted.  (Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence exemplify the movement in painting)  The most famous poet of the movement was Langston Hughes.

In 1918, R. Nathaniel Dett, composer and vocal music director at the historically black college, The Hampton Institute, published an article titled The Emancipation of Negro Music, in which he expressed the mixed feelings of a black classical composer attempting to incorporate African-American music within European art forms.  Although he was not part of the Harlem Renaissance per se, his work embodied its goals.

His generation was far enough removed from slavery to have been impacted more by the Reconstruction and other post-war influences.   There were two competing visions of the music of black Americans.  One, embodied by minstrelsy, consisted of white people with black make-up ("blackface")

The second, exemplified by The Fisk Jubilee Singers, an accomplished choir that sang spirituals on concert tours to the Northern United States and Europe, promoted the spiritual as a true art form, and sought to elevate the position of black artists in general.  Singer and arranger Harry T. Burleigh  (1866 - 1949) published art song versions of many spirituals, and he helped spread their popularity indirectly, by singing them for composer Antonin Dvorak.

Alain Locke (1885 - 1954) was the primary philosopher of the Harlem Renaissance (he called it "The Negro Renaissance).  A Rhodes Scholar who earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at Harvard, he encouraged writers and artists of African descent to embrace African and African-American themes in their art.  To that end he edited an athology of poetry, fiction, and essays titled The New Negro: An Interpretation, published in 1925. 

Locke contributed an essay about spirituals, and there are references to music throughout the book. Locke cites American Negro Songs and Spirituals, a collection compiled by John Work, and discusses the work of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and other choirs from black colleges to dignify the genre.  Although jazz is today the musical style associated with Harlem of the 1920s, Locke encouraged composers to use spirituals as their inspiration.  He would later write a whole book on The New Negro and His Music.

The New Negro includes a poem by Langston Hughes, titled "Minstrel Man."  It echoes Dett's feelings about minstrely with the beginning stanza:

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
So long.
p. 144
An example of blacks as portrayed in blackface minstrelsy

Florence Price (1887 - 1953) lived in Little Rock and then Chicago.  Despite never living in Harlem, her works embody the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance.  She drew on themes from African-American life, and especially religious music.  She was the first black female classical composer of the United States.  Her works were performed by many revered musicians, including The Chicago Symphony and Marian Anderson.

William Grant Still, (1898 - 1975) belonged to a later generation, and he was not part of the circle of artists and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance despite living in New York.  After graduation from Oberlin College, he performed in the popular music styles of the day.  Later he achieved success with his classical compositions, including his best-known work, the Afro-American Symphony, which incorporates both spirituals and popular music idioms.  He composed in every classical form, and although he frequently referenced African-American or African themes, they were only some of the many inspirations that influenced his works.

Cardcat links:
Music of Harry T. Burleigh
Music of R. Nathaniel Dett
Music of Florence Price
Writings and Music of William Grant Still

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)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Black History Month: Music in the 18th Century

Although a tiny minority of classical musicians even today are of African descent, there have been many outstanding musicians over the centuries. 

In the Eighteenth Century, the most well known was Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745 - 1799).  His father was a planter on the Caribbean island, Guadeloupe, and his mother a slave.  The family moved to France in 1853 and he acquired a first-class education.  Known today as the Black Mozart (Le Mozart Noir), he was active as a violinist, conductor, and composer in Paris.  He composed symphonies, concertos, sinfonia concertantes (concertos for more than one instrument), and operas.  It was he who commissioned Haydn's Paris Symphonies.

Compact Discs
Le Mozart Noir: Compact Disc 18099

Six String Quartets, opus 1: Compact Disc 8553

Violin Concerto in A Major, op. 5, no. 2:  Compact Disc 4910

Performance parts for his violin concertos and two symphonies:  M2 .M2584 v. 3

More information:
His biography:  Joseph Boulogne, called Chevalier Saint-Georges by Emil F. Smidak:
DC 137.5 .S35 S56 1996

Article (with list of works and bibliography) in Grove Music via Oxford Music Online.