A History Of Black Classical Music

Episodes

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01The Blacke Trumpeter20200510

Eleanor Alberga with a timeline of black classical composition.

The first programme of a three-part series in which composer Eleanor Alberga foregrounds the contribution that black composers have made to the story of western classical music through the ages, with examples of their music. Eleanor confesses that "in researching this series, much of the story has proved surprising to me as well.”
Eleanor begins her journey with story of John Blanke, a celebrated court trumpeter to Henry VII, who appears as “the blacke trumpeter” on the Westminster Tournament Roll, commissioned by the king to mark the birth of his son Henry in 1511. The programme considers the presence and position of black people within the European population since that time. She features the music of black composers in England and France from the 18th century, including Ignatius Sancho, JJO de Meude-Monpas and Joseph Boulogne, before crossing the Atlantic to the Southern States of America, to New Orleans, and the music of the “Creole Romantics”; musicians like Lucien-Léon Guillaume Lambert and Edmond Dédé. This first programme ends with Eleanor considering the impact that Dvorak’s historic visit to America made to black composers in the 1890s.

Music featured in this first programme includes:

Ignatius Sancho: Minuet No 11 in G minor (arr. Janise White)
Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra/Janise White

J.J.O. de Meude-Monpas: Violin Concerto No 4 in D - iii Rondo.
Rachel Barton, violin
Encore Chamber Orchestra led by Daniel Hege, conductor.

Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George: Symphony in G, Op 11 No 1 - 1st Mvt
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra/Jeanne Lamon

Charles Richard Lambert: “L’Amazone” - Caprice-Mazurka, Op 67
Gary Hammond (piano)

Edmond Dédé: “Mon pauvre couer”
Jennifer Foster(soprano) David Sachs (piano)

Edmond Dédé: “Mefisto Masque”
Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Richard Rosenberg

José White Lafitte: Violin Concerto in F sharp minor - iii. Allegro Moderato
Rachel Barton, violin
Encore Chamber Orchestra led by Daniel Hege, Conductor.

Harry Thacker Burleigh: “The Grey Wolf”
Regina McConnell (soprano), Michael Cordovana (piano)

William Marion Cook: Overture - “In Dahomey”
The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra; Rick Benjamin, director

Nathaniel Dett- “In The Bottoms" - I. Prelude
Denver Oldham (piano)

Eleanor Alberga with a timeline of black classical composition.

02A Great and Noble Music20200517

In this second programme of this series, in which British composer Eleanor Alberga charts the contribution that black composers have made to the story of western classical music, the focus is America, and how “black pride and identity” have helped to shape American classical music from the turn of the 20th century to the present day.

In the early 1890s, Antonin Dvorak was invited to the country to help establish an American national music. “With the negro melodies of America”, he said, “I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music”. There were several black classical composers who emerged at this time, and their music is often characterised by the use of spirituals; an example is the music of William Levi Dawson.

“The history of black people in America can never be divorced from the story of slavery”, and Eleanor continues her story with a look at the impact on American culture of the ‘Northern Migration’ of black people from the south and the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance. She features music by Lawrence Freeman, William Grant Still, Margaret Bonds, Julia Perry and Margaret Price.

There can be no denying that the ‘black experience’ has proved an important catalyst for expression amongst black American composers, but as Eleanor is at pains to point out, this is “a story of composers who, like myself, just happen to be black”. It is a not sub-genre of composition; the contribution that black classical composers make to the music of America is as broad as music itself. She foregrounds contrasting examples of American classical music from composers such as Adolphus Hailstork, Florence Price, George Walker, Julius Eastman, Jeffrey Mumford and Jonathan Bailey Holland.

(photo credit: Ben Ealovega)

Eleanor Alberga on black composers of western classical music.

Eleanor Alberga with a timeline of black classical composition.

02A Great And Noble Music20200517

Eleanor Alberga on black composers of western classical music.

Eleanor Alberga with a timeline of black classical composition.

03Mother Country20200524

In the final part of this series, Eleanor Alberga touches on the impact of colonialism and immigration on classical music and considers the history of black composers in the UK.

European imperialism afforded huge cultural influences on great swathes of the world, and as a result, western classical music was often enthusiastically adopted by different peoples as a means of expression to make their own. Black composers emerged from colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and beyond. As Eleanor says, “certainly, in the West Indies, I grew up with England being known affectionately as ‘the Mother Country’.”

This programme begins with music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who was born in London, but whose father was from Sierra Leone. It foregrounds the music of composers such as Fela Sowade from Nigeria and Abu Bakr Khairat from Eygypt. From the area around the Caribbean we have music by Ludovic Lamothe and Oswald Russell, and also from a new generation of composers, living in the UK, but with roots in the Caribbean.

“But in a programme that is looking at colonialism and immigration, I cannot ignore composers from other non-white cultures that share similar experiences.” Eleanor also looks at the contribution made to the classical music life of this country by composers who just happen to have links to India, the Middle-East and Asia. The programme features the music of Shirley J Thompson, Errollyn Wallen, Hannah Kendall, Param Vir, Nitin Sahwney, Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour, Raymond Yiu, Daniel Kidane and by Eleanor herself.

(photo credit: Ben Ealovega)

Eleanor Alberga charts a history of black classical composers.

Eleanor Alberga with a timeline of black classical composition.

03Mother Country20200524

Eleanor Alberga charts a history of black classical composers.

Eleanor Alberga with a timeline of black classical composition.