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Black Classical Musicians

and Composers,
Also By RodReguez King-d oRset
And fRoM MC fARlAnd

Mandela’s Dancers: Oral Histories

of Program Participants and Organizers (2016)

Black British Theatre Pioneers: Yvonne Brewster

and the First Generation of Actors, Playwrights
and Other Practitioners (2014)

Black Dance in London, 1730–1850:

Innovation, Tradition and Resistance (2008)
Black Classical Musicians
and Composers,
Rodreguez King-dorset

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers

Jefferson, North Carolina
i wish to acknowledge the valuable help of sandra Powlette,
image sales and brand licensing manager at the British
library, for providing me with permission to use many of
the images included in this book.

liBRARy of CongRess C AtAloguing-in-PuBliCAtion dAtA

names: King-dorset, Rodreguez, author.
title: Black classical musicians and composers, 1500–2000 /
Rodreguez King-dorset.
description: Jefferson, north Carolina : Mcfarland & Company,

2019 | includes bibliographical references and index.
identifiers: lCCn 2019015334 | isBn 9781476669762 (paperback :
acid free paper)
subjects: lCsH: Musicians, Black—Biography. | Composers, Black—
Biography. | Music by black composers—History and criticism.
Classification: lCC Ml385 .K558 2019 | ddC 780.92/396 [B] —dc23
lC record available at

BRitisH liBRARy CAtAloguing dAtA ARe AvAilABle

ISBN (print) 978-1-4766-6976-2
ISBN (ebook) 978-1-4766-3570-5

© 2019 Rodreguez King-dorset. All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form

or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying
or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.

Front cover image © 2019 Shutterstock

Printed in the united states of America

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers

Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640
table of Contents

Introduction 1
Background: The Development and Importance
of Black Music London 10

1. John Blanke (1500–1512) 21

2. ignatius sancho (1729–1780) 35
3. Chevalier de saint-georges (1745–1799) 48
4. Joseph emidy (1775–1835) 69
5. george Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower
(1779–1860) 84
6. samuel Coleridge-taylor (1875–1912) 104
7. Rudolph dunbar (1889–1988) 116
8. scott Joplin (1868–1917) 127
9. florence Beatrice Price (1887–1953) 139
10. William grant still (1895–1978) 150
11. Margaret Allison Bonds (1913–1972) 160
12. twentieth-Century African American
Composers of Classical Music
(1900–2000) 169

Bibliography 179
Index 193

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there has been an abundance of knowledge and theory proposed

about black musicians and composers, but very few of the previous
books on the influence of black music mention its impact on classical
music, even though an analysis of black musicians and composers has
been carried out in various books on classical music. this book, then,
is an attempt to redress the balance by examining, through the lens of
black classical music legacy, a range of profiles of the key composers
who have made a valuable contribution to classical music.
in the modern era, we take it for granted that there is a wide gap
between “pop” music and “classical” music. However, this was not
always the case. When german-born english composer george frid-
eric Handel composed his Water Music, to be played at the king’s barge,
he was not composing “classical” music. He was a popular musician of
his day just as much as any contemporary ballad composer. (Handel
composed his jolly Water Music around 1717, and it was first performed
on July 17 of that year, after george i requested a concert on the River
thames. the king watched from the royal barge with various dukes
and duchesses as the fifty musicians played nearby. each movement
of the piece is based on a dance style.) the great divide between pop
and classical music started to appear toward the end of the nineteenth
century, when American popular music began to conquer europe.
What was special about this new American music? What made it
different from european popular music? the answer is obvious. Pop-
ular music was America’s first cultural export because it had something
european music did not have: increasing input from black American
African music developed differently from the european variety. it


The coloured opera troupe at the Oxford Street Gallery, London (from the
Illustrated London News, November 13, 1858). Engraving, artist unknown.
This group reportedly was a minstrel act performing at the gallery: “These
gentlemen work well together, and appear to equal each other in spirit,
activity, resources, talent, and love of fun. Nothing can be more silly and
absurd than these negro-rhymes, the imperfections of which reckon among
their attractions, a false rhyme taking the rank of a positive beauty. Yet out
of all this nonsense, modulated as it is by the cunning of these minstrels’
art, there somehow rises a humanising influence which gives to an innocent
recreation a positive philanthropic sentiment. This sentiment connects
itself with them as a coloured troupe. With white faces the whole affair
would be intolerable. It is the ebony that gives the due and needful colour
to the monstrosities, the breaches of decorum, the exaggerations of feeling,
and the ‘silly, sooth’ character of the whole implied drama. Some of the
instrumental music is marvellous. Mr. Wile’s military solo on the concertina
commanded tremendous applause” (© British Library Board P.P.7611).

put much greater emphasis on rhythm, whereas european concen-

trated on melody. years later, the black slaves so cruelly brought to
America brought their music with them.
With the abolition of slavery, the fusion of African and european
influences in America created a new kind of music that was not African
and not european—it was new and excitingly different, and it was
uniquely American. this new music took europe by storm; from the
cakewalk to scott Joplin to jazz, europeans lapped it up.


As european classical music experimented with its own new forms

in the twentieth century, the gap between “pop” and “classical”
widened. Black influence from America triumphed in pop music, and
it has done so to this day. in that sense, black musical culture has had
(and continues to have) an enormous influence on european and
American music.
What has not been so recognized and appreciated is that, gradu-
ally, there has been a slow but steady black influence on classical music
as well. What was remarkable about the twentieth century in the world
of music was the growing divide between popular music and the seri-
ous work of european composers. so much was this the case that
broadsheets in the media actually used a different set of critics for each
category, labeling one “pop” and the other “classical.” this is still the
case today.
While pop music became increasingly widespread and popular
(dominated as it was by African influences, mediated through
Caribbean and American former black slave communities), classical
music seemed to be willfully withdrawing from the popular arena and
becoming steadily more difficult, esoteric and inaccessible. Was there
a connection between these two developments? did those who pre-
ferred classical music come to believe that it was important to differ-
entiate this style from the everyday world of what was “base, common,
and popular”? Certainly the classical world became (or seemed to
become) increasingly snobbish about popular music. Composers who
continued to produce popular work were increasingly thought of as
having “sold out,” and were therefore to be despised, because in clas-
sical music a new renaissance was being established and it had
respectable antecedents.
innovation and experimentation were keys to much of what was
happening. in America, John Cage, with his famous “silent piece,” was
pioneering conceptual music. Karlheinz stockhausen in germany
experimented with the aleatoric principle, approximate notion and
electronic music. in Poland, a group of composers followed on from
the concrete music of edgard varèse, writing what were largely elec-
tronic sounds. elsewhere, a group of composers largely dominated by
igor stravinsky—men like leoš Janáček, Béla Bartók and Benjamin


Britain—still sought to develop and expand the nineteenth-century

music tradition.
one man, however, seemed more important than all of these:
Arnold schoenberg, with his twelve-tone method (also known as twelve-
note composition). schoenberg himself was far from modest about his
achievements. What he said to his friend Josef Rufer in the 1920s has
gone down in music history: “i have made a discovery which will insure
the supremacy of german music for the next four hundred years.”
schoenberg’s twelve-tone method, which was derived from his attempt
to analyze how music was made and to establish guiding principles for
the future, gave him (in the eyes of his followers) a messiah-like status,
comparable to that of Albert einstein in the world of science. schoen-
berg was thought of as being a true innovator, and his admirers were
certain that his work would change the world of music irrevocably.
Was this really the case? Are we wiser now? Are we better able to
judge schoenberg than his contemporaries? Perhaps the first thing to
notice is that schoenberg was a theorist all too ready to provide an
academic analysis. in university and music college departments, this
was meat and drink for a whole generation of music teachers. schoen-
berg gave them the tools for the analysis and examples they busily taught
their students, who in turn went on to spread the schoenberg gospel.
there were two main arguments supporting schoenberg’s
achievements. the first was that every musical innovator was difficult
to appreciate when he first appeared: the Austrian emperor thought
that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart “had too many notes,” and Richard
Wagner was noted in his early days as being almost incomprehensible.
the argument was that it took time to appreciate innovation and that
in due course the dissonances of the schoenberg method would
become acceptable as future generations learned to acquire them as
part of their musical experience. there was, of course, an element of
truth in this idea, but we are now a long way from the 1920s, and
although we are much readier to accept schoenberg’s dissonances,
they remain dissonance and we still think of them as such. they have
not become part of our normal musical language.
the second argument was that individuals in the twentieth cen-
tury were more inclined to be neurotic, doom laden, frightened and


anxious in an industrialized world full of threats and uncertainties.

good classical music in the twentieth century would therefore
inevitably echo these sentiments. it would not be cheerful, life enhanc-
ing and reassuring—very far from it. schoenberg’s works, such as Pier-
rot Lunaire, echoed modern man’s predicament, or so we were told.
there is obviously an element of truth in this argument as well, but
with the passage of time we have come to see that a composer who
restricts himself to these elements, one who is far from being life
enhancing or reassuring, is leaving out too much of what is still human
experience. it is also worth noting that these two arguments are, in
some ways, contradictory. if schoenberg’s music were to become our
normal musical language, it would presumably cease to do the very
things the second argument claims that it is doing.
for the purposes of this book, what concerns us is that schoen-
berg’s innovations were mainly intellectual. His arguments appealed
to other music intellectuals. He was not only decrying harmony,
melody and tunes but also consciously moving away from rhythm. As
we have seen, what was happening in popular music was the reverse.
Popular music was moving toward rhythm, toward melody, toward
simple tunes and toward repetition.
fortunately for classical music, there was another major composer,
increasingly now seen as one of the great masters of the twentieth cen-
tury: igor stravinsky, whom schoenberg hated. schoenberg’s Three
Satires for Mixed Chorus, Opus 28 is hurtfully aimed at stravinsky,
particularly the middle one called “versatility,” which opens by saying,
“What’s all that thumping, why it’s little Mr Modernsky.” the “little”
is particularly significant. there is nothing “little” about stravinsky,
though schoenberg wished there was. And what was the “thumping”?
it was rhythm. stravinsky was echoing an influence pervading popular
music. He himself said:
in jazz you are hearing something that is not the result of ostentatious theoris-
ing, that almost sneaked in on us from an out-of-the corner cabaret … we
don’t like to admit it but real music has such simple origins.

everybody knows what rhythm means. in music, it is the basic

beat that underpins everything else. it also defines the particular shape


of a phrase, the length or shortness of its notes and how they are
ordered. in music, it echoes what is called meter in poetry, a beat that
covers a number of smaller beats and groups them in repeating
phrases, not just twos or threes. in poetry, the meter is apparent from
the first couple of lines of a poem and establishes where each line is
going to end. Rhymes establish these ending points even more strongly
and tend to be where the poet makes a special emphasis either emo-
tionally or wittily. Cadence is the word used to cover in music the same
process that happens in poetry.
Plato, the greek philosopher, distrusted music because he said it
aroused emotion that could not be directed or controlled. this idea
that emotions need to be controlled and directed toward some good
end has embedded itself deeply in european culture ever since.
Rhythm, cadence and emotion intermingle irretrievably. the Puritans,
from the sixteenth century onward, echoed Plato. they distrusted both
dance and music because they brought pleasure and a set of emotions
that were a formidable part of the devil’s armory; pleasure and emotion
were distrusted. Music was distrusted. dance was distrusted. in a
sense, schoenberg was on the Puritan side. He was divorcing music
from undifferentiated emotion, from pleasure, from rhythm. in a sense,
he was purifying music. for those who did not share schoenberg’s
enthusiasms, however, he was also cutting himself off from whole areas
of crucial musical experience. it is impossible to imagine schoenberg
writing anything along the lines of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.
yet his early contemporary gustav Mahler and later stravinsky could
both in their own ways tackle in music this kind of human experience.
it is a revealing difference.
Western culture, both American and north european, has long
labored under the handicap of a pervasive Puritan influence. like an
old Man of the sea on sinbad’s shoulders, there has long been a vague
implication that somehow pleasure is wrong, and art in general has to
justify itself as being useful and good for society in some way in order
to claim a right to exist. in dealing with music and rhythm, this ten-
dency can be all too clear. nicholas dromgoole has pointed out that,
when attending an audition for would-be students of the Royal Ballet
school, half of them, when asked to walk around the room in time to


the music, altogether failed to do so. they could not discern the beat
in the music. now imagine asking a group of African children to do
the same thing. it is very doubtful that any one of them could possibly
fail. this has nothing to do with racial characteristics; the difference
is entirely cultural. imagine asking a group of spanish gypsy children
to do the same thing. is it likely that they would fail? imagine asking
a group of children from Bali, one of the great dance cultures of the
world, to do the same thing. is it likely that they would fail? yet, in
both northern europe and America, we have somehow managed to
divorce ourselves from this basic human predisposition. We cannot
even spot the basic beat in a piece of music.
it is sadly easy to see why schoenberg could so effectively try to
drag classical music away from any preoccupation with rhythm while
stravinsky was happy to share the musical and human experience that
was dismissed by schoenberg. they shared a general aesthetic of the
twentieth century, in which music could be cold, upsetting, uncom-
fortable and more brutal than soothing or attractive. Both men pro-
gressed from a similar harmonic style when young to much more
innovative pieces. stravinsky even composed an equally famous piece
about a Pierrot called Pétrouchka before hearing schoenberg’s Pierrot
Lunaire. He was also happy at times to use the twelve-tone method in
his later years. there was, however, an essential difference between
them, and that was rhythm—the basic beat that schoenberg had sup-
posedly banished. the outstanding musicologist Pierre Boulez noticed
and repeatedly remarked on this crucial difference.
it is worth emphasizing that early on in his career stravinsky
worked for the diaghilev Ballet. the first piece that really catapulted
him into fame, The Rite of Spring, was written for them. dancers need
rhythm. it is part and parcel of what they do; they have to count the
beats. i think it is no accident that, as part of his early conditioning in
the composition of new and exciting music, stravinsky had the impor-
tance of rhythm driven home to him time and time again. indeed,
diaghilev hired Marie Rambert to explain and reveal to the company’s
dancers the intricacies of the beats in The Rite of Spring (Rambert
being herself a self-taught expert in the Émile Jaques-dalcroze system).
The Rite of Spring sounded fresh and raw to the original Parisian audi-


ence, at least partly because stravinsky had used the folk songs of the
Russian peasantry as a basis for much of the work, just as he was to
do in his later Les Noces. this willingness to delve into the simple ori-
gins of what he called “real music” was all to stravinsky’s credit. He
was equally open in his response to black American music, to jazz.
Classical music had already responded to black influences.
Antonín dvořák, in his Symphony from the New World, had echoed
the negro spirituals that were surfacing in American music toward
the end of the nineteenth century. frederick delius, whose career was
unfortunately cut short by syphilis, had also been excited by the new
rhythms of American jazz. Both Maurice Ravel and darius Milhaud
had attempted a fusion between jazz and classical music. in the 1920s,
the Austrian composer ernst Křenek wrote a popular jazz-influenced
opera, Jonny Spielt Auf, about an African American jazz musician living
and working in europe. the opera was a great success until the nazis
came to power and banned it as “degenerate music.” Joseph Maurice
Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G and darius Milhaud’s 1923 ballet La Cre-
ation du Monde both attempted a cross-over between jazz and classical
music. yet it was perhaps stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto in 1941 for a
jazz big band, the Woody Herman orchestra, that gave jazz a famous
entrée into the then-rarefied atmosphere of classical music composi-
tion. stravinsky had already written Ragtime and Piano Rag Music
before his first visit to America. But he adventurously explored the
jazz clubs of Harlem, Chicago and new orleans—when he finally man-
aged to get there.
so here we have the great master of twentieth-century classical
music, igor stravinsky, acknowledging the importance of (and himself
deeply influenced by) black American music (though it must be said
that we have only outlined what was in effect the tip of an iceberg). At
this time, schoenberg and his followers seemed to be laying down a
new path for the development of classical music. While no one could
say that this path was ultimately a blind alley, it has proved to be less
and less of a mainstream. We are emerging from it much as, in archi-
tecture, we are emerging from the ludicrous straitjacket of the rectan-
gular style so prevalent in the 1960s. As we progress through the
twenty-first century, the full glory of stravinsky’s compositions more


frequently takes central stage. it is a consummation devoutly to be

to illustrate this development, this book takes a number of out-
standing individuals as examples of a trend that is slowly but surely
adding to the riches of the classical tradition. the choice of the par-
ticular individuals highlighted in this book may seem a little arbitrary,
but in fact they have been chosen after very careful consideration. each
in their own way, while being highly individual, typifies not only a cur-
rent trend but also the often depressive cultural assumptions surround-
ing classical musicians. each in their own way was influential, but all
had to battle racial prejudices that had nothing to do with music. the
fact that each managed to triumph over so many unnecessary hurdles
is a tribute to the human spirit—to the impulse to make music that
humans share in a varied and hierarchical society. one day, perhaps,
understanding what these black musicians and composers contributed
to the classical tradition may help to bridge the depressing gap (the
new music renaissance) that still exists between pop and classical

The Development
and Importance
of Black Music London

there is one important area that highlights the general thesis at

the center of this book—namely, the suggestion that black influence
has increasingly impinged on the european tradition of so-called clas-
sical music. the point has already been made that before the nine-
teenth century, any division between “classical” and “popular” music
would have been artificial and inaccurate. ordinary working people
whistled Mozart in the Austrian streets. Handel in Britain was not
thought of as being somehow a composer for a separatist elite, but
rather accepted as a writer of music that everyone could enjoy. When
people came together to play music among themselves, both instru-
mental and vocal, they never thought to differentiate between so-called
classical and popular composers. they simply enjoyed the best of what
was available.
it is still not fully appreciated that in the seventeenth and eigh-
teenth centuries there was a sizable black population in london. even-
tually this population quite simply disappeared into the gene pool. one
example will have to suffice: the eminent writer and lexicologist dr.
samuel Johnson had a black servant called francis Barber. A direct
descendant of that servant is alive and well and has appeared on British
television. He looks as white as any other englishman. His black ori-
gins, while clear and direct in a genealogical tree, are not detectable
in his appearance. He has become totally assimilated into white British

The Development and Importance of Black Music London

society, along with the other descendants of those early black popula-
tions in london.
it is important to make it clear that black musicians in the eigh-
teenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries did not appear from
nowhere. they came from a cohesive group that, although very much
a minority, was well organized and very much aware of their special
identity. of course, it would have been difficult for them to be other-
wise when the color of their skin differentiated them so sharply from
the society around them. nevertheless, this confident sense of belong-
ing to a ruggedly self-reliant group underpinned those musicians dis-
cussed in the following chapters who proved to be major influences
on the european musical tradition.
What is clear is that there was a growing community of black peo-
ple in london stretching with clear-cut continuity from the sixteenth
century onward. Continuity within an even larger black community
was maintained from the seventeenth century. in fact, some argue the
roots of the black British community may go back even further in his-
tory. david Bygott states, “the first blacks in Britain may have been
those who came here 2,000 years ago with the Roman imperial Army,
long before Anglo-saxons arrived. Most of these blacks were Berbers
or Moors from northern Africa. some of them were personal servants
or slaves (along with many whites). other blacks were soldiers. Roman
records refer to a body of ‘Moors’ defending Hadrian’s wall, for exam-
ple, in the far north of england.” After the Roman occupation ended,
some Romans may have stayed on, living in Britain permanently. Could
any of these new inhabitants have been black? did they intermarry
with the many whites in the British islands? if so, did their children
become the first black British-born people? there is very little evidence
of this theory. Bygott, however, mentions that there are “some male
skeletons found in a Roman-British cemetery in yorkshire [that] have
proportions which, some think, indicate African descent” and that “the
same is thought of a young girl buried in the ninth century in nor-
even if even blacks were present in Britain so long ago, no lasting
black presence resulted from the Roman invasion. it is not until the
end of the fifteenth century that we can be certain of a continuous


black presence in Britain. Black musicians played at the royal courts

in england in the early part of the 1500s. Bygott states that the name
of “the black trumpeter who played for Henry vii and later Henry viii
is given in the wages accounts of 1507 as John Blak.” He also mentions
the queen’s two black servants, ellen and Margaret. the court records
show that in 1513 “gifts of ten french crowns were made to ‘the twa
blak ledeis.’ Clothes bills refer to ‘blak Margaret’ and ‘elen More,’ and
in 1527 a payment was made to ‘Helenor, the blak moir.’”
in this book i will discuss John Blanke, a musician in the court of
King Henry viii. english royal records document the employment of
John Blanke, listed as “the blacke trumpeter” and paid by the day by
both Henry vii and Henry viii. A pictorially illuminated manuscript
of the tournament of Westminster on new year’s day in 1511, com-
missioned by Henry viii to celebrate the birth of his son (who died as
an infant) to his wife Catherine of Aragon, clearly portrays Blanke as
a mounted black trumpeter.
it is quite clear that the women referenced in the above quote
were of African origin. the increasing evidence of black people in
tudor Britain comes from an age in which great advances in technology
were being made. Better ships that could sail on the open ocean and
better navigation meant that previously unexplored territories could
be conquered. At the same time, the Portuguese and spanish started
to ship African slaves to europe. they had set out to explore the coast-
line of Africa in search of a sea route to the spices of the east and to
ethiopia for gold. in 1441, a ship returned with twelve slaves from West
Africa, followed by 235 slaves three years later. An eyewitness, gomes
eannes de Azurara, recalled the suffering of the slaves. Pope nicholas
v authorized the Portuguese to conquer and enslave any other hea-
thens in guinea. According to Martha Warren Beckwith, the first
blacks in england were slaves brought to Britain in 1440. in 1555, John
lok brought five “blake” men from West Africa to england to learn
english, so that on their return to Africa, they would “be a helpe to
englishmen” as interpreters. Cedric dover states that “the first slaves
sold in the english market were two dozen West Africans who were
knocked down to curious english gentlemen in 1553.”
Among the first english sea captains to engage in the slave trade

The Development and Importance of Black Music London

was John Hawkins in 1562. His voyage inaugurated the traditional

“three stages” of the future British slave trade. first, Hawkins sailed to
sierra leone with a cargo of goods from england that he thought would
appeal to Africans. According to Richard Hakluyt, Hawkins “stayed
some good time and got into his possession, partly by the sworde, and
partly by other means, to the number of 300 negroes at the least.” the
slaves were then transported to the second stage of Hawkins’ voyage
across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Here, spanish colonists wanted
more laborers for their expanding plantations and were willing to pay
a high price for them. this money allowed Hawkins to buy a third
cargo: cane sugar, spices, hides and pearls—all wanted by people in
europe. this was the third stage. At each stage of the “Atlantic triangle,”
Hawkins made a profit. everyone he traded with in Africa, America
and europe gained as well. yet the english slave trade remained mar-
ginal until the establishment of British colonies in the Caribbean and
until the introduction of the sugar industry in Barbados after 1640
(and the setting up of the Royal African Company in 1662).
When the political and social upheavals of the civil war period
came to an end, england was ready to embark wholeheartedly on a
branch of commerce that would be critically important to its sugar
and tobacco colonies in the new World. An english monopoly in this
slave trade was granted to the Royal African Company in 1672.
Between 1680 and 1686, the company transported an annual average
of 5,000 slaves, mostly to the Caribbean. in 1698, the Royal African
Company lost its monopoly, and free trade in black slaves was estab-
lished. Most of Britain’s slave ships sailed from liverpool and Bristol,
but many also sailed from london.
the major contract for the trade in Africans was the Asiento, or
agreement of the king of spain to the importation of slaves into spanish
colonies. the Papal Bull (or demarcation) of 1493 barred spain from
African possessions, so spain made a contract with other nations for
slaves. this contract was held by the Portuguese in 1600; in 1640, the
dutch received it, and the french had it in 1701. the War of spanish
succession brought this monopoly to england as part of the treaty of
utrecht. the Asiento of 1713 meant that england had a monopoly on
the spanish colonial slave trade for thirty years. england engaged to


supply the spanish colonies within that time with at least 104,000
slaves at a rate of 4,800 per year.
it should be remembered that the french also set up a triangular
trade similar to the British system, and so (to a lesser extent) did the
Portuguese, the danes and the dutch. nantes in france played the
same role that liverpool and Bristol played in the english slave trade,
becoming steadily more affluent and important. from nantes, the mer-
chants sent ships packed with manufactured goods—knives, tools, trin-
kets, glass and gunpowder—to Africa. these goods were exchanged
for slaves, who were then transported in conditions just as bad as (or
even worse than) those in english ships. the slaves who survived were
sold to plantation owners in the Caribbean in exchange for tropical
products. now laden with sugar, tobacco, coffee, cotton, cocoa, indigo
and other commodities, the ships returned to nantes and sold their
goods at huge profits, ultimately financing splendid public buildings
and luxurious mansions that are still the pride of the city. Along the
River loire, factories making sweets, chocolates and preserves sprang
up to take advantage of the incoming West indian sugar, which made
up nearly 60 percent of imports into the nantes port (cotton was the
other major import). in 1814, louis say founded Béghin-say in nantes,
which still refines 120,000 tons of cane sugar annually in france. slav-
ery was abolished in french colonies in 1794, though it was reestab-
lished by napoleon in 1802 and finally ended in 1848.
the result of the 1713 Asiento meant that england became the
leading slave trader and slave carrier of the world. While British ships
were engaged in transporting large numbers of Africans in the Middle
Passage—either to die en route or to end up in servitude, oppressed
on the sugar, rice, cotton, and tobacco plantations of the West indies
and elsewhere in north America—a sizeable number of blacks were
landed on British shores to be kept in bondage in england. gretchen
Holbrook gerzina, writing that “others, depending upon the year and
the source, put the figure somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000,”
fixes the proper number as “probably closer to 15,000.” it was custom-
ary for captains of slave ships to transport a few “privilege slaves” in
each cargo for their personal gain, and these slaves tended to complete
the third leg of the journey and be sold by their captain owners. in

The Development and Importance of Black Music London

Bristol in 1715, in the will of a ship’s captain named nightingale, “the

proceeds of his two boys and girls, then on board his ship,” were among
his bequests. in october 1718, a merchant named Becher fleming left
to Mrs. Mary Becher “my negro boy, named tallow.” Many West indian
planters also brought slaves with them when they moved back to
england. As John latimer points out, “it was doubtless through this
custom that so many slaves were brought to england, lived, and died
here in servitude.”
Black people began to appear in england from the sixteenth
century onward, and it seems realistic to say that the black man was
a familiar sight in london from then until the middle of the nine-
teenth century. Clare tomalin writes of this black presence in her
biography of samuel Pepys. she tells us that “in his diary on 27th March
1601, samuel Pepys records Charles ii was a dancer and had brought
over french dances with him. Although what most struck Pepys that
first evening was not any display of french dancing, but the skill of a
black servant, Mingo, invited to show what he could do.” tomalin
later informs us that “Pepys himself owned and sold two slaves in
1670s and in the 1680s.” in the famous early nineteenth-century
painting by david Wilkie, Chelsea Pensioners Reading the News of the
Battle of Waterloo, unremarkably and taken for granted, there is a black
english captains of vessels that went to Africa on slaving adven-
tures would often be entrusted to take the sons and daughters of chiefs
and kings back to england to be educated. it was in the interest of both
parties that such visits to england took place. for Africans, it was a
way of learning about the foreigners who were playing an increasing
(and threatening) role in their own lives. for ships’ captains, the advan-
tage was that these children often acted as hostages for the safety of
the captain and his crew. in The Atlantic and Slavery, H.A. Wyndham
had this to say on the subject: “the trading, which was the main object
of Western enterprise in Africa, depended upon the good will of the
coastal chiefs; nor were the europeans able to rely on force to secure
it.” david eltis has provided an impressive analysis of the failure of
european attempts to use African labor in Africa, which was one of
the main reasons why the slaves were shipped across to the Caribbean


and to the Americas, where they could be exploited as labor much

more successfully.
for those slaves brought to london, the newspapers of the last
quarter of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth
century contain scores of “hue and cry” advertisements. the most dis-
tinguishing mark of a ship’s captain in the streets of london was the
black servant who attended him. the taste for black servants spread,
until it became fashionable among the nobility to have such black ser-
vants, which in turn brought about an increased population of black
people in london. in 1714, when george i arrived in the metropolis
to ascend the english throne, he brought with him two black servants.
the blacks thus brought into Britain were often forced to wear collars
like dogs, were bought and sold, and were beaten, much like the slaves
in the Caribbean. When plantation owners from the new World
brought their slaves to england, the evidence of the “hue and cry”
advertisements makes it clear that they continued to treat blacks in
the same way that they did back in the colonies. there can be no doubt
about the horrors endured by those unfortunate enough to experience
servitude. in a “hue and cry” advertisement in the London Gazette for
March 1685, a Colonel Kirke advertised the fact that his black servant
boy of about fifteen years of age, called John White, had absconded:
“He has a silver collar about his neck upon which is the colonel’s coat
of arms and cipher; he has upon his throat a great scar.”
there had always tended to be social unrest among the lower
classes of london society. We have evidence of the socio-political
change that was taking place in london from a black perspective in
the form of the literary figure ignatius sancho, a writer and composer
from Africa who was born into slavery and ended up being the first
person of color in Britain to have the vote (profiled in chapter 2 of this
book). Among sancho’s acquaintances were celebrated figures such as
violin virtuoso felice giardini. sancho wrote and published A Theory
of Music and two plays. this book will assess sancho’s musical ability,
life and influence. i will also reveal that Handel, while composing some
of the most beautiful music around, was an investor in slavery.
some of the blacks in london were middle class like sancho; oth-
ers were working class, like those who took part in the gordon Riots.

The Development and Importance of Black Music London

However, they were first and foremost aware that they were part of a
black brotherhood, an ethnic minority in a larger society that looked
down on them because of their race. in the past 200 years, dozens of
prominent black composers from the African diaspora have fought to
be recognized by the Western classical tradition. the third profile in
this book, and one of the earliest examples, is Chevalier de saint-
georges (1745–1799). Born in guadeloupe, the son of a wealthy plan-
tation owner and a female slave, saint-georges was brought to france
at a young age. As well as being a champion fencer, a violin teacher to
Marie Antoinette and a colonel in the republican army, his prodigious
musical talents led to him being dubbed “le Mozart noir.” saint-
georges was a prolific composer (with several operas, 15 violin con-
certos, symphonies and numerous chamber works to his credit) and a
rare french exponent of early classical violin composition.
the fourth musician and composer whom i will highlight is the
violinist and composer Joseph emidy (1775–1835). Born in guinea,
emidy was captured as a child by Portuguese traders who took him to
Brazil and later to Portugal. in Portugal, he became a virtuoso violinist
in the lisbon opera. He was press-ganged by British admiral sir
edward Pellew during the napoleonic wars and spent the next four
years as a ship’s fiddler. in 1799, he was abandoned in falmouth, Corn-
wall, england. in falmouth, emidy earned his living as a violinist and
a teacher. He became the leader of the truro Philharmonic orchestra
and went on to become one of the most celebrated and influential
musical figures in early nineteenth-century Cornwall. He composed
many works, including concertos and a symphony, but no known
copies survive.
throughout the period between the sixteenth and nineteenth cen-
turies, there was a sizeable black population in london. despite con-
siderable prejudice and oppression, this community established a sense
of its own particular identity and worked together as a group. Recog-
nized by contemporary commentators, the black community was
greeted with distrust, suspicion and often downright hostility by many
of those whites who wrote about it. fortunately for the black popula-
tion, and largely through music and dance, they were both able to rein-
force their sense of identity and continue to struggle against the place


in society so arbitrarily imposed upon them. it is now time to examine

those black individuals in england, europe and America and highlight
their influence on classical music in detail.
the fifth musician composer that i will discuss is the child prodigy
violinist george Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1779–1860). He was
an Afro-european born in Poland who delighted all who heard him,
including the Prince of Wales. Bridgetower went on to play with
Beethoven, inspiring him to write one of the most difficult violin
sonatas of the period.
sixth will be samuel Coleridge-taylor (1875–1912), who was born
in Croydon, the son of a white english mother and a Creole man from
sierra leone. As a violin scholar at the Royal College of Music, he was
taught composition under Charles villiers stanford and soon devel-
oped a reputation as a composer, with edward elgar recommending
Coleridge-taylor to the three Choirs festival in 1896. By the time he
died of pneumonia—aged only 37—he had already toured America
three times and performed for theodore Roosevelt at the White
House. Compositions such as Coleridge-taylor’s African Suite
attempted to incorporate African influences in the same way that, say,
dvořák used Hungarian folk themes, but much more successful was
Hiawatha’s Wedding, which is occasionally performed today. even bet-
ter are Coleridge-taylor’s works for violin and orchestra, which are
elegant pieces of fin de siècle romanticism.
seventh, Rudolph dunbar (1899–1988) was a guyanese conduc-
tor, clarinetist, and composer, as well as being a jazz musician of note
in the 1920s. leaving British guiana at the age of 20, he had settled in
england by 1931; he subsequently worked in other parts of europe but
lived most of his later years in london. Among numerous “firsts,” he
was the first black man to conduct the london Philharmonic orchestra
(1942), the first black man to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic (1945)
and the first black man to conduct orchestras in Poland (1959) and
Russia (1964). dunbar also worked as a journalist and a war corre-
At this point in the narrative, we move away from london to look
at the growing influence of the black community in America. on
december 6, 1865, eight months after the end of the Civil War, the

The Development and Importance of Black Music London

united states ratified the thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution,

which outlawed the practice of slavery. one of its many consequences
was the growing influence of the tattered remnants of African musical
culture that had persisted in the black community in spite of slavery.
this tradition began making a quite astonishing difference to American
popular music. this was indeed America’s first cultural export, as
American popular music gradually conquered europe and continues
to influence it to this day. in this book we are concerned with the black
influence on the european heritage of classical music and will take as
an example (and the eighth profile) one of the most sorrowful of all
those discussed in this book: scott Joplin (1868–1917). the son of an
ex-slave from texas, he started as a traveling musician in the southern
states, playing piano in “gentleman’s clubs.” By the turn of the century,
Joplin’s piano rags, such as Maple Leaf Rag, had become a national
sensation, but he was desperate to be taken seriously as an orchestral
composer. unfortunately, his opera Treemonisha was all but ignored,
and he died insane in 1917 after his brain was destroyed by syphilis.
ninth, florence B. Price (1887–1953) was the first African Amer-
ican woman to have a work played by a major orchestra—the Chicago
symphony premiered her Symphony in E Minor in 1933—but despite
success during her lifetime, her many compositions are rarely played
tenth is William grant still (1895–1978), who wrote 150 works,
studied with edgard varèse, was the first African American to conduct
a major u.s. symphony orchestra (the new orleans Philharmonic),
composed for Hollywood and found his works performed by leading
orchestras around the world, including his 1930 Afro-American Sym-
eleventh, Margaret Allison Bonds (1913–1972) was an American
composer and pianist. Her mother was a professional musician and
her father a physician, writer and political activist. Bonds was raised
in an environment that encouraged her interest in music of all sorts
and instilled in her a deep commitment to her community. she was
one of the first black composers and performers to gain recognition
in the united states.
finally, i will look at some of the other neglected twentieth-


century African American musician composers whose music deserves

to finally get an airing in the twenty-first century. individuals high-
lighted in chapter 12 include george Walker, born in 1922 and still
working today; among other achievements, he was the first black
American composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music (for Lilacs, a
piece for voice and orchestra, in 1996). However, for all his acclaim,
Walker remains a cult figure in the world of contemporary composi-


John Blanke

It is perhaps worth making a general point—namely, that most

human races share the same mouth and lip structure as their cousins,
the great apes. Only one group, those whose ancestors came from the
African continent, has taken evolution a stage further and developed
lips that are full and sensitive and definitely different from all the other
human races and their ape cousins. What are the reasons for this evo-
lutionary twist? Probably, like most evolutionary changes that survive,
it had to do with sexual competition. Nature was obviously not inter-
ested in trumpeters. Yet the fact remains that black men seem to make
much better trumpeters than white men. Louis Armstrong was clearly
a musician of great genius, but he did have an edge when it came to
trumpet playing. He had a black man’s mouth, with the sensitive lips
that make a trumpet player rather special. It is not surprising that in
the noble roster of jazz trumpet players, white men seem to be the
exception rather than the rule.
Yet the trumpet has a long history, from the ancient Egyptians
onward. It was widely used in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and
played a vital part in the fascinating developments of Renaissance
music. Obviously in Northern Europe trumpeters were as white as any
other musician. Gradually, however, as the Portuguese and the Spanish
and the Italians gradually increased contacts with Africa, black men
started to appear in Europe.
In the grand days of the classical Roman Empire, with its bewil-
dering ethnic diversity, black men had obviously been around as far
north as England. They were certainly stationed among the Roman

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

A scene from the Westminster Tournament Roll (1511) showing John Blanke,
an African trumpeter who played for Henry VIII (College of Arms MS West-
minster Tournament Roll. Reproduced by permission of the Kings, Heralds,
and Pursuivants of Arms).

troops that guarded Hadrian’s Wall, ranging across northern England

to defend it from the Picts. However, by the sixteenth century any
traces of indigenous black men had disappeared into the general gene
pool. Black men in England in the sixteenth century came via Italy,
Spain and Portugal, having originally been brought from Africa. At
this time, they were still very much the exception in the British pop-
We know a little about one of these newcomers: John Blanke.
There are two images of him in the sixty-foot-long vellum manuscript
known as the Westminster Tournament Roll. They represent the very
first pictures that we have of a black man in Tudor England. Blanke
had a privileged position, as he was one of eight trumpeters perma-
nently employed by the king to attend his court. Blanke was given
board and lodgings and a uniform, and he was paid 8 pence a day. This
annual wage of 12 pounds was twice that of an agricultural worker,
and three times the wage of an average servant. Such a position at
court, directly employed by the king, was about as high in status as a
musician could go at the time.
Let us look more closely at the picture in the Tournament Roll.
Blanke is shown as a relatively young man, clearly black, and wearing

1. John Blanke

a turban. He is holding what is now known as a cavalry trumpet, and

since his hand is painted white, it is clear that he is wearing a glove.
(Even as late as the eighteenth and nineteenth century, cavalry trum-
peters were still wearing gloves as part of their uniform.) The fact that
Blanke is wearing a turban may have religious significance, or it may
simply be similar to what certainly happened later in the reign of Henry
VIII, who occasionally dressed himself, his courtiers and his retainers
in so-called Turkish or Moorish fashions. We do not know whether
Blanke came from a musical family or exactly what his antecedents
were. We only know of his existence from the vellum roll and from the
amounts paid to him in the royal accounts. The first wage record dates
from December 1507.
In April 1509, Henry VII died. Blanke, along with other court ser-
vants, was issued with a new black livery for the funeral. This was a
very grand affair. The funeral procession took two days to go from
Richmond to St. Paul’s Cathedral and then to Westminster Abbey,
where the king was buried beside his late queen, Elizabeth of York,
who had died in childbirth in 1503. The procession passed through
the City of London behind the sword bearer and vice-chamberlain of
London, the masters of the London Bridge House and the King’s mes-
sengers—all high officials. After the trumpeters came “Florentines,
Venetians, Portingals, Spaniards, Frenchmen, and Easterlings.” All
along the route the streets were crowded with spectators.
Henry VII’s marriage to Elizabeth of York had cemented the end
of the Wars of the Roses, joining both the Lancastrians and the Yorks
and giving real legitimacy to their son, the new King Henry VIII. This
stability and legitimacy had brought a long period of civil war to an
end and ushered in a new economic and political prosperity for a
united England. Henry VII, from the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485)
onward, had gradually brought a badly divided England together again
and cautiously rebuilt the royal finances so that the new king not only
represented political stability but also was backed by a comfortably
full Royal Treasury.
At this point, one of Blanke’s fellow trumpeters, the Italian
Dominic Justinian, died and Blanke petitioned the king for both
Dominic’s pay and his lodgings. The petition has survived, and,

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

although probably drawn up by a clerk skilled in such matters, it is the

only example that we have of Blanke’s voice:
To the King, our sovereign Lord,
In most humble wise beseecheth your highness, your true and faithful ser-
vant John Bla[n]ke, one of your trumpets. That whereas his wage now and as
yet is not sufficient to maintain and keep him to do your Grace like service as
other your trumpets do. It may therefore please your highness in consideration
of the true & faithful service which your servant daily doeth unto your Grace
and so during his life intendeth to do, to give and grant unto him the same
room [position] of Trumpet which Dominic deceased late had, to have and
enjoy the said room to your said servant from the first day of December last
passed during your most gracious pleasure, with the wage of 16d by the day.
And that this bill signed with your most gracious hand may be sufficient war-
rant and discharge unto John Heron treasurer of your Chamber for the pay-
ment of the said wage accordingly. And he shall daily pray to God for the
preservation of your most noble and royal estate long to endure.

The king granted his request, clear evidence of Blanke’s worth and also
an indication of how closely Henry VIII was involved with music at
his court.
In the Tower of London’s armory department, there is a full set
of armor specially made for Henry VIII. For display purposes, it is
assembled around a model, giving spectators a clear idea of how the
king would actually have appeared when dressed for one of the tour-
naments that were so popular in the early part of his reign. The appear-
ance is still very impressive. The armor itself seems to radiate an almost
sinister kind of muscular authority. During the nineteenth century,
Talleyrand reported that he could not stop trembling in the presence
of Napoleon; Henry VIII seems to have had something of the same
aura. It was of course backed by real power. Had he wished to, Henry
could have imprisoned or executed anyone he chose. Those around
him must have been very much aware of this fact.
Yet, at the same time, as a young man, Henry seems to have had
a surprising range of talents. Like all the Tudors, he was extremely
intelligent and well educated, and, as an author, poet and musician, he
was as impressive as he was in the athletic arena, where he excelled in
the joust, in wrestling and in hunting animals as savage and dangerous
as wild boar. Of course, the only objective evidence we have of his abil-

1. John Blanke

ity as a wrestler is the fact that at “The Field of the Cloth of Gold” in
June 1520, having challenged his rival Francis I of France to a wrestling
match, Henry was defeated by the French king, although he seems to
have expected to win. That defeat may simply have been bad luck in
the heat of the moment, but a slight doubt will always remain: How
good was the young king?
Obviously Henry VIII had all the talents necessary for his position.
He was also well made, good looking and spoke well—everything, in
fact, that a popular young king should be. He obviously enjoyed music
making, and in his day music and popular dance were very much inter-
twined. Blanke was part of the permanent group of musicians
employed by the king and would have been accustomed to working
with (as well as for) Henry. Music was played at most court occasions,
from rituals and ceremonials to dancing and revelry for social pleasure.
Henry VIII played the lute well and seems to have been only too
willing to compose music in addition to making it. There is some con-
troversy over his actual compositions, but there is no question that
music played a vital role in his life as a young man, which must have
inspired the musicians whom Henry gathered around him from various
parts of Europe, as well as his one black performer John Blanke.
v v v
The two music experts whose views are provided below differ over
whether, in his depiction in the Tournament Roll, Blanke is wearing a
glove to play the trumpet. In view of the difficulty of controlling a horse
with one hand and blowing the trumpet in another, it seems most likely
that he was indeed wearing gloves, but the verdict remains open.
William Summers earned a music degree from the School of
Music, Colchester Institute, and subsequently specialized in early
music at Trinity College of Music, London. Since then, he has followed
a dual-track career as a teacher and performer, interspersed with aca-
demic work. Summers has contributed to the Dictionary of National
Biography and is now studying eighteenth-century music at Gold-
smiths College, University of London. He hosts regular concerts of
early music at historic venues. Summers has also worked with modern
songwriters and composers. He has played in bands in addition to

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

appearing in film and television dramas such as the British-American

drama television series Poldark and the award-winning British comedy
Hunderby produced by Sky TV.
What is your opinion of Henry VIII as a composer?
Henry VIII’s role as a composer is disputed, whereas his impor-
tance as a patron of music is not. Some think that the pieces attributed
to him in the manuscript of songs and short pieces that bear his name
(c. 1518) are likely either to include just a small contribution from the
monarch or to have been appropriated altogether by him. The book
contains many songs, rounds and very short pieces rather than the
more complex repertoire found in other manuscripts, and this seems
to indicate music for amateurs and for entertainment rather than for
formal occasions. In this view, Henry VIII’s contribution is likely to
have included some arrangements (such as Taunder Naken) and words
written by the king rather than entire pieces—with the exception of
his version of the celebrated Passtyme with Good Companye and a few
similar songs—as he had professional composers such as William Cor-
nish (d. 1523) to write for him. However, the scholar David Fallows
has recently accepted the attribution of the pieces to the monarch,
describing them as varying between juvenile works, social songs and
instrumental music for amateurs. The king is said by some contempo-
raries to have written sacred music, but none of this survives except
the motet Quam Pulchra Es (copied at the end of the sixteenth century
by John Baldwin, born before 1560; d. 1615). His role and self-created
image encompassed medieval ideas of chivalry and personal loyalty,
and these were supported by making music with his friends as well as
instigating more grand and formal performances. An overall evaluation
seems to be that he was a keen amateur musician and a very important
patron of music.
Did Henry VIII compose specifically for the trumpet?
No evidence directly links the king to this instrument. Prestigious
royal servants would have played trumpets, and this—as well as the
exertions required to play them—would probably have been viewed as
undignified for a member of the royal family.

1. John Blanke

Was the Tudor trumpet difficult to play?

Medieval trumpets were played with puffed-out cheeks, produc-
ing an airy, vibrating tone rather than the bright and direct sound of
the modern instrument. The doubling back of the tube has been com-
mon by at least 1400, and the use of a slide to allow changes in note
lengths, and therefore pitches, has been common since around the
same time. Ceremonial trumpets were highly prestigious instruments,
requiring a great deal of control, and a stratified system of improvisa-
tion developed in the standard ensembles of trumpets plus kettle-
drums. Playing melodies without keys or slides was a difficult art which
had developed by the very early seventeenth century and may have
existed in the improvising ensembles of earlier times, given their need
to entertain for long periods. More is known about trumpets from this
later time, which required a well-tuned, softer sound to blend with
string instruments. Given the exposed nature of trumpets from around
1500 and the choice either of improvising a part using a slide for public
performances or of improvising military music for military occasions,
the playing of this instrument required a great deal of skill. Trumpets
are not known to have been used by amateurs for private chamber

How often would the trumpeters have had to play when the royal
court was dancing?
Trumpets were used for military ceremonies—in different sizes
and with kettledrums—or with shawms for secular music or dancing;
for the latter, they improvised against a melody along with a bass line.
For dancing, they are likely to have played a role in entertaining well-
known guests or during secular festivals, when there was less need to
impress with unusual or solemn music (this kind of ensemble was com-
mon across Europe). Their work would have varied with the court’s
schedule, so one would have to examine the records of payment for
musicians in tandem with a particular period at the court to determine
their duties. Trumpeters, like other musicians, would have been per-
manently “on call” but would have fun time to play for nearby patrons
as well as the court.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

How large was the royal band or orchestra?

There was no standardized orchestra during this period—this only
developed in the seventeenth century. Instead, there were standardized
ensembles and particular musicians who directed entertainments for
particular occasions. Many were brought by Henry VIII from abroad—
such as Philip van Wilder (c. 1500–1553), who directed secular music
at court, or the Bassano family (a Jewish family imported from Mantua
to play and make wind instruments). Once established, musical posts—
like other professional roles—often passed down through families. For
great ceremonial occasions, the ensembles would have alternated and
perhaps played together from time to time, and for special religious
feasts the voices might have been joined by instruments. Trumpets
would have been indispensable at great state occasions, such as the
diplomatic negotiations in France in 1520 known as the Field of the
Cloth of Gold, both for their role in ceremonies and signals and for
playing dance music with shawms—whether actually for dancing or
just for listening.

Did the size of the ensemble affect the role of the trumpets?
The trumpet was flexible enough to play both in a large group of
similar instruments—sometimes along with kettledrums—and with two
shawms. The total number of trumpet players listed may misleadingly
suggest that they all played at once: in fact, some of them may have
alternated, or deputized for other players, or split into more than one
ensemble. Even with kettledrums, the ceremonial trumpet ensemble
developed different roles—some played drones or bass lines while oth-
ers played melodies and harmonies above (these were part memorized
and part improvised). The three-part ensemble with two shawms and
one trumpet may have allowed more for quiet playing, which was a
feature of trumpet playing from the early seventeenth century.

What influence would Blanke’s origins in North Africa have had

upon his attitudes toward music?
This very much depends on the particular society and nature of
his original family from which he came, as well as his age when taken

1. John Blanke

from his home. However, trumpets, drums and shawms had taken sim-
ilar roles in royal ceremonies and signaling in North Africa and Europe
since ancient times. Most music was improvised or memorized in both
societies, and Blanke’s origins may have been seen as an exotic curiosity
in someone who was required to appear and perform. Secular music
may have been easier to assimilate if he had been old enough to remem-
ber his original home, but unless he was employed directly as a musi-
cian from abroad, the biggest influence would have been his patron
and education in England. It has been suggested that there was a tra-
dition of black trumpeters being brought to England, but further
research is needed into this topic.
Was he wearing a glove in the sixty-foot Westminster Tourna-
ment Roll?
It is very likely that he wore gloves—as all trumpeters would have—
both for appearance and to avoid tarnishing the metal of the instrument.
How wide and varied was the music he would have been expected
to take part in?
As a trumpeter, the main roles were to play the ensemble of trum-
pets and kettledrums and perhaps in the “alta capella” trio with two
shawms. Other roles do not seem likely, but he may have played other
instruments or sung, depending upon his training. In general, profes-
sional musicians played in the alta capella—these could often read and
write music and sometimes taught the aristocracy or even royalty. The
musicians of the trumpet and drum band, however, played simpler
music and were probably illiterate. They played to announce the arrival
and departure of royalty and important visitors, and sometimes at
mealtimes. They also accompanied royalty traveling by water. Court
ensembles were sometimes employed for large civic occasions beyond
the court, and the trumpets with drums were occasionally used to pro-
vide martial music for a play.
How often would Blanke have been a soloist trumpeter?
No particular roles for solo trumpeters were recorded, so one
must speculate that the occasion rarely (if ever) occurred. Within the

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

trumpet-with-kettledrums ensemble, some players would take a lead-

ing role—initiating short melodies and improvisations upon them—
while others would provide more of an accompanying role. This might
be reflected in their recorded pay but would require detailed scrutiny
of records to ascertain.
Michael Ohajuru was a successful senior executive in the mobile
communications industry before retiring in February 2013 to carry out
voluntary work in the arts and for the black community. Born in Liv-
erpool, England, he holds honors degrees in physics (Leeds University,
1974) and art history (Open University, 2008). He is an arts blogger
who specializes in the black African presence in Renaissance Europe,
particularly the black magus in adoration images from this period. He
regularly writes on these matters and also speaks on these themes at
the Victoria and Albert Museum (where his work is referenced), the
British Library and other institutions. He previously worked with the
Institute of Commonwealth Studies on a series of workshops around
the theme “What’s Happening in Black British History?”
What is your opinion of Henry VIII as a composer?
By all accounts, Henry VIII was not just great lover of music; he
was also a talented performer, and his court was renowned for its
music. He played the lute, the organ and other keyboards, recorders,
the flute and the harp, and he had a good singing voice. He is reputed
to have written many works; the piece most widely attributed to him
is Pastime with Good Company, a lively piece written for lute and
vocals (it was also claimed he wrote Greensleeves; however, this is
widely acknowledged not to be the case, as it was written much later).
Henry was indeed a talented musician who seems to have enjoyed
the company of others with good music as its backdrop. As the young
prince and then king, he was reputed to cut a fine athletic figure, taking
part in sports and joust. It is thus easy to imagine him to have been
the center of attention not just because he was the king but [because]
he was an attractive personality in his appearance and his ability to
Although I do not believe he composed for the trumpet, I can well
believe he might well have played with the musicians at his court. A

1. John Blanke

particular challenge for the musicians [would have been] to ensure

that Henry would be seen to be the lead in whatever they played
We know Henry VIII composed music; did he compose music spe-
cifically for the trumpet?
Henry played the lute; there are no known pieces for the trumpet
written by him. He did play the flute; however, the natural trumpet, as
it was then, [was] a very different instrument, with only a limited num-
ber of natural notes which took considerable skill to produce and sus-
Trumpet pieces would normally have been written by the king’s
music master, short pieces that punctuated the court’s day with the
arrival and departure of dignitaries.
How difficult were Tudor trumpets to play?
The Tudor trumpet, known as the natural or baroque or cavalry
trumpet, is sonically a very simple instrument—in effect, a horn six to
eight feet long which [is] double curved to reduce its length to a more
manageable approximately three feet.
John Blanke and the rest of Les Trompettes are shown on the 1511
Westminster Tournament Roll holding their trumpets festooned with
Henry VIII’s royal quarterings, fringed in white and green, in their
right hand and handling their horses with their left—this required con-
siderable skill and physical strength, as the processions were known
to last hours, with fanfares being played regularly as the procession
moved forward, announcing the king’s arrival at the start of the joust
and his departure at the end of the joust; additionally, music was a key
part of the joust, announcing the start and end of each jousting
Some idea of the pomp of the 1511 Westminster Tournament
which features John Blanke can be gained from what the historian
Allen Guttmann said about the event: “If the modern Olympic Games
were to have the same proportion of pageantry to athletics, we might
expect a week of opening ceremonies followed by two days of sports
and another week of closing ceremonies.”

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

How often would the trumpeters have had to play when the royal
court was dancing?
Music played an integral part of the “Revels and Disgusinges,”
which were the principal forms of court celebration for holidays and
state occasions. They were the opportunity for Henry to show benefi-
cence to his people and magnificence to visiting elites and dignitaries
such as dukes, princes, bishops and ambassadors.

How large was the royal band or orchestra?

The records show there were 8 trumpeters at any one time, includ-
ing John Blanke.

Did this size affect the role of the trumpeter?


Is it likely that Blanke came from North Africa, and, if so, what
effect would this have had on his attitudes to music?
Exactly where John Blanke came from is a mystery. Many histo-
rians argue he came from Spain with Catherine of Aragon when she
came to England in 1501 to marry Henry’s brother Arthur. However,
he could have equally come from North, West or Central Africa; fur-
ther, he might have been born in the Iberian Peninsula or Southern
Europe to African parents. The reason for the uncertainty is the lack
of a written record. He enters the record in November 1507, where he
is recorded as being paid [a] wage; thereafter, the last record is 1512,
in which Henry VIII gives him a wedding present.
As for what were his attitudes to music, this is difficult to know,
as there are no records and, as stated, we do not know where he came
from. Musicians at that time moved around European courts freely,
and Henry’s court was no different; many of his trumpeters, such as
William “Ducheman” and other trumpeters, were clearly not English—
for example, Grearde de Floure, Genyn Lambert, Jaques de Lanoa and
Jenyn Restanes are all in the record as trumpeters to Henry’s court.
As for John Blanke’s attitude to the music he played, we can only
surmise. He played what he was told to play. He must have played well

1. John Blanke

and was good enough to have his wages doubled through petitioning
Henry, and Henry liked him enough to give him a wedding present.
The music he played would be the music as written or arranged by the
king’s master of music which has come down to us.
In the sixty-foot Westminster Tournament Roll he is shown with
a white hand, which must surely be a glove. We know that even in
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries military trumpeters wore
gloves; can we assume the roll shows a glove?
No—for many centuries fashion gloves formed part of the costume
worn by royalty, bishops, and higher-ranking men and women; from
the fourteenth century onward, they were worn by members of all
classes, so John Blanke might well have worn gloves but not while he
was playing his trumpet.
There is a prosaic reason why his hand is shown as white in the
most popular image of him from the Westminster Tournament Roll—
mistake by the artist. He appears twice on the roll. The first time [is]
as the trumpeters lead the procession at the start of the joust. Here we
can see both of his hands as one holds the trumpet up and the other
firmly grasps the reins of his horse, and both hands, like his face, are
clearly brown.
It might be argued that the artist simply forgot to complete his
image with that dab of brown point the second time he depicted John
Blanke. This would make sense for two reasons. First, he is the only
black trumpeter, so it looks as though the artist painted the six trum-
peters using a set pattern for the body of all six, and their trumpets as
well, but a fixed head for only five, as close examination of the roll
reveals that just five of trumpeters have identical matching heads while
John Blanke has his distinctive black face. As the trumpeters are shown
leading the procession, all is as one would expect, with John Blanke’s
hands and face painted brown [while] the hands and faces of the other
five trumpeters are white. The second time the trumpeters appear at
the end of the joust, the five are as we expect, but John Blanke has that
white hand, indicating the artist forgot to update him as he completed
his image.
Secondly, perhaps by the time the scroll was complete, the baby

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

boy, Henry’s longed-for heir, christened Henry, was dead, as sadly the
baby died on February 22, at just 52 days, barely 11 days after the great
joust to celebrate the birth. So perhaps nobody was doing much quality
control, checking to see if all was right with the scroll—Henry may
never have even seen the final roll, such was his grief, so in effect the
roll might be seen as unfinished, with John Blanke’s white hand on a
black man as a poignant reminder of the death of Henry’s son.
How wide and varied was the music Blanke would have been
expected to take part in?
Although employed as a trumpeter, court musicians were often
How often would Blanke have been a soloist trumpeter?
Difficult to answer, as there [are] very few trumpet scores from
the period; however, we know from those that survived that the tra-
ditional composition had the trumpet playing counterpoint over bass
drones, so there would have been no actual lead or solo part, as the
trumpeters would work together as they played their fanfares.


Ignatius Sancho

Just as when a horse produced a foal and the foal, by law, belonged
to the owner of the horse, so in the same way if a black slave produced
a child, the child legally belonged to the owner of the slave. Ignatius
Sancho was such a child. He was born on the Atlantic crossing in 1729
and, in due course, sold as a child in the slave market. Sancho was for-
tunate enough to end up not on a plantation in the West Indies, but
rather in England. However, this result was not as unusual as it may
seem at first glance. Ship owners in the slave trade, the ship’s crew,
officials and landowners in the West Indies all tended to bring the
black slaves they were accustomed to have nearby with them when
they returned to England. In aristocratic circles in England, and grad-
ually in middle-class families too, black slaves became fashionable. Just
as one showed off through the possession of a carriage or some par-
ticularly beautiful horses, one would also show off through the pos-
session of a black slave, particularly a youngster (preferably exotically
dressed). We still have from the eighteenth century many pictures
showing such black slaves.
In 1768, Ignatius Sancho himself was painted by Thomas Gains-
borough (1727–1788) as a “superior servant” while he was in service
to the Montagu household. His special status is already apparent in
this image, as he does not wear the livery of a servant but is dressed
as a gentleman in a waistcoat with a gold brocade and edging necktie.
Fashion did not stop there. Lamp holders, fire screens, porcelain can-
dlesticks and many other household implements were made to look
like people of African origin.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Sancho, after being brought to

Britain as a small child, was owned
by three sisters who lived together
in Greenwich. Ann Dingsdale has
identified Sancho’s owners as
the Legge sisters: Elizabeth,
Susanna and Barbara. None
of them were married, but
they lived in some style as
relatives of the Earl of Dart-
mouth in a house directly
opposite Montagu House in
London. They named their
slave Sancho because, a little
patronizingly and insultingly,
they found in him a resemblance
to the less than admirable squire of
Don Quixote.
While with the Legge
sisters, Sancho attracted the This portrait of Ignatius Sancho was
painted at Bath in 1768 by Thomas Gains-
attention of the Second Duke borough. The portrait was engraved by
of Montagu, who encouraged Francesco Bartolozzi for the frontispiece
his studies, even lending the of Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an
boy books to broaden his edu- African, which first appeared in 1782.
Sancho wrote poetry, stage plays, A The-
cation. However, the sisters ory of Music, and songs and minuets for
felt that even a little learning violin, mandolin, flute and harpsichord
was a dangerous thing and (© British Library Board 1489.g.50).
attempted to stifle Sancho’s
burgeoning interest in reading and knowledge. It was their opinion
“that African ignorance was only security for his obedience and that
to enlarge the mind of their slave would go near to emancipate his per-
son.” Fed up with Sancho’s growing intransigence, the women appar-
ently threatened to have him bundled off to work on plantations in the
West Indies. Obviously he had been a decorative addition to their
household as a small boy in exotic costume, but once he grew into a
difficult teenager, they found him difficult to manage.

2. Ignatius Sancho

Fearful of being sent away to the Caribbean, Sancho ran off to the
Duke of Montagu’s household to seek refuge, but unfortunately the
duke died and at first the duchess was unwilling to give Sancho employ-
ment; however, she eventually took him on, and he rapidly rose to be
her butler. When she died in 1751, Sancho was left a legacy of 70
pounds and an annuity of 30 pounds a year. This was a very generous
gesture for a servant who had only been in her employ for two years
but obviously reflected her late husband’s high opinion of the young
Sancho does not seem to have behaved wisely with his newfound
economic freedom. He enjoyed women and gambling, and on one
occasion he played cribbage with a Jew and staked even the clothes he
was wearing (and then lost them)! During this time he attempted a
career as an actor on the stage but apparently did not do well. In 1758,
he went back into service as a valet to the Third Duke of Montagu,
and on December 17, 1758, in the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster,
he married Anne Osborne, a black woman with West Indian origins.
Sancho continued to read widely and began himself to write prose
and poetry, as well as music. He frequented the theater, became a fan
of the great actor David Garrick and increasingly moved in more cul-
tured circles in London, associating with actors, painters and writers.
Toward the end of the 1760s, he was writing expansive and fascinating
letters to a surprisingly wide circle of friends, even including the dis-
tinguished writer Laurence Sterne (author of Tristram Shandy). In
view of Sancho’s color, the racist prejudice of the time and the fact that
he was only a domestic servant, this was a major achievement. It tells
us a great deal about Sancho as a man. He was obviously fun to know
and, in an age when most people wrote long letters to each other, he
clearly showed not only charm and a becoming modesty but also a
wide-ranging mind, fascinated by the issues of the day and backed up
by wide knowledge gained from extensive reading.
In 1773, Sancho stopped being a domestic servant and set himself
up in Westminster as a grocer, making use of the small grant
bequeathed to him by the Duchess of Montagu. London, particularly
Oxford Street, by this time had become famous for its grand shops,
but Sancho’s enterprise was not in this league. In Charles Street, West-

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

minster, his modest residence used the front room as a shop, and he
lodged behind it with his wife Anne and what became a family of six
children, whom he fondly called his “Sanchonettas.” By the 1790s, there
were more than 20,000 similar shops in London. Sancho dealt mainly
in sugar, tea and tobacco. There is a frightening irony in this choice of
wares, as these items symbolized the new wave of economic prosperity
that was sweeping through England. Sancho, making a profit in his
little enterprise, selling items harvested by slaves in the New World,
was himself a product of the slave trade. Napoleon could sneer that
England was a nation of shopkeepers, but their prosperity underpinned
and paid for the forces arrayed against the French emperor. Without
the slave trade, things might have ended up very differently.
Sancho’s shop clearly became one of the main centers for the intel-
ligentsia to wander in and discuss the main issues of the day as well as
the livelier currents of thought around art and politics of the time.
Music must have been among the major issues discussed, and since at
that particular time London seems to have been full of black players,
it is reasonable to assume that the more literate among these musicians
gravitated to Sancho’s shop, where they could be sure of a sympathetic
hearing and welcome. The members of the Sancho household were
very much a part of this tradition. His children grew up to be both lit-
erate and well able to take part in Sancho’s social life. In due course,
his son William would transform the grocery into a bookshop and
become very probably the first black publisher. Sancho himself seems
to have been the first black composer to publish music as well as per-
haps the first black person in London to vote. Among the many dis-
tinguished visitors to Sancho’s shop was Charles James Fox, leader of
the radical opposition in Parliament. Sancho voted for Fox in West-
minster in the 1780 election, having acquired the right to vote as a
property holder. Nothing could better demonstrate the bizarre con-
tradictions that blacks faced in the eighteenth century. While the cruel
and horrific slave trade flourished and racism abounded, here was a
black man with the right to vote for a Member of Parliament. The irony
of this situation was not lost on Sancho.
Sancho died in 1780. Two years after his death, many of his letters
were collected and published. They were surprisingly popular. Within

2. Ignatius Sancho

the next twenty years they were reprinted five times, bringing a useful
additional income to Sancho’s wife, who continued to run his shop.
These letters played a not inconsiderable part in helping to change
public attitudes to slavery. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and
slavery itself throughout British territories was abolished thirty years
later. Of course, cynics have pointed out that by this time the economic
advantages of the slave trade and slavery itself had withered. Adam
Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776), with its clear support for free trade,
undoubtedly did more than Sancho’s letters to underpin the changes
in British attitudes to slavery. By 1837, Britain’s economy was rapidly
altering due to the devastating changes of industrialization. Sugar, tea
and tobacco, though still important, played a much less vital role in
the economic order. Moral principles were no longer swamped by eco-
nomic necessity and sheer greed for profit.
There is one major aspect of Ignatius Sancho’s work that we have
so far ignored—his music. Since Sancho had been brought up in pros-
perous middle-class and aristocratic English society, it was inevitable
that he would reflect its values and interests as well as, in his turn,
playing some part in influencing its development. It is fair to say that
in the second half of the seventeenth century and throughout the eigh-
teenth century, both listening to music and assisting in making it
became one of the main leisure occupations of the middle and upper
classes. The Earl of Chesterfield, in letters of advice to his son, thought
it vulgar for an aristocrat to play a musical instrument, but this was
very much a minority view. The Prince Regent (and future King George
IV) himself was a cellist and, just like Samuel Pepys in the previous
century, enjoyed playing and making music. Throughout England, this
was a preferred occupation for most cultivated men, and no young
lady was considered accomplished who could not herself perform.
As a result of these developments, the status of composers
changed radically. Whereas previously they had depended on patrons,
increasingly composers could themselves earn a considerable income
from the sale of their published work. This difference in status can be
observed in contrasting the life of Joseph Haydn, who was in effect a
superior domestic servant responsible for the small orchestra kept in
the household of the Esterházy family, with that of his pupil, Ludwig

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

van Beethoven, who comfortably maintained an affluent independent

existence though sales derived from the publication of his work.
Ignatius Sancho, as we have noted, was largely known for his writ-
ing—particularly the wide correspondence he maintained with a lively
circle of influential people. It is clear that Sancho was accustomed,
even as a “superior servant,” to moving in circles where a seemingly
endless round of parties and balls was taken for granted. In 1779, he
wrote to “Mr S” that
if I might obtrude my silly advice—it should be to dissipate a little with the
girls—but for God’s sake beware of sentimental ladies! And likewise be on thy
guard against the gambling Dames, who have their nightly petite parties at
quadrille—and, with their shining faces and smooth tongues, drain unwary
young men’s pockets, and feminize their manners.

Like most of his contemporaries, Sancho moved in a world where

music and dance were the main forms of recreation, and music for
dance obviously fascinated him. He not only made music but also pub-
lished A Theory of Music (which has unfortunately not survived but
seems to have been highly thought of at the time), in addition to pub-
lishing songs as well as careful and detailed instructions for the dances
to accompany the music that he wrote. He was, as previously pointed
out, one of a number of black musicians who were very much a part
of the musical culture of the time.
A striking example of the number of black musicians taken for
granted at this time in England was the emergence in the 1780s and
1790s of a new fashion for what were called “janissary ” bands. These
are totally forgotten now, but the trend started in the early eighteenth
century when Augustus II of Poland was given an entire military band
by the sultan of Turkey. Janissary bands depended heavily on percus-
sion sections of bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine and espe-
cially “Jingling Johnie” (a half-moon-shaped affair plastered with bells).
The sounds these instruments made gradually established a very Euro-
pean idea of Turkish music. An obvious example was their use in
Mozart’s opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail in 1782. By then, janis-
sary bands had become fashionable and popular throughout Europe;
however, in England there was a surprising difference. In Europe the
players were thought of as being Turkish even if they were not, dressed

2. Ignatius Sancho

in wild and garish approximations of what was thought to be Turkish

costume. In 1782, the Royal Artillery Band became the first British reg-
iment to use Turkish percussion instruments with a group of bass
drum, cymbals and tambourine, but other regiments soon followed.
These groups certainly used the usual flamboyant (and supposedly
Turkish) costumes, but the players were not Turkish—they were black.
Turks—even imitation Turks—were presumably in short supply in
England, but black musicians were obviously plentiful. They quickly
established themselves as something very different, bizarre and even
Dressed in high turbans, bearskins, or cocked hats, with towering hackle
feather plumes, and gaudy coats of many colours braided and slashed gor-
geously and gapingly, they capered rather than marched and filing their drum-
sticks and tambourines into the air adroitly catching them in discreetly
measured cadence. Their agility with fingers, arms and legs was only equalled
by their perfect time in the music.

In the 1790s, janissary bands were widespread and popular. Haydn

refers to them in his “Military Symphony” (No. 100), composed for
London in 1794. He added a triangle, cymbals and a bass drum in the
middle of his slow movement remarkably effectively. However, the
fashion did not last. Janissary bands had disappeared by the middle of
Queen Victoria’s reign, although a hint of them survives in the drum-
stick gestures and leopard-skin aprons of modern military drummers.
What is still of interest for the music historian is how easy it was
to differentiate the janissary band from the rest of the military band
by making it exclusively black. Clearly black musicians were available,
but it is equally clear that blacks were seen as being somehow special
and different. This is obviously due to the blatant racism of a time
when slavery was still the norm in the colonies of the West Indies,
when the slave trade was still flourishing and could only be justified if
black people were seen as inferior to whites. Yet, while there was clearly
a double standard involved with janissary bands, there was no sugges-
tion that the musical abilities of the black players were in any way infe-
rior to those of white musicians. Indeed, from the way they clearly
enjoyed displaying physical tricks with their instruments, it is clear
that janissary band members brought something special and different

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

from their white counterparts. Racism must have been difficult to jus-
tify in this process. The existence of the janissary bands certainly makes
the appearance of George Bridgetower and his father in supposedly
Turkish costumes parading the promenade in Brighton much more
understandable. Yet, at the same time, Bridgetower’s father was clearly
choosing to emphasize his difference rather than his similarity to the
other musicians of his day.
In much the same way, Sancho seems to have made a point of
emphasizing the fact that he was black, and thus different, when pub-
lishing his music. Although his Theory of Music is lost, we have no less
than four volumes of published music from Sancho. These include a
set of songs and three sets of dances, published between 1767 and
1779, totaling sixty-two compositions altogether. In his first three pub-
lications, Sancho does not give his name, simply referring to himself
as an “African.” At that time it was quite common for people to publish
all kinds of things—poems, novels, music—without giving their name.
One of the great sports of eighteenth-century culture was finding out
who exactly had written what. (As we shall see later, George
Bridgetower also called himself “An African” in his early publications.)
All the same, it is clear that Sancho, with a large chip on his shoulder,
was happy to emphasize his racial difference and his blackness. Far
from attempting to hide it, he seems determined to push it down his
readers’ throats. In the last set of dances, Sancho proudly puts his own
name on the title page but still emphasizes his blackness in the title of
the final dance. He called it “Mungo’s Delight,” taken from the notori-
ous slave character in the 1768 opera The Padlock by Charles Dibdin
and Isaac Bickerstaffe. This very popular entertainment had estab-
lished the name Mungo as a generally recognized nickname for any
black man.
Interestingly, Sancho clearly fancied himself as a choreographer,
as he provides a careful and detailed choreography for the music for
his dances. They are variously dedicated to close relatives of his third
patron, the Duke of Montagu. But, although ostensibly aimed at an
aristocratic group, it is clear that they are expected to be used by any
group of music makers and dancers. “Black Balls” frequently took place
in London pubs and many of them were exclusively for non-white peo-

2. Ignatius Sancho

ple. It is easy to imagine that music, both song and dance, by a fellow
black composer would have featured heavily on these occasions.
Sancho’s music is not particularly difficult to play from a technical
point of view. Amateurs could manage it almost as easily as profes-
sionals. Of course, these players would have been largely male, as vio-
lins, horns and flutes were not played by women, who seem to have
been restricted to the harpsichord or (occasionally) the mandolin. San-
cho’s dances could be managed by a number of combinations of instru-
ments. First and second violins, mandolin, German (i.e., transverse)
flute, harpsichord, two horns and a bass instrument are listed on the
title pages and within the scores. Sancho uses dance forms that were
popular and that almost everybody knew—minuets, country dances
and cotillions. A country dance is not so much a series of particular
steps as a choreographed series of movements in a line dance forma-
tion. Where a minuet always has three beats to a bar, country dances
can use a variety of meters, though in general they stick to a bar. Sir
John Hawkins, writing at the same time as Sancho, says:
For the composition of country-dance tunes no rule is laid down by any of the
writers on music, perhaps for this reason, that there is in music no kind of
time whatever but may be measured by those motions and gesticulations com-
mon in dancing.

Regular phrasing is as necessary for country dancing as for minuets.

Sancho’s dances all have regular two-bar or four-bar phrases built into
short, repeated sections. The melodies are charming and memorable.
Yet, where the music for the dances—even his country dances—
would have been largely performed by men, obviously the dances
themselves were shared equally between men and women. The fact
that Sancho wrote so many of them makes it clear that he was accus-
tomed to attending gatherings where both music and dance were an
integral part of the proceedings. His songs could be sung equally well
by women or men. They appear in the standard two-stave oblong lay-
out of the day, with the vocal part for soprano or tenor. There is a key-
board accompaniment adding harmonic support, and they could have
been performed by one person or two people together.
Sancho displayed an admirable background of wide reading in his
choice of text for his songs. One is set to Shakespeare (Measure for

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Measure), while another is by the Greek poet Anacreon in a modern

translation. Two are by David Garrick, one is by a “young lady” and
one is anonymous. Sancho was fascinated by the theater of his time
and knew Garrick personally, who was far and away the most out-
standing actor of his day, not only running the Theatre Royal, Drury
Lane, but also serving as a playwright.
It would be nice to think that Sancho brought something from his
African background to the music that he wrote, but there is no evi-
dence in the music itself that he did so. Sancho is of the same vintage
as Thomas Arne, who was of course deeply influenced by Handel. As
the dominant music composer of the time in London, Handel also had
a major influence on Sancho’s musical taste. The Second Duke of Mon-
tagu had many mistresses who sang in the premieres of Handel’s pieces.
And even today at Boughton House there is an extraordinary archive
of all these early published editions and some manuscripts of music
that were current at the time. Sancho, in his early development, was
encouraged to forage through the duke’s library, and he may well have
broadened his musical education from these rich sources. There is no
doubt of Sancho’s great intelligence and talent, but he was indeed for-
tunate to have found himself in just the right environment for these
characteristics to flourish and grow. Yet dance is clearly an important
element in his compositions (and probably in his everyday life as well).
One of the major differences between African and Western culture is
this self-same emphasis on dance, a much more central part of the tra-
ditional African way of life than it is in the Western lifestyle. In this
sense, perhaps Sancho, although very much assimilated into the
English culture of his day, perhaps reveals more of his African heritage
than he himself realized.
v v v
What follows below is a more expert appraisal of the actual qual-
ities in Sancho’s music. It must be remembered that, although impres-
sive, this was a small part of the widespread and overall positive impact
that Sancho had on his contemporaries, as a man who was impressive
to talk to and fun to know.
Paul Freeman studied music at Wolverhampton University and

2. Ignatius Sancho

composition at Kingston University under the guidance of John

Howard. His interest in Ignatius Sancho began when he was invited
to arrange a selection of the composer’s works for a project about the
transatlantic slave trade for the Museum of Richmond’s 2007 exhibi-
tion marking the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery in the British
Empire called “Trading in Human Lives.” (In 1807, Parliament passed
an act outlawing Britain’s participation in the transatlantic trade of
African people.) The arrangements were subsequently used by the City
of Westminster Archives Centre’s exhibition titled “Westminster and
the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” which documented the lives of the
African residents of Westminster during the age of the slave trade.
Freeman’s musical arrangements were also featured on BBC Radio 4
and the BBC TV program My Story: Discovering Scipio’s Story. His
other musicological interests include the music of Béla Bartók and
Witold Lutoslawski. Freeman’s choral music has been recorded and
performed internationally to critical acclaim.
Is there any discernible African influence in any of Sancho’s
I would say not. The music is very much in the early “classical”
style with elements of the baroque such as dance-inspired movements
that were common in the “suites” of baroque composers such as Bach
and Handel. These included minuets but also allemandes, courantes,
sarabandes and gigues. This early classical music had not yet matured
into the late practitioners such as Mozart and Haydn but [was] more
akin to the early classicism of J.C. and C.P.E. Bach, sons of J.S. Bach.
This style maintained some aspects of the baroque style in which a
high degree of ornamentation was used, especially in the “continuo”
or harpsichord part that filled in the harmony over a “figured bass.”
The classical era saw less counterpoint—what may be called “linear”
music—in favor of a more “homophonic” style where the music tends
to move harmonically in blocks.
Throughout the classical era, the idea of a concert where everyone
sat quietly to listen to music had not come to pass. It was only in the
very late classical and the burgeoning Romantic style [that] the concept
of a concert came into being. Music was still seen as very much an

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

activity for the upper classes, and musical happenings were far more
a place to be seen within the social group. Only from the time of
Beethoven onward did the presentation of music take place in a formal
concert setting where everyone sat down and concentrated only on
the music. Therefore, Sancho’s music is very much music to accompany
social gatherings; his music was used to accompany such occasions
rather than to be listened to seriously in the context of a concert.
Do we have any idea what his Theory of Music was about, and
are there any references to it that we know about?
Sancho’s Theory of Music intrigues me. The title would suggest
an exhaustive treaty in the manner of Rameau’s 1722 Treatise on Har-
mony, covering complex harmony and counterpoint. However, San-
cho’s music, at least that which is extant, is very simple harmonically
and contains no contrapuntal or fugal elements. Either he wasn’t so
advanced a composer as to include these elements or there is more of
his music hidden away somewhere which is more complicated. How-
ever, this simple style does go well with the dance, which is what the
vast majority of his music is for.
How long is it likely that his songs and music for dance survived
and were actually played and danced?
Initially it is most likely that his music was not played outside his
immediate social sphere. Even though the music was published in his
lifetime, it is most likely his music was played in private by middle-
and upper-middle-class people. Unfortunately, I don’t think his music
had the depth to live on after his death. He may have wider appreciation
if he had composed large-scale works such as symphonies.
In many instances you have altered or amended his music by
replacing the vocal elements with an instrument. Was this usual
practice at the time; are they in effect just a rough and ready
During the baroque and early classical eras, it was common for
music to be played with ornamentation. The usual convention was to
play the music pretty much as it appeared in the score with embell-

2. Ignatius Sancho

ishments, especially in the continuo part. By the time of late Mozart

and Haydn, the continuo fell out of use and the music was played pretty
much as it was written. The idea of ornamentation persisted, however,
in the cadenzas of late classical and Romantic concerti in which the
solo player had a chance to play, often at the end of a first and last
movement, on his/her own to demonstrate virtuosity. These cadenzas
made use of the musical material in each of the movements. The first
movement cadenza was often longer and more complicated than that
of the final movement. Some performers may have improvised a
cadenza, but these days performers play pre-written cadenzas mostly
written by the composer, less so by individual performers.
How effective were his dance compositions? Are they in any sense
special and different?
His music is effective for dancing, especially his minuets. The har-
mony often changes on the first beat of the bar, so it is easy to get an
immediate feel of the stresses.
Is there any evidence as to what instruments he actually played?
I would imagine he would have had some proficiency on the harp-
sichord, and there is evidence within the music of some skill on the
violin. A few of the pieces have “double” or even “triple” stops where
the player is asked to play 2 or 3 notes at once. Some double/triple/
quadruple stops are impossible, but those in his compositions are pos-
As a composer, does he favor any particular set of instruments
above others?
I think his music was composed to be played on whatever was
available at the time. Most of his music is written on just two lines—
a melody and bass—and other musicians would have filled in as best
they could. I sent you orchestrated versions of 2 of the minuets to show
that it is easy to piece together the rudiments and create a fully fledged
symphonic movement in which ornamentation would not be very
prevalent. This would not have occurred in Sancho’s lifetime, I think.
In fact, my orchestrations are probably the first to expand these pieces!


Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Chevalier de Saint-Georges was by any standard a rare phenom-

enon. His personality and incredible range of skills and gifts clearly
dazzled his contemporaries. He was a great deal more than just a com-
poser or an outstanding virtuoso violinist; yet it is these qualities that
justify his inclusion in this book, which is concerned with the black
influence on classical music. Yet, in order to understand his musical
influence, it is necessary to consider his meteoric career as a whole
and look at his varied and altogether astonishing achievements.
He was born on December 25, 1745, in Guadeloupe (an insular
region of France located in the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser
Antilles in the Caribbean), where his mother, a black girl from Senegal,
was a slave owned by his father, a plantation owner who also had a
white wife and children.
In 1685, Louis XIV had issued the Code noir in an attempt to reg-
ulate not only the slave trade but also the civil treatment of blacks,
including offspring (both legitimate and illegitimate) between black
and white parents. The Code noir decreed that the status of such
offspring should be decided by the status of the mother, not the status
of the father. This in effect meant that the infant due to become Cheva-
lier de Saint-Georges was, according to French law, destined for slav-
Attitudes in the French West Indies colonies toward mixed-race
offspring were overwhelmingly hostile and racist. In 1750, even the
Creole Emilien Petit, author of Traité sur le gouvernement des esclaves,
wrote about them as follows:

3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

[A]nd their numbers can only continue to grow with each new generation, not
to mention [those freed by] affranchisement [liberated by owner]…. [T]here-
fore they must not be allowed to live in our towns or cities but be relegated to
the small places not yet allocated [to others].

Attitudes crystallized even further when, twenty years later, the colo-
nial lawyer Hilliard d’Auberteuil wrote:
[National] interest and security demand that we crush the race of the blacks
with such contempt, that even those [tainted] unto the tenth generation,
should be marked by an inef-
faceable stain. It is imperative
that in the future all Negroes,
griffes, and marabous must
remain slaves, as [even] their
skin is a shade too somber.

Had he remained in
Guadeloupe, Saint-Georges’
future would have been bleak
indeed. However, as a result
of being involved in a local
scandal and law court pro-
ceedings, Saint-Georges’ fa-
ther, the plantation owner,
had to return to Paris from
Guadeloupe for his own
safety; he took with him not
only his wife but also his
Senegalese slave and her in-
fant child. Unlike conditions
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint- in French colonies, slavery
Georges. W. Ward after M. Brown, Pub- was illegal in France, which
lished by Bradshaw, No. 4 Coventry Street,
London, April 4, 1788, Engraving. Saint- meant that Saint-Georges
Georges was one of the most remarkable could grow up with the same
figures of the eighteenth century. He was legal status as anybody else.
the son of a slave and rose to the top of Saint-Georges’ father
French society, as this image shows,
through his mastery of fencing and his
took his responsibilities seri-
genius for classical music (collection of ously, and the boy was edu-
Michael Graham Stewart). cated at a private school

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

where the typical syllabus would have been “instruction in religion,

reading and writing, Latin, German, the dance and arms (fencing), his-
tory & geography, design, math, as well as vocal and instrumental
music education. Tuition, 500 livres, not including private lessons.”
Saint-Georges was fortunate to be brought up with a sound musical
education, but in the second half of the eighteenth century music had
acquired a status (particularly in fashionable social circles) that made
it a vital requirement for any sophisticated young man or woman.
When he was thirteen, Saint-Georges became a pupil at Tessier
La Boëssière’s Académie Royale Polytechnique des Armes et de L’équi-
tation (fencing and horsemanship). For any upper-class youngsters of
the time, swordsmanship was even more desirable than musical ability.
Only gentleman wore swords. These weapons were not worn for orna-
mentation; they were intended to be used. It is clear from his choice
of school that Saint-Georges’ father envisaged an upper-class and priv-
ileged future for his son despite the fact that his mother was a slave.
Saint-Georges exceeded all his father’s obvious hopes—he emerged
into adulthood as an outstanding fencer whose ability with a sword
was soon seen as almost unparalleled. As if this were not enough, he
was also a brilliant violinist, with virtuoso skill that was as dazzling as
his swordsmanship. In addition, he had all the social graces that came
with the right upbringing. He was a brilliant dancer, a superb skater—
indeed, there seem to have been very few areas in which he did not
enjoy success (including an enviable ability to persuade fashionable
pretty women to indulge him in their bedrooms as well as their salons).
In Paris, Saint-Georges studied music with both Jean-Marie
Leclair, a composer of some of the best baroque violin music, and
François-Joseph Gossec, whose elegant and graceful classical style had
a profound influence on Saint-Georges as a composer. As early as 1766,
Gossec (1734–1829), a composer of operas, string quartets, sym-
phonies and choral works, dedicated a set of trios to Saint-Georges:

Monsieur, the celebrated reputation that you have acquired for yourself by
your superior talents, and the favorable reception that you accord artists,
made me take the liberty to dedicate to you this work as a sign of homage due
to an enlightened amateur such as yourself. If you will endow it with your suf-
frage the success will be assured.

3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

In 1768, Giovanni Avoglio likewise dedicated six violin and bass

sonatas to “Monsieur de St. Georges”:
Crowned with the laurels of Apollo and Mars, the truth that you possess equal
measures of taste and courage is universally recognized, therefore I consider
myself extremely happy that you had been willing to accept my volume. Your
suffrage is too enlightened not to be in some way assurance of that of the pub-
lic [as well].
Consent therefore, Monsieur, to receive this homage, rightfully due to your
celebrated talents, not so much as a tribute worthy of them, but rather as a
token of the gratitude with which I have the honor to offer.

It is clear from these dedications that Saint Georges’ skills as a violinist

were already well established in the late 1760s.
In 1769, Gossec founded an orchestra, the Concert des Amateurs,
and after four years Saint-Georges became not only its leader but also
its director.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, the violin had proved so
popular in concert performance that there could be as many as three
violin concertos in a single program. Saint-Georges’ debut as the lead-
ing violinist in Concert des Amateurs was one of the outstanding fash-
ionable events of the season. In addition to playing the violin, Saint-
Georges was playing his own compositions, and the challenge was to
create music that could not only show off his prodigious skills as a vio-
linist but also hold its own against anything written at the time by
other composers. He could not have done better:
The brilliant solo parts of his first violin concertos are positive proof that he
achieved his purpose in a dazzling and spectacular manner. The technically
stunning passages interspersed throughout the outer movements of these
concertos reveal Saint-Georges striving to extend the existing limits of virtuos-
ity rather than for complexity and depth. But their middle movements, which
represent Saint-Georges’ first published adagios, convey a depth of feeling,
close to, but much more personal and intimate than the currently fashionable
“sensitivity” in the paintings of [Jean-Baptiste] Greuze and [Jean-Baptiste]

Alain Guédé reveals a little more of the subtle qualities contained in

Saint-Georges’ concerti: “He could be nimble and witty yet also was
prone, musically speaking, to an unshakable melancholy and deep seri-
ousness, using trills in the treble and rapid alterations of high and low

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

notes. His music reminds listeners of Watteau and Boucher in its fast
movements, Jean-Baptiste Greuze in its slow.”
For his debut solo performance with the Concert des Amateurs,
Saint-Georges premiered two violin concertos during the 1772–1773
season at the Hôtel de Soubuise. Prod’homme stated:
The celebrated Saint-Georges—mulatto fencer [and] violinist … became at that
time [1773] a sensation in Paris…. [T]wo years later, in 1775, [he] appeared at
the Concert Spirituel [where] he was appreciated not as much for his composi-
tions as for his performances, enrapturing especially the feminine members of
the audience.

The Mercure de France mentioned the publication of Saint-Georges’

first concertos with the following notes:
These concertos had been performed last winter at the Concert des Amateurs
by the author himself [who] received great applause as much for the merit of
the performance as that of its composition.

In 1774, Queen Marie-Antoinette invited Saint-Georges to play

for her at Versailles; he went on to give her private lessons, and she
became a frequent attendee at his concerts and even enjoyed watching
him skate on the frozen Seine in winter.
Marie-Antoinette … was brought up in a musical household. At the Vienna
Hofburg, her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, considered music an impor-
tant element in her children’s education. There, along with her brothers and
sisters, Marie Antoinette received daily instruction in voice, harp, and forte-
piano, the last provided by composer Christoph Willibald Gluck. With a fine
singing voice and the ability to read notes at sight, she acquired an under-
standing of and genuine enthusiasm for serious music. As a result, she became
the first royal hostess at Versailles since Marie de Medici, who not only appre-
ciated music but was also able to participate in its performance.

The queen held afternoon musicales at Versailles, where Saint-Georges

was a favored guest. The diarist Louis Petit de Bachaumont recalls:
M. de Saint-George is a mulatto, that is to say, the son of a Negress, endowed
with a great hoard of the gifts of nature. He is highly adept at all physical exer-
cises, he fences superbly, he plays the violin equally well, besides being a most
valiant champion of love and sought out by all the women aware of all his mar-
velous talents, in spite of the “ugliness of his countenance.” As a great amateur
of music he was admitted to perform [music] with the Queen.

3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

In 1775, the queen apparently intended that Saint-Georges should

be appointed as director of the Royal Opera, but, as Baron Grimm (a
prominent music critic of the time) makes clear, this was not to be:
No sooner were Mesdemoiselles Arnould, Guimard, Rosalie, and others
informed about the news [that Saint-Georges had been proposed as music
director of the Royal Opera], they presented a placet [petition] to the Queen,
assuring Her Majesty that “their honor and delicate conscience could never
allow them to submit to the orders of a mulatto.” Such an important considera-
tion makes all the impression it is to make, but after many projects and discus-
sions regarding the matter, the question has been decided by the king, who in
the end took it upon himself to have the Opéra managed on his behalf by the
Intendants and Treasurers of the Menus Plaisirs [the king’s light entertain-
ments]. Should the income be not equal to the expense His Majesty will sup-
plement it; any possible benefits left over shall be divided between the actors
the public finds most deserving.

By this time, Saint-Georges was already publishing violin concer-

tos, and in 1781 he launched a fresh orchestra, the Concert de la Loge
Olympique, which became the largest orchestra in Europe. In 1787,
Saint-Georges performed the premieres of Haydn’s six Paris Sym-
phonies after visiting the composer in Austria and commissioning
them. At that time the orchestra had forty violins and ten double
basses. There is a tendency to think that orchestras from this period
were small, and revivals of their music tend to be restricted to small
ensembles. However, under the exciting leadership of Saint-Georges,
the Concert de la Loge Olympique not only bucked this trend but also,
by sheer size, demanded the attention of its audience and overwhelmed
any tendency to chatter away during performances. The emphasis was
entirely on the music.
Among the praises heaped on Saint-Georges was the title “the
black Mozart.” In 1778, Mozart himself was for a time living in Paris.
In his correspondence (later published), there is little mention of Saint-
Georges, though Mozart was himself friendly with Joseph Legros,
director of the Concert Spiritual (a rival orchestra to that of Saint-
Georges). Mozart’s father wanted him to play with Saint-Georges’
orchestra at the Concert des Amateurs, but he did not. Yet it is clear
that he was very much aware of Saint-Georges’ compositions. One
particular melody from Mozart’s ballet suit Les petits riens is obviously

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

lifted from Saint-Georges’ work, and it has been claimed that the main
theme of his famous Ave Verum Corpus is equally plagiarized from
Mozart was probably jealous. Saint-Georges seemed to have
everything going for him: he was a famous virtuoso on the violin; a
brilliant, much-published and much-performed composer; a fiercely
successful duelist; an athlete who could swim across the Seine using
one arm; and, perhaps above all to the enviable eyes of a 22-year-old
Mozart, the proud possessor of a glowing reputation as a man as suc-
cessful and as admired in women’s bedrooms as in his orchestral per-
formances. In Mozart’s last opera, Die Zauberflöte, the villain Monostatos
is black, a fearsome servant of the evil Queen of the Night who lusts
after her daughter Pamina. Is this a hint, a recognition of what the
young Mozart might have felt in Paris? If so, it would be striking evi-
dence of a black composer’s influence on the classical tradition.
These days the world is accustomed to an appalling division
between the rich and the poor. The much-publicized and immensely
grand entertainments of the world’s billionaires are busily covered in
fashion magazines, and their expensive cars, yachts, private islands
and luxurious mansions are much envied. Yet this distinction is nothing
compared to the appalling divisions between rich and poor in France
in the eighteenth century. Peasants, agricultural laborers and the work-
ing class in general eked out a miserable existence barely above the
starvation line. At the same time, the aristocracy surrounding the royal
court could hardly have led a more pampered and luxurious lifestyle.
Their clothes, their food, and their mansions represented a height of
opulence that has never since been surpassed.
It may seem incredible to us now, but in the fashionable world
before the French Revolution, in 1785, there were a surprising number
of private theaters supported entirely by rich aristocrats. One of these
was the Hôtel Particulier, owned and run by the Marquis and Marquise
de Montalembert. The theater could comfortably seat an audience of
more than one hundred who, after the performance, would be invited
to a grand dinner in an even grander dining room, well able to seat
one hundred guests, with kitchens and support staff to provide for
their every need.

3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

The Marquis and Marquise de Montalembert were an unusual

couple. When they married, he was fifty-nine and she was twenty-
three. She is described as “Diana, the huntress, with a quiver on her
shoulder, as much more than pretty, a perfect oval with her eyebrows
arching over eyes sparkling with mischief and intelligence worthy of
that goddess, her mouth somewhat too wide, a little too delicate.”
Saints-Georges was persuaded to accept the post of conductor at
the Hôtel Particulier in addition to everything else that he was doing.
He seems to have taken on rather more than he had bargained for. We
know what was going on because a nosy neighbor kept a secret journal
(later to be published) that described everything. Not only was the
marquis cold, self-centered and much older, but, as an army general,
he was also taken up with inventing a new breech for cannons, enabling
them to shoot every three minutes. The marquis thus spent much of
his time away from home, supervising the technology he was inventing.
Saint-Georges spent some time coaching the young marquise for per-
formances in the theater. It was inevitable that intimacy should take
place, and, as was too often the case, a child was produced with a color
that made it clear that the marquis could not be the father. The child
subsequently died, but the marquis was faced with an obvious chal-
lenge to his honor. Since Saint-Georges was an expert swordsman, and
equally proficient with other weapons, the offended husband had to
find another solution:
Recently, during the night, he [Saint-Georges] was assaulted by six men; he
was with one of his friends: they defended themselves to the best of their abil-
ity against the cudgels with which the brigands tried to finish them off; there is
even talk about a pistol shot that was heard. The guard came along, and pre-
vented the assassination; so that M. de Saint-Georges has suffered only contu-
sions and light wounds; he is already showing himself in the world. Several of
the assassins have been arrested.

Deprived of the woman he had clearly fallen for, and no doubt mourn-
ing the loss of the son they had produced, Saint-Georges turned again
to music making.
These appalling events bear an uncanny resemblance to Edmund
Rostand’s famous play Cyrano de Bergerac. Rostand’s hero had an
impossibly large nose, a handicap that singled him out from his fellows.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Saint-Georges’ difficulty was, of course, his black skin, which equally

singled him out as being different and was doubtlessly seen at the time
as a handicap. It has to be wondered whether Rostand was consciously
or unconsciously basing his romantic hero on the real-life Saint-
It was inevitable that Saint-Georges would be involved in the abo-
litionist movement. He visited England several times in the late 1780s,
ostensibly to give displays of swordsmanship with and for the Prince
of Wales. He enjoyed a brief celebrity in England, influencing the grow-
ing fashion for male dandyism, and was later described as a forerunner
of Beau Brummel. After the French Revolution had started, Saint-
Georges came to London with the Duke of Orléans, Philippe-Égalité,
and was encouraged by him to link up with anti-slavery activists. This
activity may well have led to an attempt on his life in London in 1790.
Returning to France in 1791, Saint-Georges gallantly espoused the
revolutionary cause. He signed up for the National Guard in Lille and,
a year later, became the colonel of a company of black and mulatto
soldiers calling themselves Legion Saint-Georges. (One of his com-
manders was, like himself, the son of a plantation owner and a slave—
Alexandre Dumas, father and grandfather of the famous French
authors using the same name.) The legion played a vital part in turning
aside an Austrian invasion of Northern France, and Saint-Georges him-
self foiled a treasonous plot by Charles François Dumouriez in 1793.
At that point, however, his military career ended abruptly. He was
accused of misappropriating funds and thrown in jail for a year and a
half before he could prove his total innocence. On his release, Saint-
Georges traveled to Saint-Domingue only to discover a civil war in
progress, with mulatto generals fighting to support slavery. He
returned to France and quickly established an orchestra and gave per-
formances, but, on June 9, 1799, he finally succumbed to a violent fever.
When Napoleon brought back slavery in 1802, the music of Saint-
Georges was banned. Only in the twentieth century was there renewed
interest in the freshness, vitality and flare that set his music apart from
that of his contemporaries.

v v v

3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

The following set of questions and answers helps to clarify the

musical impact Saint-Georges had on his contemporaries. Bearing Ros-
tand in mind, it is clear that even at the end of the nineteenth century,
Saint-Georges’ impact was far from being forgotten.
Musicologist Marc Boss was born in France in 1935 and worked as
a mechanical engineer. He has translated from English into French a biog-
raphy on Constance Mozart called Constance: Mozart’s Beloved by Agnes
Selb. Boss is a founding member of the Paris-based association Le Concert
de Monsieur de Saint-George, which was created in 2001 by Alain Guédé,
author of the critically acclaimed book Monsieur de Saint-George, le
Négre des lumières (1999). The association undertakes research into the
life and works of Saint-Georges as well as organizing concert performances
of his music, distributing his sheet music and creating exhibitions about
his music. Boss is also president of the Versailles Chamber Orchestra,
which is led by his violinist wife, Anne Claude Villars. Having trained at
the Paris conservatory, Claude Villars studied chamber music with mem-
bers of the Amadeus Quartet, and she won the Barcelona Violin Prize.
She has recorded a Saint-Georges concerto and two symphonies, and she
regularly plays his music, including a recently discovered piano quartet.
What do you think of the subtitle The Black Mozart, a name that
commentators have often used to describe Saint-Georges?
The title is interesting, but, in terms of reputation, Mozart was
almost unknown in Paris until after the revolution. Also, factually, it
is incorrect since chronologically Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born
in 1756, whereas Saint-Georges was born in 1745, which made him
eleven years Mozart’s senior.
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was born in Guade-
loupe on Christmas Day in 1745 to a rich colonialist planter and his
African slave mistress, Nanon. The family fortune was founded on
sugar, coffee and the labor of African slaves. Unfortunately, Saint-
Georges’ prospects in Guadeloupe were meager because the law pre-
vented mulattos from owning land, so his father, George de Bologne
Saint-Georges, a minor aristocrat, made a bold decision: to take his
slave mistress and mulatto son to Paris in the hope of turning him into
a French gentleman.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

What do you think the relationship was like between Saint-

Georges and his father for him to take the boy with him?
He obviously loved his son deeply and found it normal to keep
him at close quarters—even in France. We know very little about his
mother other than the fact that she was a slave girl from Senegal and
was given the name Nanon.

Was the main thrust of the father’s ambition for the boy to see
whether he could get him into polite Parisian society?
I don’t think he looked at his son in that that way at all. He wanted
the best for his son in the same way that any father would want for
their son. The difference in this particular case was that the event took
place during a period when slavery was endemic and slaves were
regarded as beasts of burden to be starved, whipped, tortured and even
killed—all within the law! George wanted to give Joseph a good start
in life. What better way can any father do that than by giving his child
a good education?
Indeed, young Saint-Georges arrived in Paris as the age of enlight-
enment was dawning. His father hoped to offer his son a freer life in
an international cultural capital. However, I totally agree with you that
these aspirations faced the prevailing attitudes in France that saw
blacks as servants and laborers. The most contemptuous attitudes saw
blacks as animals without souls at a time when the slave trade was still
rampant and lucrative.

To what extent could falling somehow between two worlds—one

of which was in the lowest social strata, slaves, and the other one
in the higher social strata, the aristocrats—have made him feel
Yes. He was probably a very bright boy and inherited the capacity
to push aside any insecure feelings—he must have felt protected by his
father. After all, George must have possessed a strong sense of inner
character; this was evidently clear when he took Nanon, Joseph and
his legal wife with him when he returned to live in France in 1759. The
etiquette of the polite society would have frowned upon this. Then

3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

there is the issue of George allowing Joseph to use the family name.
This is evidence that he was proud to acknowledge the mulatto Joseph
as his son.
Fencing was the sport of the aristocracy and a ticket into polite
society. Saint-Georges was enrolled by his father in La Boëssière’s pres-
tigious Academy of Fencing at thirteen years old. Young Saint-Georges
seized the opportunity to prove himself. A disciplined and model stu-
dent, he devoted countless hours to training and developed his talent
to an extent that dazzled everyone, including La Boëssière’s son, who
wrote, “At the head of all my father’s students must be placed the inim-
itable Saint-Georges.” At fifteen he would beat the strongest fighters;
at seventeen he acquired the greatest speed. He astonished with his
agility and he never hurt anyone, but Saint-Georges’ reputation as a
great fencer was viewed with contempt by many whites, and he
received many challenges from across the globe.
Is there any proof of his father’s ambition for him, regarding the
extent to which George pushed him, especially in relation to the
incident when another fencing master by the name of Picard
started sending messages to Paris saying that he wanted to fight
Boëssière’s mulatto, an insulting term that was pejoratively used
by Picard at that time?
Unfortunately, there is no written proof, but it seems obvious that
the father, faced with such a great talent, wanted the best for his son.
On the one hand, at the age of seventeen Joseph was a considerable
fencer. He would fence with his friends and hold back on attacking
them with his quick speed and agility. However, if they took advantage
of his thoughtfulness, he would switch and let them know that he had
a lightning attacking side to his fencing that took no hostages.
Do you think that even though he was hurt by Picard’s racial con-
descension, Saint-Georges was unwilling to accept such an igno-
ble challenge, but his father persuaded him that every fight was a
chance to prove his worth and preserve his honor?
No, I think he was a fighter and had great sensitivity, but he
also had a strong, resilient personality. As his fencing talents devel-

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

oped, so, too, did his sensitivity and the necessity to be en garde in life
Saint-Georges defeated Picard, but, mindful of challenges to come,
he returned with renewed focus to the hours of solitary training. To
further Saint-Georges’ aristocratic education, his father employed the
great composers of Paris—Francois-Joseph Gossec, Jean-Marie Leclair
and Jean-Baptiste Lully—to teach his son to play the violin. With this
turn to music, Saint-Georges discovered his calling. He devoted himself
completely to mastering the violin.
Could one of the reasons why his technique was extraordinary
perhaps be because it was almost as if the fencer had transferred
his right-hand technique with the sword to the bow?
My wife is a virtuoso violinist, and from my experience I don’t
think it had such a great effect. However, the quick hand speed with
one art form more often than not can complement the agility of the
hand speed with the other. He obviously had a great amount of natural
ability in abundance. He was very quickly recognized for his great tal-
ent and artistic disposition. He taught as a master and was also admit-
ted to the Royal Academy as a professor.
Each year Saint-Georges’ teacher, Gossec, organized special con-
certs featuring the best musicians from across France united in one
orchestra called the Concert des Amateurs. He invited Saint-Georges
to play first violin. It was a daring choice. Saint-Georges was an anom-
aly in the white world of high society concert music, but he was not
intimidated and his performances were virtuosic. The young violinist
was rewarded with an enthusiastic reception from Parisian audiences.
Would it be fair to deduce that being a mulatto in a white society
made him work harder toward being recognized for all his artis-
tic and athletic achievements?
According to early accounts of Saint-Georges’ life, he studied with
a man called Platon, who was the manager of his father’s plantation.
Then later, in France, he took lessons with Leclair and Gossec, who
also gave him lessons in composition.
Saint-Georges quickly mastered the contemporary repertoire.

3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Inspired, he turned to composition as a new way to challenge himself.

He became passionate about discovering the limits of the violin and
how far it could be pushed.
Would it be fair to say that the way that he wrote his music was
indicative of somebody who believed in the mantra “I have got to
be the best”?
Composers I meet today write about the need to communicate
and express themselves through their art. Saint-Georges was excellent
by white standards and recognized and admired for his virtuosity even
though he was a mulatto. But his rapid celebrity helped overcome his
perceived exoticism.
His writing was very virtuosic. Was that a clear indication that
he could get around the instrument very easily and had no tech-
nical limitations whatsoever in any regard?
No, not necessarily. Even though his father was a patron of musi-
cians, which meant that he was fortunate to have been surrounded by
experienced teachers, there were many violin virtuosos at that time,
including his friend Jarnovik, but Saint-Georges’ multiple talents put
him above them in terms of celebrity.
Saint-Georges’ virtuosic experiments on the violin led him to dis-
cover the instrument’s potential to spar against the orchestra in new,
more aggressive ways. The result was a dynamic new form of music,
a symphony concertante, which was (and still is) legendarily challeng-
ing for performers.
The vast majority of classical musicians I’ve spoken to about
Saint-Georges believe that when you play the concertos of Saint-
Georges, there are certain artistic challenges when you perform—
you are not going for a stroll in the park, you have to up your
game; do you agree?
Yes, and no. My wife says that, from her perspective, playing
Mozart’s concertos is perhaps more demanding, although Saint-
Georges’ violin works are very challenging since he was, after all, a vir-
tuoso and fundamentally a great musician.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Compared to a lot of the modern contemporary repertoire, do

you think that there is the same demand for the music to be
played quite as high on the fingerboard, so that one minute you
are at the top and then immediately back down, so that you have
to figure out how to do that?
Maneuvering yourself around the fingerboard is definitely one of
his challenging originalities, but musically comparing one period to
modern writing is difficult to generalize in terms of which is harder to
perform. Part of the excitement is the constant necessity that your
hand positioning will be challenging and that you will have to be pre-
pared to produce a variety of interesting bowing.

Many scholars believe that the way that Saint-Georges used the
bow, and the techniques and the effects that he produced, must
have surprised Mozart when he was in Paris because we know
that when he went back from Paris, he wrote one of his greatest
works—a symphony concertante in E flat major for violin and
viola. They suggest that Mozart was influenced directly by Saint-
Georges because there is a passage that is very uncomfortable,
because it is difficult, which, toward the end of Mozart’s sym-
phony concertante in E flat, sounds like the Saint-Georges Con-
certo Opus 5, number 2, which has a passage like that in E major.
There is a difference: it’s half a tone higher—Mozart in E flat and
his in E major—but they are identical and they are not typical
passages used at the time. Do you agree?
My spouse does not! It is certainly clear that Mozart stayed in
Paris in 1778 during the time of Saint-Georges’ triumph. [Saint-
Georges] wrote symphonies, at least 25 concertos for violin and
orchestra, string quartets, sonatas, and songs which influenced the
style of Mozart, Haydn and composers of the “Mannheim school.”
He also wrote at six or seven operas. Some of Saint-Georges’ concer-
tos were edited by Breitkopf and Härtel in Leipzig, so his music cer-
tainly influenced many composers. He definitely was known by
Beethoven and had some influence on his composing his violin con-

3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Saint-Georges’ performances gained him celebrity in European

high society. In 1773, he was appointed to direct Gossec’s Concert des
Amateurs. It was a triumph for this ambitious outsider. The doors to
the ruling class were now opened, and Saint-Georges made himself a
fixture in the courts of the aristocracy. He was even invited to conduct
Franz Joseph Haydn’s Paris Symphonies before Queen Marie-Antoinette.
Saint-Georges began to win a reputation among society women for his
exotic looks and growing fame. Their courtship of Saint-Georges made
him believe that he might truly become one of their own.

Do you think that his liaisons with women probably gave him a
lack of satisfaction in more ways than one, but he was unmar-
riageable as far as European society was concerned because he
was a mulatto?
He could not marry into high society, which was his milieu, but
Bachaumont says that the ladies ran after him; [however,] he could
have married within the lower levels of the bourgeoisie.
Personally, I think he was a happy artist, a content bachelor, dis-
tinguished composer, soloist and orchestra director, ladies’ man, [with]
formidable technique as a swordsman and soldier. His celebrity was
so great that it gave him a form of inner confidence that off-balanced
any insecurity he may have had about his black origin. In 1787, Saint-
Georges was still active as a swordsman and made several visits to
London in order to fight exhibition matches at a period in the year
when the concert season was at its height. He was an active and enter-
prising person that everybody wanted to meet. He was multitalented,
and that in itself was enough to guarantee that he would always have
a certain amount of admirers and also enemies.
For all his achievements, Saint-Georges had yet to find true love
among the women of Parisian society, until he met the young Marie-
Joseph, wife of the old General Montalembert. Marie-Joseph became
Saint-Georges’ one great love. And according to two neighbors, who
were writing a gossip-cum-journal at the time, their diaries mention
the fact that there seems to have been a baby that the general did not
accept as his own.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

For Saint-Georges, having a son out of wedlock with a woman he

loved was like reliving his parents’ romance. He would probably
have had the same hopes for this new baby that his father had
had for him. Unfortunately, on the orders of Marie-Joseph’s hus-
band, the wet nurse neglected the baby and let it die. Could that
have influenced the way he composed the second movement of the
violin concerto?
The second movement of the violin concerto really felt like he was
having an emotional response to some event in his life. It is very touch-
ing. What I love about the second movement of the violin concerto is
again the simplicity of the elements that he uses. If you listen to the
violas and the second violins, the opening is just one note and has on
top a simple melody—three notes and one note in the accompani-
ment—and yet it is so moving, and this is what a great composer does.
A great composer takes one note or one very simple element and builds
on it, and somehow it touches you more deeply than something very
complex and convoluted.

Some musicologists think of it as great poetry? Just the right

word—and it might be a very familiar word—but it is when,
where and how that makes all the difference?
Definitely, poetry.
In 1776, Saint-Georges’ career was still on the rise. He set his
sights on holding the most prestigious musical position in France:
director of the Paris Opera. It was a symbol of national culture—the
celebrity glamor position of its day—teeming with prestige and allure
and gossip. Saint-Georges led a group of entrepreneurs who were bid-
ding for control of the opera house. Word spread through Paris that
Saint-Georges’ acclaimed talent made him the king’s favorite choice.
However, when members of the opera company heard that he would
be their new director, there was an immediate negative reaction. The
opera’s three leading divas were powerful women, including the famous
singers Sophie Arnould and Rosalie Levasseur, and they quickly assem-
bled a petition that they then sent to the queen. They wrote, “Our hon-
our and the delicate nature of our contracts could never allow us to

3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

submit to the orders of a mulatto,” even though Louis XVI had

approved the appointment. It was the most public racial humiliation
of Saint-Georges’ life. He was denied that job. In fact, no one got the
job at that point. There was no one else qualified. It was not as if there
were two qualified people and they took the white man. There was, in
fact, no one else qualified at that moment in time, which must have
made it even twice as painful. They took no one.
Despite the major racial slur, Saint-Georges was not discouraged
about his ambitions in writing for opera because he went on to write
at least seven [operas]. He continued composing concertos too, still
supported by important patrons. He commissioned Franz Joseph
Haydn to write what became the Paris Symphonies. Saint-Georges had
the honor of conducting their world premiere.
The successes of Saint-Georges led him to the court of the Duke
of Orléans. Here Saint-Georges found a new friendship with the duke’s
son, Philippe, who would take Saint-Georges’ life in a surprising new
direction—politics. Philippe-Égalité was a liberal aristocrat who invited
Saint-Georges to join the reform movement, which promised democ-
racy, equality and an end to racial discrimination and slavery in France.
Saint-Georges had spent a lifetime hiding his slave lineage, so it was a
difficult decision for him to join the fight for reform. Over time, how-
ever, he became a convert. Philippe took Saint-Georges on a trip to
London, where the anti-slavery movement was far ahead of France.
There he was feted as a celebrity and gave exhibition fencing matches
before the Prince of Wales, but, most importantly, he met with the
leaders of the anti-slavery movement and was inspired by their belief
in abolition. His eyes were now open to the possibility of fighting for
others of African descent who had not been granted his opportunities.
He returned with Philippe to France, invigorated by the cultural
However, the reform movement had begun to erupt into a revo-
lution. When pressures for reform failed to topple the monarchy’s
power, the people of France took up arms and forced the king to abdi-
cate. A new republic was born, with a new people’s government and a
new role for Saint-Georges that he never could have imagined. Monar-
chist forces in Austria, Germany and Spain—allies of the deposed

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

king—attacked. The new government raised an army to defend the

republic. They turned to Saint-Georges, the composer, and invited him
to become Saint-Georges, the soldier. He was famous for his swords-
manship but had never been to war. He had navigated the treacheries
of high society but had no tactical skills on the battlefield. He was
asked to lead a battalion. It was a daunting task. As an artist, he could
avoid the front line, but, in the belief of emancipation, he committed
his life to battle. Black men in France rallied to the summons of the
country’s most famous mulatto. In 1792, he raised a regiment, a thou-
sand soldiers strong—the Saint-Georges Legion (named after their col-
onel). He led his men heroically in battles that repulsed the Austrian
Saint-Georges should have been acclaimed a war hero, but the
revolution plunged into chaos. The fledgling democracy was strangled
by warring factions, by panic and suspicion. The king was executed;
the Reign of Terror began, but the guillotine was not just for the king.
It was ready for anyone with ties to the upper classes, and that included
Saint-Georges had spent his life committed to the hopes of his
father, using every talent to pursue a place among the aristocracy, but
now, in 1793, these former ambitions were his death sentence. Arrested
and imprisoned, he awaited execution. Saint-Georges’ close friend and
mentor, Philippe d’Orléans, eager to distance himself from the aris-
tocracy, changed his name to Philippe-Égalité [Equality], but under
the Reign of Terror nothing could protect him from his fate.
While Saint-Georges, the deposed leader of the black battalion,
was in prison, the French government abolished slavery. Still believing
himself a part of the revolution, Saint-Georges furiously petitioned
the Citizens’ Council from prison in this, one of his only surviving let-
Citizen Director, I have constantly demonstrated my loyalty to the revolution.
I have served it with a tireless zeal, undiminished by the persecutions I have
suffered. I have no other recourse but that of being reinstated in my rank of
soldier. I address myself to your sense of justice.

He signed his name simply “George.”

His plea was refused. One by one his friends were washed away

3. Chevalier de Saint-Georges

in blood. The society he once knew was no more. His music, once
associated with a decadent age, was drained of respect and fell into
How much of his music is left? If what we have now is perhaps a
third of it, do you think there is a hope of finding all of it? Could
some of it simply have got burned in some building in the French
It’s a sad fact, but an awful lot of the works of many composers of
that time have disappeared. Maybe a third of what Bach composed has
also disappeared. I do not believe that the mulatto status had anything
to do with the whereabouts of the rest of his works. It could be due to
carelessness and the fact that he did not teach in a music school where
composition material was often stored or archived. During the period
it was common to disregard yesterday’s music and look out for what
tomorrow’s musical composition would bring. Attitudes then changed
over a period of time.
Is it important that black children know that in the late eigh-
teenth century there was a great composer in the European style
who possessed remarkable talents? Do we all need to know that
he certainly was an important enough person as a composer for
us not to submerge him beneath the waves of history?
It is vital for black empowerment. Even though his mother was a
slave and, as a mulatto, he had more legal rights than a slave, but, in spite
of his name and in spite of his fame, he would never be allowed the
“white privileges.” However, despite the circumstances and obstacles,
his remarkable range of talents and self-determination were enough
for him to be remembered by scholars researching into the era of clas-
sical music of the late eighteenth century. His phenomenal range of
talents will always be remembered, as they transcended the color line.
Are you hopeful that the music of Saint-Georges will now enter
the concert scene and that we will not lose track of this again?
I am not entirely convinced that they will. His music, especially
the concertos, are not as yet included in the music curriculum at

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

schools and universities. Concert organizers, promoters, television,

classical music commissioning editors as well as classical music pro-
ducers also need to be more open-minded. Even though the situation
is much better than it was twenty years ago, there is still a lot of work
to be done in keeping the importance of his legacy alive.
Some uninformed and spiteful historians and critics paint a dim
picture of Saint-Georges during the last years of his life by claim-
ing that in 1794 he was spared execution by a benevolent com-
missioner and that he lived his remaining years as a commoner,
abandoning his earlier ambitions and only playing with small
orchestras. At 54, he died, unmarried.
Slavery in France was abolished in 1794. He remained famous
until at least 1797, when he attempted to rejoin the army and signed
his petition “Georges” but not “Saint-Georges”; he was not reinstated.
However, he was appointed as the director of a new orchestra, Le Cercle
de l’Harmonie, that performed at the Palais Royale that was based in
the former residence of the Orleans family. His fame was such that the
orchestra still attracted large crowds that appreciated the precision of
his musicianship. He died in June 1799 of a bladder infection. Several
commemorative editions of his music appeared. However, new restric-
tions on black people appeared across the whole of France as Napoleon
Bonaparte reintroduced slavery as fighting deepened in the Caribbean
between slave rebels and French troops. Consequently, Saint-Georges
and his music were removed from orchestra repertoires, and therefore
from the history books, and it remained that way for almost 200 years.


Joseph Emidy

Joseph Emidy is a striking example not only of the way in which

black African influences have been absorbed into the European music
tradition but also of the way in which those same black influences
tended to be quietly ignored and suppressed by subsequent genera-
tions. This is so much so in Emidy’s case that we are remarkably lucky
to know anything about him at all. Anyone looking for evidence of his
achievements would certainly be able to find his tombstone, with its
informative inscription:
The mortal remains of
Mr. Josh. Antonia Emidy
who departed this life
on 23rd of April
Aged 60 YEARS
And sacred to whose memory
this tribute of affection is erected
by his surviving family.
He was a native of PORTUGAL
which Country he quitted about
forty years since; and pursuing
the Musical profession resided in
Cornwall until the close of
his earthly Career.

G.C. Boase’s Collectanea Cornubiensia (1890), page 237, gives

Emidy a brief mention as having been born in Lisbon and serving as
a “teacher of the piano, violin, tenor, violoncello, flute and English and

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

An early nineteenth-century sketch of the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra

with Joseph Antonio Emidy. Emidy was the best-known composer, violinist,
and teacher in southwest England. However, not a single note of his com-
positions (symphonies and concerti) has survived. We know that his music
was brought to London by anti-slavery activist James Silk Buckingham and
presented to music critics, including impresario Johann Peter Salomon,
who (though impressed with his work) advised that Emidy remain outside
of the capital’s music circles because of his color (courtesy of Royal Insti-
tution of Cornwall).

Spanish guitar.” Also in the Royal Institution of Cornwall at Truro,

there is a color sketch by an unnamed artist titled “A Musical Club,
Truro 1808.” The black violinist in this drawing is undoubtedly Emidy,
and the fact that he is standing makes it clear that he is also effectively
leading and conducting the group, as was the manner then. Otherwise,
there is no official mention of him anywhere in the musical record
until Richard McGrady’s Music and Musicians in Early Nineteenth-
Century Cornwall: The World of Joseph Emidy—Slave, Violinist and
Composer in 1991 (McGrady was also responsible for the entry on

4. Joseph Emidy

Joseph Emidy in 2000 edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music

and Musicians). This at last was a belated recognition of a major influ-
ence in West Country English music for more than thirty years. Fas-
cinating and comprehensive as this story is, in other musical records
it has seldom been given the recognition that it deserves. Emidy has
been almost erased from the official account of what went on in Corn-
wall during his lifetime. (Interestingly, Marjorie Emidy spent twenty-
five years researching the Emidy family tree, which is documented in
her book The Emidy Family, published in 2000).
Fortunately for posterity, a much more detailed account of Emidy’s
achievements and influence has been happily preserved in the autobi-
ography of the anti-slavery politician James Silk Buckingham (1786–
1865), born at Flushing, a coastal village in west Cornwall, and ten
miles south of Truro, who spent two years in Falmouth as a lively ado-
lescent. He tells us:
During this period I began the study of music, finding it a most agreeable rec-
ommendation in female society, of which I was always fond; and as I decided
to be placed as speedily as possible in the way of turning this acquisition to
practical account, I selected the flute as the instrument on which tolerable per-
fection is soonest attained, and as having the further advantage of portability
and convenience. The only teacher procurable at Falmouth was an African
negro, named Emidee, who was a general proficient in the art, an exquisite
violinist, a good composer, who led at all the concerts of the county, and who
taught equally well the piano, violin, violoncello, clarionet and flute. I placed
myself under his tuition for an hour’s daily lesson under his own eye, and four
hours’ daily practice beside.

Buckingham gives us a more accurate account of Emidy’s origins,

clearly based on what Emidy had told him (although the fact that the
tombstone erected later by Emidy’s family claims him as a native of
Portugal is indicative of how easily people get things wrong):
He was born in Guinea, on the West Coast of Africa, sold into slavery to some
Portuguese traders, taken by them to the Brazils when quite a boy, and ulti-
mately came to Lisbon with his owner or master. Here he manifested such a
love for music, that he was supplied with a violin and a teacher; and in the
course of three or four years he became sufficiently proficient to be admitted
as one of the second violins in the orchestra of the opera at Lisbon.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Portugal was one of the first European nations to establish com-

mercial slavery, but it had a better record than other countries in its
treatment of slaves. Although most slaves were sent to plantations in
Brazil, the majority converted to Christianity, black and white people
mixed freely, and slaves had their own plots of land to cultivate for
themselves and could sell their products in open markets. Between
1780 and 1790, Portugal transported 178,000 slaves to Brazil, most
coming from what is now officially the Republic of Angola. If Emidy’s
gravestone is correct as giving his date of birth as 1775, he would have
been among them.
As a youngster, Emidy would probably not have worked on the
plantations, instead being used by his owner as a personal attendant.
In Portugal itself, it was fashionable to have a black servant close at
hand, and Emidy was in all probability taken to Lisbon in just such a
role. What we know for sure is that by 1795 he was already the second
violinist in the opera orchestra at Lisbon. By any standards, this was
a remarkable change in status, demonstrating that he must have had
a prestigious talent.
Fate then decided to foist upon Emidy yet another devastating
change. At this point in his life, he had already been wrenched from
his birthplace in Africa, hauled away to slavery in Brazil and forced to
learn Portuguese in order to survive, and then taken to Lisbon, where
he quickly responded to changing circumstances by showing a remark-
able talent for music and for the violin. However, on May 7, 1795, a
British Royal Navy frigate, the Indefatigable, while in pursuit of a
French ship, struck a rock in the sea off Cape Finisterre and had to sail
into the river Tagus into Lisbon for repairs. Buckingham tells us:

While thus employed [as violinist at the Lisbon Opera], it happened that Sir
Edward Pellew, in his frigate the Indefatigable, visited the Tagus, and with
some of his officers, attended the Opera. They had long wanted for the frigate
a good violin player, to furnish music for the sailors’ dancing in their evening
leisure, a recreation highly favourable to the preservation of their good spirits
and contentment. Sir Edward, observing the energy with which the young
negro plied his violin in the orchestra, conceived the idea of impressing him
for the service. He accordingly instructed one of his lieutenants to take two or
three of the boat’s crew, then waiting to convey the officers on board, and
watching the boy’s exit from the theatre, to kidnap him, violin and all, and take

4. Joseph Emidy

him off to the ship. This was done, and the next day the frigate sailed: so that
all hope of his escape was vain.

Patrick O’Brian’s fictional Aubrey-Maturin series of 20 nautical his-

torical novels, set during the Napoleonic wars, centers on the friend-
ship between Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and the ship’s
doctor Stephen Maturin, who play classical music together. Unfortu-
nately for Emidy, it would seem that Sir Edward Pellew of the Indefati-
gable was not a sophisticated music lover to any great extent, although
it is surely to his credit that he and his officers, when in Lisbon, went
to the opera. As Buckingham tells us:
Poor Emidee was thus forced, against his will, to descend from the higher
regions of music in which he delighted—Gluck, Haydn, Cimarosa, and Mozart,
to desecrate his violin to hornpipes, jigs, and reels, which he loathed and
detested: and being, moreover, the only negro on board, he had to mess by
himself, and was looked down upon as an inferior being—except when playing
to the sailors, when he was of course in high favour. As the captain and officers
judged, from his conduct and expressions, that he was intensely disgusted with
his present mode of life, and would escape at the first possible opportunity, he
was never permitted to set his foot on shore for seven long years! and was only
released by Sir Edward Pellew being appointed to the command of a line-of-
battle ship, L’Impetueux, when he was permitted to leave in the harbour of Fal-
mouth, where he first landed, and remained, I believe, till the period of his

The Indefatigable muster included Emidy as a Lisbon “volunteer,”

number 316 of the ship’s crew, ranked as a landsman—the lowest sailor
rank, paid 16/6d per month. An ordinary seaman received 17/6d, and
an able seaman received £1–2/6d. Navy records show that Emidy was
in fact held for four years, not seven, and the crew of the Indefatigable
was disbanded when Pellew was transferred to command the captured
French ship, L’Impetueux, in 1799.
As in Buckingham’s account, Emidy was discharged at Falmouth
in September 1799. He remained in Cornwall for the next 36 years.
After four years on a Royal Navy ship, his spoken English was undoubt-
edly excellent. As a black man, he would not have been alone in Fal-
mouth. William Thomas Beckford (1760–1844), one of the richest men
in England and the author of the Gothic novel Vathek, had been there
ten years earlier. Beckford rather despised the area, noting that cock

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

fighting and billiards seemed to be all that was available to pass the
time, mentioning “the gliding of billiard balls in the society of Barba-
does Creoles and packet-boat captains.”
Falmouth was an important naval port, and inevitably, with sailors
press-ganged and volunteered from a wide variety of places and coun-
tries, its seagoing population would have been mixed and racially
diverse. Beckford does not mention it, but music naturally played a
large part in the leisure activities of the middle and upper classes. Har-
monic societies, as they were then called, flourished all over the county,
as they did elsewhere in England. O’Brian’s captain and ship’s doctor
were thus not particularly remarkable for the period—playing music
was indeed what most of the leisured class did. Jane Austen’s novels
never mention the desperate war with France, but they frequently men-
tion music and dance in all its forms.
Emidy apparently had no difficulty in making a flourishing living
as a music teacher. He placed an advertisement in the Royal Cornwall
Gazette in 1802 declaring himself able to teach piano, cello, clarinet
and flute, as well as the violin, guitar and mandolin, “in a most easy
and elegant stile.” Here clearly was a man of many parts. The harmonic
societies organized concerts played by their own orchestras, largely
made up of amateurs but bolstered with guest artists and profession-
als. As he became better known, Emidy was much in demand for
these events throughout Cornwall and beyond. Buckingham writes
that his playing was “to a degree of perfection never before heard in
Cornwall.” William Tuck, in his “Reminiscences of Camborne,” main-
This remarkable man was the most finished musician I ever heard of, though I
have had the privilege of listening to most of the stars who have appeared on
the London stage during the past fifty years, but not one of them in my estima-
tion has equalled this unknown Negro. He was not only a wonderful manipu-
lator on the violin, cello, or viola, but could write fluently in either of these
clefs; his hands seemed especially adapted for the work, his extremely long,
thin fingers were not much larger than a goose quill: where this great talent
came from was always a mystery to me, and to all who came in contact with

On September 16, 1802, at Falmouth Parish Church, Joseph Emidy

married Jenifer Hutchins. Though Buckingham considered Emidy “one

4. Joseph Emidy

of the very ugliest negroes I ever remember to have seen,” he admitted

that Emidy “had charms enough to fascinate a young white woman of
a respectable tradesman’s family.” Of course, we have to wonder how
many negros Buckingham had seen and what his standards of good
looks actually were. Judging by the Truro sketch mentioned at the
beginning of this chapter, Emidy was unremarkable and very far from
ugly. He was, after all, accepted by a variety of musical communities
throughout Cornwall, which is, in its way, a remarkable tribute not
only to their sane judgment about his exceptional musical talent but
also to a heartwarming lack of racial bias. Buckingham would here
seem to be revealing an inherent bias, even though his admiration for
Emidy’s talents obviously overcame it.
McGrady wonders how many interracial marriages there were in
Britain in the 1800s. The answer is clearly to be found in my book,
Black Dance in London, 1730–1850. As mentioned earlier, there was
a substantial black population in London during the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, which simply disappeared into the gene pool.
An obvious example is the black servant of Dr. Samuel Johnson: The
black man in Sir Joshua Reynolds’ famous painting—a noble, almost
epic figure silhouetted against a dramatic sky—is widely considered to
be this Francis Barber, Johnson’s servant and friend. Barber was born
enslaved in Jamaica in 1745 and brought to England by his master, Col-
onel Richard Bathurst. His seventh-generation descendant, Cedric Bar-
ber, appeared on David Olusoga’s BBC 2 series called Black and British:
A Forgotten History, televised in November 2016, and he was as white
and British as anybody else.
This disappearance of a sizeable black community could only have
happened if they intermarried with the white majority. It undoubtedly
did happen, so it follows that intermarriage was much more racially
acceptable at this period than it later became during the social and
racial tensions of the 1960s and 1970s. Fortunately, it would seem that
we are now easing back into a previous state of racial tolerance. Of
course, it would be absurd to suggest that racial prejudice did not exist
at a time when the great majority accepted slavery as part of the natural
order of things. Nevertheless, slavery took place at a distance in other
countries. Up close, in Falmouth in 1802, it was another matter. People

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

there seem to have accepted Joseph Emidy as a talented individual and

were apparently quite prepared to ignore his color difference.
For several years Emidy directed the Harmonic Society of Fal-
mouth. As we would expect, many of his players were important and
influential members of the community, including “Major Wall, of the
Wiltshire Militia, then in garrison at Pendennis Castle, playing the first
violin; Mr Jordan, Deputy Collector of Customs, the tenor; Mr Lott of
the Post Office, second flute.” It was the custom to hold benefit concerts
to reimburse the professional members of these orchestras, and the
first for Emidy was held at Wynn’s Hotel in Falmouth in 1802, with
symphonies by Stamitz, overtures by Eichner and Martini, and guitar
and mandolin solos performed by Emidy. The centerpiece was a violin
concerto composed by Emidy himself. A similar event was held in
Truro 1804, a second in 1806 and a third in 1808. The program for
the 1808 concert included not only overtures by Handel and Pleyel
but also a violin concerto “composed purposely for the occasion” by
Emidy. The Royal Cornwall Gazette could hardly have been more
In the musical selection and performances of the evening, the excellence of
Emidy in his Concerto and Rondo was equally conspicuous, whether we con-
sider the beauty of the composition, which was his own, or the exquisite skill
and taste of his execution.

It would appear that Emidy composed a wide range of differ-

ent works. There is a notice in the West Briton newspaper that “Mr
Rowell, from the Royal Cornwall Band, will play a Concerto on the
French Horn, which has been composed expressly for the occasion
by Mr Emidy.” On October 4, 1811, the West Briton additionally
Seldom have we seen [the Helston school meeting] more fully and respectably
attended…. Several glees and songs occasionally gave a zest to the entertain-
ment…. The dancing [at the ensuing ball] was kept up with great spirit, till the
dawn of morning warned the fair votaries of Terpsichore, reluctantly to retire
to their pillows … [on the following day] between the sets, the company were
highly gratified with some selections of music from the best masters which
reflected great credit on the powers of the performers and the judgement of
Mr Emidy.

4. Joseph Emidy

Music prospered at Helston, and in 1824 they formed a Philharmonic

Society, “which was formed under the superintendence of Mr. Emidy,
[and] was so composed as to give universal satisfaction.”
In 1807, Buckingham, impressed by Emidy’s talents as a composer,
approached the most influential London impresario, Johann Peter
Salomon, who had brought Haydn to London in 1791–1792 and 1794–
1795. (Haydn’s twelve London Symphonies and his large-scale choral
works were among the many happy results of these visits.) Salomon
had also founded the London Philharmonic, leading the orchestra at
its first concert in 1813. Buckingham tells us:
Emidee had composed many instrumental pieces, as quartetts, quintetts, and
symphonies for full orchestras, which had been played at the provincial con-
certs and were much admired. On my first leaving Falmouth to come to Lon-
don—about 1807,—I brought with me several of these pieces in MS., to submit
them to the judgment of London musical professors, in order to ascertain their
opinion of their merits. At that period Mr Salomans [sic], the well-known
arranger of Haydn’s symphonies as quintetts, was the principal leader of the
fashionable concerts at the Hanover Square Rooms. I sought an interview with
him, and was very courteously received.
I told him the story of Emidee’s life, and asked him to get some of his pieces
tried. This he promised to do, and soon after I received an intimation from
him that he had arranged a party of professional performers, to meet on a cer-
tain day and hour at the shop of Mr. Betts, a musical instrument maker, under
the piazza of the Royal Exchange, where I repaired at the appointed time: and
in an upper room a quartett, a quintett, and two symphonies with full accom-
paniments were tried, and all were highly approved.

Salomon wanted to set up a concert for Emidy in London, but this

was finally vetoed by Betts and the other professional performers, who
thought “his colour would be so much against him, that there would
be a great risk of failure; and that it would be a pity to take him from
a sphere in which he was now making a handsome livelihood and
enjoying a high reputation, on the risk of so uncertain a speculation.”
All the same, the professionals were so impressed by Emidy’s work that
they set up a private subscription and “realised a handsome sum which
I had great pleasure in transmitting to him, with several complimentary
letters from those who had been present at the performance of his
Sadly, we can only speculate as to the extent of Emidy’s talent for

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

composition, since not a single one of his works has survived. We can
note, however, that the leading London impresario of the day was so
impressed by hearing his compositions that he proposed setting up a
full- scale London performance. Clearly, without Emidy, music in
England’s West Country would have been substantially poorer. Like
so many talented black musical performers and composers, he made
a startling difference to the musical culture of his time but has
since been banished into obscurity. He deserves much better recogni-
v v v
Dr. Alan M. Kent was born in Cornwall in 1967. He is a lecturer
in literature at the Open University in southwest Britain and a visiting
fellow in Celtic studies at the University of Coruña, Galicia. He is a
novelist, poet and dramatist. His plays include The Tin Violin, Surfing
Tommies, A Mere Interlude, Bewnans Peran and National Minority.
Among his recent publications are Interim Nation (2015) and Dan Dad-
dow’s Cornish Comicalities (2016). His Literature of Cornwall: Conti-
nuity, Identity, Difference, 1000–2000 (2000) and The Theatre of
Cornwall: Space, Place, Performance (2010) are standard reference
works on Cornish literature and theater. Another book, The Festivals
of Cornwall: Ritual, Revival, Reinvention, was published in 2018.
Do you know of other composers of the time who were influenced
by Emidy?
Emidy was clearly an influential figure in Cornwall during this
period, and the likelihood is that he did have influence on other musi-
cians and composers. The fact that he was black seems to be less of
an issue than perhaps what we think, as, broadly, Methodist circles
would have been sympathetic to his past and to his “liberation” after
slavery. Therefore, there could have been influence in such circles.
However, no one seems to admit this influence in the records. Outside
of Methodist groups, his influence may have been more problematical.
It feels like he was tolerated, but obviously some judgments would
have been placed upon him. With judgment comes a lack of influence,
so the leading composers (outside of Methodist circles) may not have

4. Joseph Emidy

been as influenced by his work. That said, Emidy’s reputation was fairly
high, but there is such little documentation left that we are still puz-
zling over this. There are no actual pieces of Emidy’s musical compo-
sitions left either—and had they survived, one might be able to map
the connections and influences in musicology a little more. Emidy’s
influence beyond his era has been strong, though—and while the influ-
ence in his age is difficult to trace, Emidy as a figure of resistance and
of multicultural Cornwall has been hugely important, and he has ben-
efited [by being] much celebrated in the twentieth and twenty-first

How widespread would Emidy’s compositions have been? Who

had his work? Who played them? Where and when?
It would have been the local philharmonic societies, I suspect, but
probably chiefly the ones in Falmouth and Truro. Penzance and Fal-
mouth would have had more sway than Truro at that time because
they were bigger towns and also ports. These were local societies who
drew together groups interested in music and composition and held
regular concerts to celebrate existing material and to premiere new
work. We know that Emidy was very active in such circles as well as
Methodist groups. It seems that the societies took to him in this way.
However, it may be that he was paraded somewhat as a kind of cultural
curiosity. His compositions would have been heard all over Cornwall,
the societies also operating in places such as Bodmin and Liskeard.
However, there is little influence of them traveling further east than
that. To have broken through further, Emidy would have to have been
heard in Exeter and perhaps Plymouth, but a key location would have
been Bath, which for southwest Britain was a key marker of taste and
quality. Music and theater often toured from London using these ven-
ues—and the other way from Cornwall. There is little evidence that
Emidy stepped beyond the geographical bounds of Cornwall. This
could be down to costs or simply because opportunities for him did
not arise.

Do we know anything about Sir Edward Pellew’s musical taste? Is

it possible that Emidy performed classical works for him and his

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

officers on board—much as O’Brian’s captain and doctor per-

formed for their own pleasure?
There are several biographies and studies of Pellew, but none of
them are very forthcoming about his musical tastes. I assume he would
have been like others of his class and have seen classical works as being
representative of his position in the navy/society. Even if he knew very
little about music, he would have needed to have fitted in with the cul-
ture around him. I think it quite possible that Emidy would have been
asked to perform classical works for him and his officers on board.
However, being a naval man, presumably he might have had as much
time for jigs and ballads as classical pieces. Pellew rose through the
ranks, so he would be aware of more working-class music too. It is
surely feasible that he would have some favorite tunes from this genre
too. Emidy seems to have been quite flexible in terms of his musician-
ship—indeed, it is probably that which saved his life/made him as a
Pellew and the Indefatigable had many connections to Falmouth,
as did much of the British navy at this time. It is very likely that the
music played on board would have been very influenced by the Cornish
folk and shanty tradition, which has its own lyrical and musical base.
Presumably Emidy would have picked up on these traditions while on

What would the general level of musical performance by ama-

teurs in Cornwall have been—how competent were they?
Cornwall is often held up as being a cultural backwater, but this
is not true at all. As Richard Rastall (The Heaven Singing) has demon-
strated, music has played a key part in the development of the dramatic
tradition in Cornwall in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with
communities having a diverse range of musicians available to take part
in dramas and performance. Despite the ending of the dramas, we do
know that musical competence in parishes remained very high in
Cornwall in successive centuries. For example, nearly every parish
church had a set of gallery musicians (see Harry Woodhouse, Face the
Music). The philharmonic societies were also there to encourage

4. Joseph Emidy

“improvement” and to develop musical skills. I would say that, consid-

ering there were no musical colleges or scholarships set in place, com-
petence was quite high. This would have grown further with the
development of Methodism and Methodist chapels, which placed huge
importance on singing and musicianship. Chapel anniversaries and tea
treats also encouraged music.
Emidy was obviously willing to perform his own works alongside
other leading composers; they seem to have been judged by the
same standards. Is this a fair assessment?
I think so. He seems to [have wanted] to be judged on the same
merits. In this sense, it [was] a very brave move on Emidy’s part—to
place himself in such circles. Considering the ideological pressure he
was under, this must have been tough, but at the same time, if Emidy
wished to be judged on the same terms, then he knew he had to do it.
What is frustrating is that, with the exception of Buckingham, we don’t
have any records of how others viewed him—more specifically, per-
haps, how other musicians and composers rated him. Maybe, however,
this lack of voice is telling. Perhaps they chose not to comment at all.
To what extent did his African origins manifest themselves in his
compositions? Is there any evidence about this?
This is a really difficult question to answer and one that fascinated
me in the development of the play [The Tin Violin]. I would like to
think that with all composers/writers, their circumstances influence
their crafting of material in so many ways. Of course, the difficulty is
that then people would have known so little about African rhythms
and patterns of musicology and probably would have been dismissive
of them. They would have preferred white, Western European notions
of what musicality meant. As we have no compositions left, it is very
hard to judge, so there is really very little evidence to go on. I am by
nature a fusionist, so my hope in the drama was that Emidy would
bring lots of influences to bear upon his compositions. There would
be several layers at work, perhaps—the African, the Brazilian, the Por-
tuguese, the Cornu-Celtic tradition, and then the wider Western Euro-
pean tradition. Just how these mixed together in his work is the

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

unknown, and one that would be fascinating to discover. My hope was

that it would be a kind of Afro-Celtic fusion, but this was a projection
on my part.

Emidy seems to have been immersed at a young age in Brazilian

musical culture. What did this consist of? How would this have
affected him?
I think he would be aware of this and all the fight-music traditions
too (like Capoeira). He would have understood links between the car-
nivalesque and music and would have again seen these in Portugal and
Cornwall (where festival culture has some similarities to what he would
have observed elsewhere).
We actually know very little of Emidy’s time in Brazil. It is the big
mystery of his life. I situated him in the Minas Gerais mining region
in Brazil because it suited my purpose in constructing the drama. Also,
there is some historical evidence that this was where the Portuguese
slavers took West African slaves. Carnival and Brazilian music is readily
defined for us now, but during this period it would have been emergent
and developing. While the precise influence of this may be doubtful,
one sees an incredible melting pot of musical traditions in Brazil, which
he must surely have been influenced by. Again, it would have affected
him deeply, I suspect—he was in Brazil for a long time before escaping
to Portugal. That said, I am sure there were huge links between Brazil-
ian and Portuguese musical culture at this point in time.

Was there any major difference between Portugal’s musical cul-

ture and Brazil’s musical culture?
I can only assume they would have been quite similar, with Por-
tugal having a colonial influence over what was produced in Brazil.
Portugal has had a long-term shaping hand in the culture of Brazil
over a number of years. Perhaps there might be other musical influ-
ences in Brazil coming from native peoples. The African slave musical
heritage would have been very active there too.

How good would the Lisbon Opera orchestra really have been?
Was it up to other European standards—better or worse?

4. Joseph Emidy

I have always assumed that they would have been equivalent to

other cities. There seems no reason why they would be any less accom-
plished. Portugal is on the fringe of Europe (like Cornwall), so it may
not have been quite so fashionable as, say, Rome, Paris or Berlin, but,
that said, the Lisbon Opera seems to have been fairly respected. A little
worse than the main centers, perhaps, but also striving to meet expec-
tations in terms of quality.
Were there any major influences in Lisbon that might have helped
form his musical tastes?
I thought about this one before, but I do not know enough about
Portuguese music. However, I do know about Galician, and Galician
music has good claim to have some influences of Celtic (drums, bag-
pipes, bombard-type instruments), which he may well then have heard
in Cornwall. No doubt the director of the Lisbon Opera would have
opened Emidy’s eyes to other pan-European classical influences and
other Western European music that he may not have heard before. I
can imagine that this would have been an incredibly formative time
for him. He develops with the traditions of Africa and Brazil and then
is suddenly placed in “high culture.” The world would have suddenly
got more musical for him. If he had not been pressed into service, then
I suspect Emidy would have stayed in Lisbon.
Would the 4 years that he spent performing popular dance
rhythms have had any effect on his general approach to music?
I suspect it would—it would have given him an ear for a good
tune. He would have an awareness of what the “people” liked. I like to
think that this, too, would have influenced his compositional skills,
but, on the other hand, it seems to me that would not be enough for
Emidy. He would probably have had more ambition to craft music with
more depth or more power in some way. The chapel events would have
allowed him to play these kinds of tunes while the societies would not
have wanted that. They would have wanted pieces with more ambi-


George Augustus
Polgreen Bridgetower

This book is largely concerned with the influence of black culture,

with its African origins, on European and American classical music.
Clearly this effort has involved looking at the work of major composers
and trying to assess where black culture influenced their music. But
there is always a subtext in such investigations. The terrifying institu-
tion of slavery could only justify its existence when it was based on an
assumption that people with black skin were altogether inferior to peo-
ple with white skin. If black people could be seen as a kind of sub-
species, as much akin to chimpanzees and gorillas as to human beings,
then white people could justify to themselves the appalling treatment
of black slaves. It was in this moral context that American slave owners
recorded the births and deaths of their slaves in exactly the same way
that they did for their pedigree racehorses, and for much the same rea-
We now know these assumptions to be dangerous rubbish, but at
the time they were widespread and repeatedly voiced, leaving white
people with comfortable feelings of superiority. As part of the process
of showing how wrong these assumptions were, the emergence of any
black people with qualities that were obviously on par with (and even
clearly better than) those of their white contemporaries was therefore
crucial to breaking down the vicious prejudice against black people in
general. This is the subtext that makes the career of George Augustus
Polgreen Bridgetower so important. It should be remembered that he

5. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

was not alone in showing himself to be

outstandingly gifted in the world of
music. As we have seen, Joseph
Emidy in Cornwall and Chevalier
de Saint-Georges in London were
also, in their way, as influential
as Bridgetower in establishing
that black people could be not
only as good as but also demon-
strably better than the major-
ity of their white musical
It is in this light that we
must view Bridgetower as an
important influence. Some of his
musical compositions have sur-
vived and do not reveal any notable
African influence. Nevertheless, the
fact that he was so obviously preemi-
nent in his time made him one
of the many factors slowly A miniature of George Augustus Pol-
building to the abolition of green Bridgetower, attributed to George
slavery and the rehabilitation Chinnery (1774–1852). Bridgetower
made his performing debut as a violinist
of the black race. as a boy in Paris in April 1789. The jour-
There is a further subtext, nal Le Mercure de France reported that
as it was not until white people “his talent is one of the best replies one
were prepared to accept black can give to philosophers who wish to
deprive people of his nation and his
people on equal terms as musi- colour of the opportunity to distinguish
cians that they were then pre- themselves in the arts” (© British
pared to open their ears and Library Board PP1931pcx).
eyes to black music and dance.
In that sense, these late eighteenth-century musicians were preparing
the way for an acceptance in the nineteenth century of a very clear
black influence on music, a process that continued into the twentieth
and twenty-first centuries. Cinema viewers in the twentieth century
not only viewed Paul Robeson as an outstanding singer but also saw

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

him as someone embodying a fresh black influence on music itself. In

the twentieth century, the popularity of tap dancing, with the amazing
and well-merited success of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (two white
dancers), was based on a widespread acceptance of what was originally
very much a black American development. But nobody watching Fred
Astaire thought of him as a white dancer doing a black man’s dance.
By then, his audience had accepted a new influence on a popular dance
form. It was a process that began with the acceptance of black musi-
cians like Bridgetower way back in the eighteenth century. Both pop-
ular and classical music owe much to the astonishing versatility of this
amazing man.
Bridgetower’s origins are a little obscure. What people were told
about his antecedents may or may not be true. Supposedly, his paternal
grandfather, an African, was entrusted at the age of fifteen to a Dutch
sea captain with the understanding that, along with a gift of money,
the boy would receive a European education. This may sound unlikely,
but such arrangements were not uncommon at the time. Certain pros-
perous Africans acted as agents between the Europeans and the
African chiefs who were selling people from their tribes (or other
tribes) into slavery. Obviously someone who could negotiate in a Euro-
pean language with Europeans and at the same time negotiate in an
African language with Africans would be in a privileged position and
able to extract a commission from each side. However, the Dutch sea
captain appears to have reneged on the deal and sold the boy into slav-
ery in Jamaica. He was apparently well treated by his owner and
allowed to marry a fellow African slave, producing a son who not only
proved a gifted linguist but also was chosen to be educated in a number
of European languages. Armed with papers of identification, this son
appears to have set sail from Jamaica to Africa. Unfortunately, he was
apparently shipwrecked, lost all his papers and only survived by
depending on his abilities as a translator and interpreter in different
languages. After a colorful career, he seems to have ended up in Biała
in Poland, where he supposedly married the daughter of a Polish count.
However, Bridgetower’s father made this claim as part of a tissue of
lies about his forebears, which he largely invented to impress first a
French and then an English audience.

5. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

The facts are very different. George Bridgetower’s mother’s name

was Schmidt, and she was in service (possibly as a maid) to the Radzi-
wiłł family, where she met George’s father, who was also a Radziwiłł
retainer. They married, and her first child, George, was born in Biała
Podlaska. The second child, Frederick, arrived when the family had
moved to Hizantstate, and the third, Johannes Albrecht, when the fam-
ily was in Mainz. The two older boys showed obvious musical talents.
Fortunately for them (and for everybody else), they seem to have been
placed under the care of the composer Joseph Haydn, then working as
the head of the orchestra permanently employed by the Esterházys, a
very rich and very grand Polish family. George showed himself to be
so proficient with the violin at an early age that at the age of ten he
was apparently justifiably considered a virtuoso. His father took him
to Paris, obviously hoping to make money from his son’s obvious tal-
ents. Sadly for them, the subsequent French Revolution made Paris an
unlikely place to prosper as a musician or, indeed, as anything else.
Father and son therefore decamped to England, hoping to achieve what
they had not managed in Paris.
In 1788, George and his father commenced the European tour
exploiting the young George’s virtuoso talents. The mother and other
children remained behind, and despite making quite a success of his
son’s talents in England, the father never seems to have wanted his
wife to join him. Possibly she would have cramped his style in the new
outrageous personality and mythology about his origins that he was
busily creating. According to a book published in 1887, Court and Pri-
vate Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte: Being the Journals of Mrs.
Papendiek, George felt a strong sense of grievance that his father was
squandering the money that his son was earning for him and sending
nothing back to support his wife and two children in Germany. When
the Prince of Wales heard this, he not only insisted that the husband
return to his wife but also arranged for a sum of money to be sent to
her annually for her maintenance. She died on September 17, 1807, at
the age of forty-five, and her death registry records that she had two
sons in England. The inevitable legal delays after her death meant that
it wasn’t until 1852 an announcement in The Times invited any descen-
dants of Mary Ann Bridgetower to make a claim on the 800 Saxon

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

dollars she left at her death. This notice at least makes it clear that she
was far from being in poverty when she died. George Bridgetower had
left his mother at the age of ten, but he clearly had strong feelings for
her because it was reported to the chief of police in Paris in September
1841 that he made a special visit to Germany to erect a headstone in
her memory.
The Prince Regent, later to become King George IV, has been
treated badly by historians and posterity in general. His private life
was tumultuously sensational, and he also indulged himself in too many
other pleasures of the flesh, so that he became both bloated and a
delightful target for the vicious caricaturists of his time. What is not
fully appreciated is that throughout all his life he was at the center of
what was happening in the arts of his day. His long relationship with
the architect John Nash has left an indelible mark on London through
the processional way from the imposing façade at Regent’s Park down
through Regent Street to Trafalgar Square and then on to Buckingham
Palace. People often take these achievements for granted. For the
Waterloo Room at Windsor Castle, the prince commissioned a mar-
velous series of portraits of all the protagonists by the best painter of
the day, Thomas Lawrence—it remains a dazzling array. In Brighton,
the Royal Pavilion, designed with John Nash, remains a delightful archi-
tectural tour de force. When first constructed, the pavilion was filled
with music because the prince proved to be a magnificent patron in
the musical world and attracted outstanding musicians and composers
from all over Europe. These were all considerable achievements, but
they have been largely ignored (or indeed mocked) by later genera-
George Bridgetower’s father proved too colorful for the tastes of
British society of the time; although he was at first welcomed with his
virtuoso son, he seems to have alienated almost everybody in a sur-
prisingly short space of time. Samuel Johnson’s close friend, Mrs.
Thrale, at this time had remarried the musician Gabriel Mario Piozzi
and was in Bath in 1789–1790, and she wrote about George and his
father. Johnson not only enjoyed her company but also admired her
perceptive judgment, and we can do so as well. She wrote of them as

5. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

Little Bridgetower—a Boy not quite ten Years old plays on the Violin like a 1st
rate performer—and as the best proof of his Merit,—is paid like one.
Bridgetower is a Mulatto, Son to a Polish Dutchess we are told—and to an
African Negro, the handsomest of his Kind & Colour ever seen. The Father is
with him, wears an Eastern Habit, and has an Address so peculiarly, so singu-
larly fine, no Words will easily describe it. Lofty Politeness, & vivacious Hilar-
ity, were never so combined in any human Creature that I have hitherto met
with. Splendid Acquirements too, with an astonishing Skill in Languages, &
such Power of Conversation as can scarce be destroyed by his own Rage of dis-
playing it, adorn the Manners of the Father; who were he less wonderful would
please better.

Beyond summing up the father as an almost schizophrenic mental

case, Mrs. Thrale went on to make a surprisingly perceptive guess at
his future:
He is a fine Fellow with all his Faults; and one is sorry to see that he might sink
and extinguish like the Stick of a Sky Rocket, after entertaining us with a
charming Blaze, and half alarming our Fears by the loud Noise made at his ris-

In February 1790, the older Bridgetower’s gambling debts finally

put him in prison until the Prince of Wales paid the debt for him. A
fortnight later, he made a scene at a performance of the “Messiah” at
Covent Garden and had to be removed. He seems at this point to have
had a nervous breakdown and been confined to the equivalent of a
lunatic asylum. When he recovered, the Prince of Wales (as stated ear-
lier) managed to get him to return to his wife in Germany and to leave
George behind under the prince’s patronage.
Brighton:–After years of hearing about the talents of George Bridgetower, I
have finally taken him into my patronage. He will live in my Royal Pavilion in
Brighton, teaching me music theory and playing in my personal band. This will
mean taking the boy away from his parents, but I am sure he will understand
the benefits of this; after all, who would turn down the fame and fortune of
being the Prince Regent’s favourite? I will pay the father £25 to take over the
care of his son.
[Signed The Prince Regent]

In 1799, Bridgetower’s father seems to have returned. He had the

temerity to get up at a private function of the Prince of Wales and

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

begin to speak in favor of abolishing slavery. It is easy to imagine that

such a speech at such a time in such a place, and in the very presence
of the prince, must have gone down like a lead balloon.
It should also be remembered that exactly at this time Chevalier
de Saint-Georges (discussed in chapter 3) was in London mixing in
the same musical circles as the Bridgetowers. George was only sixteen
at the time, and it is reasonable to speculate that he might have not
only met Chevalier de Saint-Georges but even have taken tuition from
him, although there is no clear evidence to support this theory. We do
know that at the onset of the French Revolution, Saint-Georges headed
an all-black regiment fighting alongside other revolutionaries to defend
the new republic. In the heady early days of the revolution, the French
assembly abolished slavery (though Napoleon eventually reimposed
slavery in French possessions once the idealism of the revolution had
passed). There is no written or published evidence of George
Bridgetower’s attitude toward the abolition of slavery, but it is surely
reasonable to assume in view of his color, and the attitudes of both his
father and Saint-Georges, that, as a civilized man, he would have felt
the same as they did.
Bridgetower’s father then seems to disappear into obscurity until
the appearance of a report in The Times for September 1805 that refers
to “impostures” or confidence tricksters being brought before the mag-
istrates in Exeter. One of these men was “the pretended Rev. John
Augustus Polygreen Bridgetower, otherwise Lieutenant-General Men-
tor, lately serving under Toussaint L’Ouverture, otherwise the Black
Prince, etc. This person speaks fluently the English, French, German,
and Polish languages.”
For young George Bridgetower, the Prince of Wales’ patronage
ensured not only that he had a regular salary but also the opportunity
to earn a lot more from additional appearances quite apart from being
in the prince’s orchestra. He became a well-known and much-admired
figure on the English music scene. The composer Giovanni Battista
Viotti wrote to him as “My dear George.” Bridgetower also became
friends with Johann Cramer, the German pianist, composer and music
publisher, as well as the organist Thomas Attwood. Dr. Charles Hague,
professor of music at Cambridge (where Bridgetower took a degree in

5. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

music), several times asked him to play at his concerts, and Samuel
Wesley wrote that “George Polgreen Bridgetower whom they used to
denominate the African Prince, is justly to be ranked with the very
first masters of the violin.”
In 1802, the Treaty of Paris established an uneasy peace between
Napoleon’s France and the United Kingdom. As a result, a number of
English tourists descended on France, long starved of the opportunity
to enjoy French culture, and George Bridgetower obtained leave from
the Prince Regent to visit his mother in Dresden. There he gave con-
certs on July 24, 1802, and March 18, 1803, which were so successful
that he applied for and received extended leave to go on to Vienna. He
took with him not only news of his success in Dresden but also doc-
uments establishing his royal patronage in London, and these gave him
entry to the grandest musical circles in Vienna, which included Prince
Lichnowsky, a Polish aristocrat and Beethoven’s patron. George
Bridgetower was therefore introduced to Beethoven.
Although England and France were engaged in a seemingly life-
and-death struggle, with the British busily building Martello Towers
all along the coast to repel a possible French invasion, and, of course,
the Battle of Trafalgar was looming ahead in 1805, these wars had
much less impact on European society than the later ones of World
War I and World War II in the twentieth century. Musicians, com-
posers, players and dancers moved relatively freely across international
borders irrespective of what was happening between the armies of the
period. It is worth remembering that the novels of Jane Austen never
once refer to the Anglo-French struggle of her time.
This was also a period that marked an astonishing change in the
status of the creative artist. Prince Lichnowsky may have been
Beethoven’s patron, but as Beethoven’s career progressed, he no longer
needed patrons. His substantial income came from the sales of his
published work (unlike his teacher Haydn, who had remained in the
employ of the Esterházy family as essentially a senior servant). Across
civilized Europe, artists found themselves able to exist comfortably on
their earnings, irrespective of patrons. As his career progressed,
Bridgetower no longer needed the Prince Regent. His income as a pro-
fessional musician and a virtuoso violinist came from his prowess as

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

a teacher, a composer, and a virtuoso performer. He, too, like Beethoven,

could achieve an independence from patronage and be his own master.
In 1803, Beethoven was working on his Sonata for Pianoforte and
Violin in A (Opus 47), known as the “Kreutzer” Sonata. In fact, the
sonata’s first performance was at a concert given by Bridgetower at the
Augarten-Halle in Vienna; Beethoven himself was at the piano. The
parts for the sonata were copied from Beethoven’s hastily scribbled
notation and were only just ready in time for the opening. Bridgetower
had to read the violin part of the second movement from Beethoven’s
manuscript itself. The audience included Prince Esterházy; the Russian
diplomat and friend of Beethoven, Count Razumovsky; and the British
ambassador. Bridgetower wrote on a copy of the manuscript an alter-
ation that he included in the violin part, echoing the music for the
piano in the first movement. Beethoven was delighted with this change,
rising and saying, “Noch einmal, mein lieber Bursch!” (“Once more,
my dear fellow!”). He gave his own tuning fork to Bridgetower as a
present to show his appreciation, and this instrument is still to be
found in the British Library. Clearly Bridgetower and Beethoven felt
pleased with each other and admired each other. Very few people man-
aged to retain Beethoven’s friendship for long.
The violinist J.W. Thirlwell, wrote in the Musical World (Decem-
ber 1858), “In respect to the Kreutzer Sonata, Beethoven told me, that
when it was written, Bridgetower and he were constant companions,
and on the first copy was a dedication to his friend Bridgetower, but
when it was first published, they had some silly quarrel about a girl,
and in consequence Beethoven scratched out the name of Bridgetower
and inserted that of Kreutzer, a man whom he had never met.”
Beethoven’s own words on the original manuscript read, “Sonata
mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer, gran pazzo e compos-
itore mulattico” (“Mulatto sonata composed for the mulatto Bridgetower,
great fool and mulatto composer”). Obviously Bridgetower and
Beethoven were happy to play together, but it is a sign of the political
tension of the time that Bridgetower thought it diplomatic when apply-
ing to the authorities for permission to hold the concert that he signed
himself “August Bridgetower.” Obviously you could never be too careful.
It should be realized that although Beethoven called Bridgetower

5. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

a Mulatto, he was not using the term in any sense intended to diminish
Bridgetower’s status. He was simply stating a fact. He might just as
well have written “the Englishman Bridgetower.” He saw Bridgetower
as a fellow musician and a virtuoso on the violin, as well as someone
able to improvise quickly when faced with a difficult-to-read notation.
There have, of course, been claims that Beethoven himself had black
ancestry somewhere. Just as Beethoven does not seem to have worried
about Bridgetower’s ethnic origins, nobody has worried about
Beethoven’s either. It was much the same later with Alexandre Dumas.
When we think of The Three Musketeers, we do not think of a black
author; we think of an author, and a very famous one too.
While working for the Prince Regent, Bridgetower impressively
managed to continue his academic studies. He was elected to the Royal
Society of Musicians in 1807, and in 1811 he earned a bachelor of music
degree from Cambridge. His project for the degree was an anthem—
a poem written by F.A. Rawdon—and this was performed with a full
orchestra and chorus at Great St. Mary’s Church on June 30, 1811. The
Times on July 2 reviewed it, claiming that “the composition was elab-
orate—and rich and highly accredited to the talents of the Graduate.”
Bridgetower flourished as a teacher, and in 1812 he published a
small piano work, Diatonica Armonica, dedicated to his pupils. For
the Philharmonic Society’s first season in 1813, he led the performance
of Beethoven’s “Quintett.” He also played second violin in a Mozart
quartet. By this time he was fully launched on a professional career,
and his name surfaces in a number of letters and memoirs as being in
Rome 1825 and 1827, London in 1843 and 1846, and Vienna and Paris
during the revolutionary year 1848. Vincent Novello signed a letter to
Bridgetower as “your much obliged old pupil and professional admirer.”
Of his work, as well as his Anthem in 1811 and Diatonica Armonica in
1812, a violin concerto and the Jubilee quintet for string duets, trios,
quartets, songs, etc. have survived. Bridgetower died in Peckham in
1860 and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery; his will left his prop-
erty, less than £1,000, to his late wife’s sister living in Scotland.
It is difficult to summarize Bridgetower’s many achievements. The
first was maintaining and keeping royal patronage from the Prince
Regent. Second was his academic career, which included a Cambridge

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

degree. Third, he achieved eminence as a virtuoso performer and, as

such, dominated much of the musical performance of his time. Fourth,
he was acknowledged as an outstanding teacher, and the subsequent
generation of musical luminaries included many who were proud to
claim him as their teacher. Fifth, judging from his published works
that have survived to the present, it is clear that he was a composer of
considerable merit. Sixth, his influence was not restricted to England
alone—he traveled widely to the major musical centers of Europe,
where he was both successful and greatly admired. Finally (and, for
the purposes of this book, perhaps most important of all), he tran-
scended being a black man and became a greatly admired, much-loved
and surprisingly popular musician.
v v v
Vincent E. M. Osborne is the founder and artistic director of the
Black British Classical Foundation (BBCF). On leaving the RAF,
Osborne trained at the Birmingham Theatre School as an actor and
teacher of speech and drama. He has worked extensively in repertory
companies, including the National Theatre, and the West End. He also
created the first black soap opera—Brothers and Sisters, commissioned
by BBC 2 in 1998. Osborne is now a campaigner for the BBCF, which
is a continuation and an expansion of the work he began in 1985 and
which culminated in the inaugural Voice of Black Opera competition
based in London in October 2018.
To what extent did your social background, the way you were
brought up in the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, encourage you to
take up classical music?
I guess the main advantage is having parents and an extended
family that were well educated. Not only academically but were also
very fond of and engaged in the arts. However, they never thought the
arts or sports should be a career.
How difficult was it for you to study classical music as a career?
I don’t believe it would have been a problem if I wished to study
music as a career. In those days educational grants were very generous.

5. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

I won one to study drama that covered my mortgage, fees in full and
a living allowance. My music studies were privately paid for by my par-
ents until I stopped at around grade 8. This was because my teacher
called me a naughty monkey! … Looking back, I guess she would have
used the term regardless if I was white, yellow or brown! Unfortunately,
I still had the sensitivities of St. Kitts within!

What sort of role models were available for you?

Without sounding conceited, I don’t think I had one outside of
our very large family and friends. In those days I don’t remember the
term ever being used.
We were surrounded by professionals who worked in all fields.
We went to the theater at the Birmingham Old Rep, where my passion
for the art form grew, and my first date with my girlfriend (now my
wife) was to see Pygmalion! We were always at the Alexander Theatre
to see the D’Oyly Carte productions of G&S. At Birmingham Town
Hall, I saw Arthur Rubinstein, and maybe he was someone that I
thought I would love to be like! Also, there was a family friend, Eric
Pemberton, who studied with the same piano teacher as me, but at a
higher level.

What were the main differences between Kittitian society and

English society when you moved to England?
It is over 57 years ago, but I don’t recall any major differences.
That, I guess, was because of our parents creating a stable home life;
our food, in the main, was still the same. School was different, a lot
more relaxed and not as disciplined as home. The worst experience
was school meals when we were given what my brother and I thought
was porridge with prunes—in fact, it was rice pudding. Until this day,
I have never had the ghastly pudding since!
As young people, we were involved with the church, Boys Brigade,
youth club, tennis club and a Saturday drama club at the Old Rep, The-
atre 68. On Sundays I played piano for four services, having served on
the altar of All Saints Church, where we were acolytes, rising to become

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Did you find English society in any way similar to the society in
which you grew up?
Yes, on the whole very similar, but we mixed with other families
who also had come from the Caribbean, with the same values. The
main difference was weather, of course—also lack of politeness. I
remember going to the doctor’s, and at home we would never enter a
room without greeting those already in the room. We did the same
here, on a visit to the doctor’s, and everyone looked at us as though
we were mad.

Did you find much evidence of racism while living in England?

Apart from the odd racial incident, life was fine. When I became
the first black head boy at Queensbridge School, my deputy, who I
thought was a good friend (we would travel to school together), was
angry and swore that he was going to rub some of that black off of me!

Was there much racism in the English classical music world?

I think racism, soft or direct, is found throughout English society
and therefore [is] no different in classical music.
Back in the 1960s I don’t recall any hostility to my being at a clas-
sical concert. However, about two years ago, I had an interrogation by
the front-of-house manager at the ROH who could not believe that I
was in the right place!
At the first night of Porgy & Bess at Glyndebourne, one old girl to
the other in my earshot said, “Tell me, are they really black people
singing, or are they white singers blacked up?” Again, that day, as we
were going to the ha-ha lawn, one person to the other said, “I know
Glyndebourne is posh, but fancy bringing your black butler!”
At an interview with the Radio 3 controller, when, toward the end
of the conversation, I asked how many blacks worked at the station,
he responded, “None; when I find one that can spell Tchaikovsky, I
will employ them.”

Do you think black classical musicians, composers, conductors

and producers are appreciated in England?

5. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

Maybe not as much as they should be. “He came unto his own,
and his own knew him not.”
First your own people need to take to you, so black British need
to engage with the genre, attend concerts and be out and proud black
classically British! With that engagement as a core lead, the establish-
ment will follow, as they will see the financial possibilities. Look at
Carlos Acosta!
Do you think music plays as big a part in English social life as it
does in St. Kitts?
Absolutely yes! All musical genres have their devotees, and I suspect
that is true wherever you go. Classical music has to compete against
several styles of popular music in England, and it’s the same in St. Kitts.
What, if anything, did you admire about the English classical
music world?
The quantity, quality and range. I would have used diversity, but
it might be misconstrued. The elephant in the room is the lack of diver-
What persuaded you to stay here in England?
Life gets in the way of living! Having a family, my businesses, “The
Brixtonian Rum Shops” and age—I just could not be bothered. How-
ever, I would relish the opportunity to move overseas and begin a new
Do you see much cooperation between Kittitians and English
classical musicians?
There is one composer who is from home, and we are supportive
of each other. However, we have not collaborated as yet, but there is
an opportunity afoot!
What are your hopes and dreams for yourself/black British clas-
sical musicians, conductors and composers in terms of BBCF?
It would be wonderful if annually we could create an opera pro-
duction in partnership with one of the major opera companies. This

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

should be made compulsory for organizations that receive money from

the nation (i.e., Arts Council funding). This would be where the BAME
artist, from cast to production staff, [would] lead in the conception
and delivery of the production. Two operas I would love to produce
would be Othello and Rigoletto.

Are any of Bridgetower’s compositions still performed?

For the degree of BMus at Cambridge University, Bridgetower
wrote an anthem based on a poem written by F. A. Rawdon, which was
performed with a full orchestra and chorus at Great St. Mary’s Church
at the end of June 1811. The Times, on July 2, in its review claimed that
“the composition was elaborate—and rich and highly accredited to the
talents of the Graduate.” A year later, Bridgetower published a small
piano work, Diatonica Armonica. Although his reputation was firmly
based on his brilliant skills as a virtuoso player, he clearly had gifts as
a composer—gifts that were recognized by his contemporaries. Sadly,
little of what he had composed has survived, and he has not managed
to achieve much in the way of status or reputation with subsequent
generations. What works he did compose are certainly no longer part
of any current orchestral repertoire. Sadly, he has no real status as a
composer for the present day.

To what extent is it likely that Beethoven may have had black

ancestry somewhere?
Was Shakespeare gay? Was Beethoven black? There is a tendency
for any oppressed minority to try and claim as many famous person-
alities as possible. In fact, as far as Beethoven is concerned, to say
nothing of Shakespeare, the claim seems to be stretching given facts
a little too far for comfort. Beethoven was swarthy, but there is no real
evidence of any recent black ancestry. Undoubtedly humankind orig-
inated in Africa, and in that sense all Europeans clearly have unequiv-
ocally black ancestors, but other than that Beethoven seems to have
been as firmly European as anybody.

Has history been fair to the musical influence of the Prince


5. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

Historians are only just beginning to realize the extent of the

Prince Regent’s influence and the widespread respect which artistic
circles had for him in his own lifetime. His patronage of Bridgetower
is a small footnote in the general cultural history of the period, but it
is illuminating. The prince not only knew and appreciated what was
important in the music of his time but was willing to spend time and
money to encourage artistic musical development of his day. He also
had a widespread influence on both painting and architecture, and we
are still indebted to him for major developments in these fields too.
There can be no doubt that his sexual adventures, his disastrous mar-
riage and his easy surrender to the pleasures of food and drink made
him easy prey for scandal, gossip and the lively cartoonists of his day.
We are only beginning to realize that behind this appalling facade of
misbehavior [created by] the popular media of the time was an intel-
ligent, sensitive and imaginative upholder of the important elements
in the culture of his time, to which he himself undoubtedly made a
major contribution.
How usual was it for professional musicians to travel around
Until the French Revolution of 1789, it should be realized that
although there were major divides in European culture, there was also
(particularly among the aristocratic elite) a general sense that European
culture was indivisible. Protestants and Roman Catholics both shared
a common musical heritage. Not only that, but, particularly as the
spread of science established an age of reason in the eighteenth century,
there was a general sense that Europe increasingly shared in the com-
mon advance of scientific knowledge. It should be remembered that
although Russia did not experience the Renaissance (or, indeed, the
Reformation that Europe struggled with), Peter the Great [Peter Alex-
eyevich, 1672–1725] deliberately set out to Europeanize his backward
Russian society. In that sense, he was opting into a general cultural
pool of shared assumptions and artistic beliefs. This background made
it relatively easy for artists, particularly musicians untrammeled by a
disadvantage of language, to travel around Europe. It should be remem-
bered that El Greco [Doménikos Theotokópoulos, 1541–1614] in Spain

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

was originally Greek, that Sir Anthony van Dyck [1599–1641] was orig-
inally Dutch, as was Sir Peter Paul Rubens [1577–1640], but both van
Dyck and Rubens settled happily in England, where the architect of
their day, Inigo Jones, had not only traveled to Europe but had been
deeply influenced by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio.
This common European culture, admittedly more than slightly
restricted to an aristocratic elite, was rudely upset by the French Rev-
olution and the subsequent success of Napoleon in militarily domi-
nating most of Europe. Whereas in the eighteenth century young
English aristocrats had gone on the Grand Tour as a recognized part
of their upbringing, Napoleon made these cross-cultural experiences
much more difficult for the aristocratic elite. The brief Peace of Amiens
in 1802 unleashed a surge of upper-class English travelers into Europe,
much noted at the time. What was less realized was that throughout
the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, musicians and
dancers traveled around Europe in a constant flow of cultural cross-
referencing. At the end of the eighteenth century, the English House
of Commons closed proceedings early so that Members of Parliament
could attend a theatrical performance by the French dancer Gaetano
Vestris [1729–1808]. In Shakespeare’s time it was common for English
drama companies to tour in Europe, particularly Germany, odd as this
may seem to us. Bridgetower was in no sense exceptional in moving
around Europe as he did. Music was a common language of culture
which everyone spoke, and war, even in Napoleon’s time [1769–1821],
was much less total than it subsequently became. England and France
were engaged in a struggle that some historians would like us to think
was desperate for their survival, but it is worth remembering that in
the novels of Jane Austen it is not even mentioned.
How much is known about George’s brother Frederick, and to
what extent did they work together?
Although Frederick had the good luck, like his elder brother, to
be trained as a musician under the auspices of the Radziwiłł family, he
does not seem to have shared his brother’s virtuoso talent. Yet he did
become a more than competent cellist and an influential musician in
his own right. Mrs. Papendiek, in her journals, wrote of him as a com-

5. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

petent cellist without his brother’s exceptional talent. He joined his

brother in London in 1805 and then moved to Dublin in Ireland, where
he established himself as a major influence in musical circles. He was
a soloist in performances at the Rotunda, Dublin’s main concert hall.
He set up his own series of annual concerts and established himself as
a “Professor of Music,” teaching cello and pianoforte in Exchange
Court, a fashionable center for Dublin society. He published some of
his own compositions, but what might have been a promising music
career was cut short by his early death while still in his thirties in
Newry, County Down, in August 1813. He left a young widow and two
small children, a boy and a girl.
Amazingly, George Bridgetower’s father had created a ridiculous
mythology around himself [about] being descended from an African
prince. This was amazing enough, but it descended into almost farce
when, in 1868, the British Abyssinian expedition overthrew the
Abyssinian emperor Tewodros. The British foreign secretary Lord
Stanley received a letter from George Bridgetower’s granddaughter
laying claim to the Abyssinian throne based at least in part on her fam-
ily’s relations with the Prince Regent. Even more ludicrously, a profes-
sor of music, Frederick Joseph Bridgetower, also laid claim in a
Liverpool newspaper to the Abyssinian throne based on the claims of
his grandfather Frederick Bridgetower. The media took neither of them
seriously, and eventually the Liverpool descendant put an advertise-
ment in the Liverpool Daily Post offering his title and his claim to the
throne to anyone prepared to pay £500 down and give him an annuity
of £250 a year. He received no offers, and at this point the Bridgetowers
recede from history.
Peckham was not the most salubrious of districts; did George die
in relative obscurity and poverty? And if so, why?
Although “south of the river” Thames, Peckham in 1860 was a
flourishing suburb of London. It should be remembered that art critic
John Ruskin’s parents lived in affluence not so far away, and in the
neighboring Dulwich village the very grand buildings of Dulwich Col-
lege public school attested to the local affluence. Dulwich Picture
Gallery is the world’s first purpose-built public art gallery, designed

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

by Sir John Soane in 1817. George Bridgetower ended a musical life

filled with success in comfortable respectability.
It has been rumored that his violin is now owned by a collector
in California. A letter from Beethoven to Bridgetower was sold in Lon-
don for $3,600 in 1973. A letter from Vincent Novello (1781–1861),
activist in the Bach revival in England, is signed “your much obliged
old pupil and professional admirer.”
Why has so little been written about him since?
Bridgetower’s reputation is as a virtuoso performer, not a com-
poser, but there have been occasional references in the literature to
his compositions, and I would like to summarize what is known about
them. The two works to have survived that are indisputably his are
Diatonica Armonica, a collection of short pieces for the pianoforte
dedicated to his pupils that was published in London in 1812, and
Henry: A Ballad, for medium voice and piano dedicated to the Princess
of Wales. Three other works in the British Library “composed by an
African,” which Edwards speculated might be by Bridgetower, are now
known to be by Ignatius Sancho. The music of an anthem for orchestra
and chorus that Bridgetower composed as an exercise for the award
of the BMus degree by Cambridge University in 1811 is not listed in
any library catalog that I know of and may not have been preserved.
A potentially more significant loss—if indeed it has been lost and is
not lying around unidentified in a manuscript somewhere—is a violin
concerto that Bridgetower played at a number of concerts between
1805 and 1808. The late Arthur La Brew discovered in James Duff
Brown’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, in the article on
Bridgetower, a reference to an otherwise unknown Jubilee Concerto
for Strings and, more vaguely, to string duets, trios, quartets and songs,
although the author gives no details and clearly did not rate him highly
as a composer. The present whereabouts of these works, if indeed they
ever existed and were by Bridgetower, are unknown. Finally, there was
a claim made in the 1970s that manuscripts of a symphony and double
concerto for violin, cello and orchestra by Bridgetower had turned up
unexpectedly in Italy. No source or location was given; it has never
been confirmed and for the present must be regarded as spurious.

5. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

A British film, A Mulatto Song, directed by Topher Campbell, was

released in 1996. The cast included Colin McFarlane as Frederick
DeAugust, [i.e., Bridgetower’s father], Cole Mejas as the young
Bridgetower, and Everton Nelson as the adult Bridgetower.
The Bridgetower String Quartet (violinists Bruce Mack and Har-
riette G. Hurd, violist Leon D. Neal, and cellist Jerome Wright) was
established in 1973, affiliated with Boston’s Concerts in Black and
White, and had at least one event taped for telecast by WGBH. In addi-
tion to a year’s residency in Brazil, it toured the United States and par-
ticipated in Howard University’s Andrew W. Mellon Recital Series in
the 1980s. It disbanded when Bruce Mack returned to Brazil.


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

These days almost nobody has heard of the black English com-
poser Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Only those interested in musical his-
tory realize how phenomenally successful and popular he once was.
He studied with contemporaries like Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan
Williams, names that everybody still knows and reveres and whose
music is still widely available and listened to. At one time, Coleridge-
Taylor was regarded as their equal, performed just as often and listened
to with equal appreciation. He held his place in the public’s affection
and regard until the Second World War but then astonishingly fell
from favor, was seldom (if ever) performed and became almost totally
forgotten. Why was this so? Regrettably, racism here rears its ugly head
and cannot be discounted. After the war, particularly with the influx
of immigrants from the Caribbean and the controversies and riots that
occurred, it did not pay to be black in the world of classical music. But
we are leaping ahead—let us first look at the man and his achievements
and raise our hands in wonder at his widespread influence on European
and American classical music.
Coleridge-Taylor started off with depressing disadvantages. He
appears to have been illegitimate at a time when bastardy meant
extreme social disfavor, and he was black at a time when the black race
was thought of as being distinctly inferior. He was also poor and
throughout his life had to struggle to earn enough to keep going. His
father was Daniel Peter Hughes, born in Sierra Leone and graduated
from King’s College Hospital in London, who, at the age of twenty-
five, qualified as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He

6. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

returned to Sierra Leone when

his medical practice in London
failed, and little else is known of
his fate.
Yet Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
also had advantages. His mother,
in spite of having a child of ques-
tionable origins, married a stor-
age railwayman called George
Evans, who could provide a steady
(if meager) economic environ-
ment for her to bring up both
Coleridge-Taylor and three more
children whom she had with her
new husband. The family lived in
Croydon, then a provincial part
of outlying London. It was very
much a musical family. His step-
father taught Coleridge-Taylor
the basics of reading music and
playing the violin.
Other local and more pros- Samuel Coleridge- Taylor, portrait
perous citizens soon took an aged 23; photographer unknown.
interest in the boy’s early educa- Coleridge-Taylor began playing the
violin at the age of five and joined the
tion. In 1890, at the age of fif-
choir of a Presbyterian church in
teen, Coleridge-Taylor managed Croydon, where H.A. Walters guided
to get a scholarship to the Royal his progress and arranged his admit-
College of Music as a violin stu- tance to the Royal College of Music
dent, where he found contempo- in 1890. Coleridge- Taylor came to
prominence in 1898 at the Gloucester
raries like Gustav Holst and Festival with his Ballade in A Minor,
Ralph Vaughan Williams, and which was followed by his most out-
where, at the age of seventeen, he standing achievement, the trilogy
enrolled under Professor Charles for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra
of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, The
Villiers Stanford to study compo- Death of Minnehaha, and Hiawatha’s
sition. By the time he left college, Departure (© British Library Board
Coleridge- Taylor was already a MS54316folio 319).

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

published, widely performed and recognized composer. Edward Elgar,

for example, when he found himself unable to find the time to accept
a commission from the Three Choirs Festival, recommended
Coleridge-Taylor in his place, writing, “He still wants recognition and
is far away the cleverest fellow going amongst the young men.”
When Coleridge-Taylor graduated from the Royal College of
Music at the age of twenty, he had already produced more music that
was performed than composers like Holst and Vaughan Williams at
the same age. Unlike them, however, he had to maintain a range of
teaching (and later conducting) jobs to keep himself afloat.
The work for which he was most widely known, and which estab-
lished him as a major composer, was Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, based
on the 1855 epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about the
“Red Indian” in which Hiawatha, a legend from Native American folk-
lore, falls in love with the squaw Minnehaha, discovers corn and
invents the written language. He sold this work outright to Novello &
Company for only 15 pounds, and it went on to make a small fortune
for the publisher, being widely performed in both Europe and America,
but none of the profits came Coleridge- Taylor’s way in royalties since
he had sold it outright. He wrote two sequels that formed the Hiawatha
trilogy—The Death of Minnehaha in October 1989 and Hiawatha’s
Departure in 1900, for which Novello was prepared to pay 250 pounds,
enabling Coleridge-Taylor to marry a white fellow student named Jessie
Fleetwood Walmisley. That same year, the Afro-American civil rights
activist W.E.B. Du Bois was at a performance of Hiawatha’s Departure
at a concert in Birmingham. The two men became friends, and Du
Bois would later support Coleridge-Taylor during his visit to Amer-
By 1904, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast had been performed over two
hundred times in England alone. Novello consistently published
Coleridge-Taylor’s work, and it is worth noting, as we are concerned
with the black influence on European classical music, that Vincent
Novello, the founder of the famous musical publishing firm, was taught
by George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, the influential black vio-
linist of Regency times discussed in the previous chapter.
When the Royal College of Music first performed one of

6. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Coleridge- Taylor’s early works, Holst played the trombone and

Vaughan Williams the triangle. But this was far from being primus
inter pares (first among equals). Coleridge-Taylor was black. His nick-
name in his state school was “coaley,” and at one point his fellow pupils
tried to set fire to his curly hair to see whether it would burn. All his
early life, he must have known and felt that he was different, that he
was an outsider, and although he was hardly ever the victim of physical
violence, taunts and jeers can come close to breaking hearts (if not
bones). Under these circumstances, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford could
hardly have been more protective and understanding toward
Coleridge-Taylor. There is a revealing story told by Coleridge-Taylor’s
daughter about an unpleasant moment at the Royal College of Music
when an older student directed a racial and abusive sneer toward
Stanford, passing by at the critical moment, overheard the insult. Placing his
arm around Coleridge-Taylor’s shoulder he led him away and took him to his
own room, where he spoke kindly to him, endeavouring to erase the terrible
hurt of the older student’s sneers. His consoling words ended by assuring the
boy that he had “more music in his little finger than [the offending student] in
the whole of his body.”

Coleridge-Taylor’s marriage to a white woman proved to be a

happy one. But it would be nice to know more of his inner thoughts
and feelings about his color and his race. Musically he was brought up
in an entirely European convention. Yet, of course, already in his own
time, things were changing. Johannes Brahms was responding to
Hungarian folk music, Antonín Dvořák to bohemian music, Edvard
Hagerup Grieg to Norwegian music, and, a little later, Vaughan
Williams and Holst to English folk music. It must have been close to
earth-shattering for Coleridge-Taylor to hear Afro-American music
and become aware of something equally exciting and different embed-
ded in an Afro-American context. In the preface to the published edi-
tion of his Twenty-Four Negro Melodies, he writes, “What Brahms has
done for the Hungarian folk music … I have tried to do for these negro
Throughout the nineteenth century, England became increasingly
aware of the appalling treatment of black people in America. It is worth

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

remembering that England had abolished slavery throughout its

empire in 1807. In America, abolition did not come about until 1865,
at the end of the Civil War. Coleridge-Taylor inevitably became much
more involved than the average Englishman in the black struggle for
equality in America. Long before he himself took any part in American
affairs, he became a surprisingly potent icon for Americans involved
in the struggle. He was seen as a black man creating music that was
as powerful and influential as anything else at the time. This in itself
made him, in American eyes, someone to be both admired for his
achievements and treasured as an example of what black men could
do. The first American performance of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast was
so effective that it was repeated two days later. Among his American
admirers were Harry T. Burleigh and Mrs. M. E. Hilyer, two colored
amateur singers. They formed a Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society in
Washington, D.C., in 1901, formed entirely by more than two hundred
colored singers with a black conductor. They repeatedly asked
Coleridge-Taylor to visit them and conduct his works. Ellsworth Janifer
has remarked:
Coleridge-Taylor’s modesty and dignity and his skill as a conductor and com-
poser made such a striking impression in this country that a new image of the
serious Negro musician gradually began to evolve for the first time in Ameri-
can history. His “Hiawatha” had become one of the most popular works with
American and English choral groups in the first decade of the twentieth cen-
tury, and with this masterpiece he proved to a race-conscious America, and to
the world, that no one ethnic group held a monopoly upon musical genius. But
more than this, his visits were a symbol of hope to aspiring Negro American
composers struggling to assert their individuality in the face of almost insur-
mountable racial prejudice.

At this time there were two main strands in the black struggle for
equality in America. One, headed by Booker T. Washington, believed
in nonviolence and compromise. At the other extreme was a movement
led by W.E.B. Du Bois, which supported a much more militant and
aggressive approach to confronting the white community. When
Coleridge-Taylor finally accepted Hilyer’s invitation to visit America,
Hilyer sent him in advance a biography of Frederick Douglass and a
copy of Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk to give him information on
how Africans were treated in America.

6. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

We cannot be sure exactly where Coleridge-Taylor’s sympathies

lay. He was certainly admired by Washington, who wrote:
Mr. Coleridge-Taylor has written much, has achieved much. His work, more-
over, possesses not only charm and power but distinction, the individual note.
The genuineness, depth and intensity of his feeling, coupled with his mastery
of technique, spontaneity, and ability to think in his own way, explain the force
of the appeal his compositions make. Another element in the persuasiveness of
his music lies in its naturalness, the directness of its appeal, the use of simple
and expressive melodic themes, a happy freedom from the artificial. These
traits, employed in the freedom of modern musical speech, coupled with emo-
tional power and supported by ample technical resource, beget an utterance
quick to evoke response.

Of course, Coleridge-Taylor was also a friend of Du Bois, and in his

visits to America he must have been appalled at the segregation, vic-
timization and exploitation of black people. After his first visit, he
I met a young coloured lady of great educational attainments and of refined
tastes. She was travelling south of Washington and was turned out of the car.
Coloured and white are separated when travelling on the other side of a line
drawn south of Washington. In the car for coloured passengers a hulking
lounger wiped his feet on the hair of her head. Other indignities, too, were
perpetrated, for which there was absolutely no redress.

However, when in America Coleridge-Taylor was treated as a celebrity.

He dined at the White House and was even allowed to conduct white
American orchestras—something unheard of for a black man until
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died of acute pneumonia on September
1, 1912, at his home, Aldwick, St. Leonards Road, Croydon. He was
only 37, which (in classical musical terms) was approaching the stage
of maturity. His funeral service was held at St. Michael and All Angels
Church in Croydon. No less a prominent figure than Sir Hubert Parry,
in the Musical Times, made clear how deeply he felt the loss of such a
gifted musician:
There will be thousands who will feel a sense of saddening loss when, in sur-
roundings in which it had become familiar, they miss the arresting face in
which gentleness, humour and modesty were so strangely combined with
authoritative decision when matters of art were in question.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

It is to the general credit that people accepted command and criticism from
one whose appearance was so strikingly unoccidental. The racial combination
could not leave people quite indifferent any more than it could be indifferent
in the artistic product. But when Coleridge-Taylor came to the Royal College
of Music he was accepted on terms of full equality, and soon won the affection
of every one with whom he came into contact.

What is important for our purposes is recognizing that a com-

poser brought up in a completely European convention became excited
by and responded to the African influence on American music. Then
he gave it additional status and importance by extending it in his own
work so that, in turn, he himself greatly influenced the development
of classical music in America, England and even Europe.
Coleridge-Taylor produced a wide variety of musical works respond-
ing to Afro-American developments in music. He was widely respected
and frequently performed both in his time and in the years after his
death. Then, after World War II, he fell from public favor—so much
so that today’s generation of music lovers hardly remembers him at
all. Regrettably, particularly in England, which was the main impetus
behind his international reputation, it would seem that the color of
the skin and bias of his music in favor of Afro-American elements
coincided with racist prejudice and increasing anti–American preju-
dice. None of this, however, can take away from his undoubted achieve-
Happily, there are signs that Coleridge-Taylor has not been con-
signed to what we can appropriately call outer darkness. His violin
concerto, which had not been performed for 70 years, was finally
revived in 1980 at the London Guildhall School of Music, featuring
Sergiu Schwartz on the solo violin. In 2004, the piece was recorded
for the very first time by the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra,
with Philippe Graffin as the soloist, and then by the BBC Scottish Sym-
phony Orchestra, with Antony Marwood as the soloist. Coleridge-
Taylor’s work is repeatedly performed by the violinist Rachel Barton-
Pine, including Deep River and his Romance in G Major. In Detroit,
the Sphinx Organization (founded by black violinist Aaron Dworkin)
also performs Coleridge-Taylor’s music. In June 2014, BBC Radio 3’s
Composer of the Week host Donald Macleod presented a 55-minute

6. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

program that explored the life and music of Coleridge-Taylor, and then,
in October 2016, BBC Radio 3 presented performances of Samuel
Coleridge-Taylor and Julius Sibelius.
On March 23, 2013, the City Choir Dunedin, based in New
Zealand, celebrated its 150-year musical heritage (1863–2013) with a
performance of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast at the Knox Church
Dunedin. David Burchell conducted it, and Mathew Wilson was the
tenor. In America, on May 5, 2013, Reynard Burns appeared as a guest
conductor of the Island Symphony Orchestra (based in Suffolk County,
New York) in a performance of Coleridge-Taylor’s Petite Suite de Con-
cert at the Van Nostrand Theatre, Brentwood, New York. This piece
was written in 1910, just two years before his death.
The Longfellow Chorus and Orchestra (with Lydia Forbes and Tai
Murray as violin soloists and Rodrick Dixon as tenor) performed
Coleridge-Taylor’s Keep Me from Sinkin’ Down, Bamboula: Rhapsodic
Dance, Violin Concerto in G, and Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast as part of
the Longfellow Choral Festival on August 13, 2013. Charles Kaufman,
artistic director of the Longfellow Chorus, hosted the event.
Chineke! Orchestra (which translates as “the spirit of creation” in
the Nigerian Igbo language) is a professional classical orchestra based
in London. It was formed by the double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku. On
September 13, 2015, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre,
Chineke! Orchestra (conducted by Wayne Marshall) performed
Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade for Orchestra, Opus 33.
The conductor and director Peter Shannon also produced a per-
formance of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast in the magna lobby of Lucia in
Bologna, involving the orchestra and choir of Collegium Musicum
Almae from the University of Bologna, Italy. It was published on Jan-
uary 2, 2016.
There is still a Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society devoted to the
music and performances of this neglected composer. Perhaps in due
course his devotees will help to reinstate him in the public’s mind
and bring him back to his rightful place among his gifted contempo-

v v v

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

The questions and answers that follow are based on Q&A sessions
from a series of lectures I presented at the CIEE Global Institute in
London as visiting professor in ethnomusicology from 2017 to 2018.

Was it surprising that his [Coleridge-Taylor’s] talent was recog-

nized so early and given the opportunity to flourish?
It is not really surprising since he clearly came from a very musical
background. Fortunately for him, not only the headmaster of his school
but also a governor recognized his ability. Colonel Herbert A. Wal-
ters was the choirmaster of St. George’s Presbyterian Church, and
Coleridge-Taylor not only became a soloist but also played the violin
with immediately recognizable talent. The local paper, reviewing a
fundraising concert, wrote that the violin solos were
“listened to, as usual, with evident admiration,” and “received an irresistible
encore” (in spite of the fact that “Mr. Walters, the conductor … had pointed
out that the length of the programme would not admit of encores”).

Coleridge-Taylor was playing in an orchestra got together by

his violin teacher, who taught him from the age of 6 to 13 and who
he fully acknowledged [as] a formative influence on his musical devel-
opment. It was Colonel Walters who arranged his enrollment at the
Royal College of Music and guaranteed his fees. Clearly he had amaz-
ing talent, but equally clearly he was lucky in that those around him
were able not only to respond to it but also to help him in his devel-
In 1893, Coleridge-Taylor was awarded an open scholarship for
composition and studied under Stanford. Just as he had been lucky in
the way his early talent was recognized, surely he was lucky, too, in
that so many of his contemporaries were so talented?
He certainly found himself in a very challenging group, which
included John Ireland, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Thomas Dunhill and
Fritz Hart. But perhaps he was luckiest of all to form a friendship with
a fellow student William Yeats Hurlstone [1876–1906]. Hurlstone died
before he was 30 years old and before he could really make a name for
himself, but his gifts seemed to have been as great as Coleridge-
Taylor’s, who wrote:

6. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

I think there were very few branches of composition in which Mr. Hurlstone
was not successful. So far as I know, he never published any choral work, and I
well remember how, in our college days, we used to despise this form of music,
and how, only six months ago, we laughed over our youthful prejudices. It was
in chamber music (which, after all, is the highest form of composition, in spite
of the present-day fashion) that Mr. Hurlstone shone so conspicuously, and in
his college days he had an extraordinary passion for writing for out-of-the-way
combinations of instruments. To me his works were quite matured so long as
ten years ago, when I first knew him at college, and all of his early works show
exceedingly fine workmanship. I don’t suppose he wrote half a dozen bars of
slipshod stuff in his life. I recall that in our student days we each had a musical
god. His was Brahms; mine was the lesser-known Dvořák.

How much was Coleridge-Taylor influenced by the friendship

with the African American writer Paul Laurence Dunbar?
Not only were there two joint recitals of both their individual
and collaborative pieces, but Coleridge-Taylor set several of Dunbar’s
lyrics to music, which, for the first time, showed the new and growing
influence on this music of his awareness of his African heritage. This
finally surfaced in a short operetta, Dream Lovers, that received its
first performance in 1988. It would seem fairly clear that Paul Laurence
Dunbar played an important part in opening up a whole new area
of social awareness as well as musical discovery for the young com-

Did his visits to America sharpen his attitudes toward the racial
oppression of black Africans in America, and what effect did this
have on his music?
There is no doubt from what he himself wrote that Coleridge-
Taylor was deeply affected by the prejudice he saw so rampantly
expressed in America, although he had undoubtedly himself experi-
enced much blatant racism in England as well. He took part in the
Pan-African Conference in London in 1900, and African influence is
clearly present in his later works such as Toussaint L’Ouverture, Bam-
boula, Symphonic Variations on an African Air and Ethiopia Saluting
the Colours. There is also more obviously, of course, his Twenty-Four
Negro Melodies.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Other than showing African influence in his music, did he make

his feelings apparent in any political statements or writings?
He was clearly angered by a local newspaper report of a debating
society meeting in Purley on “The Negro Problem in North Amer-
ica”—so much so that he wrote an outspoken letter to the Croydon
Guardian. He also contributed to the first issue of the African Times
and Orient Review, a political and cultural magazine published in Lon-
don supporting pan-African nationalism.
To what extent was Coleridge-Taylor a commercial and popular
composer as well as a more serious creator of orchestral work?
It is surely greatly to the credit of Coleridge-Taylor that, as well
as cantatas, chamber and orchestral music, he was also a widely
admired and performed songwriter as well as producing many short
piano popular pieces. He also wrote incidental music for the stage:
Faust, Herod, Nero, The Forest of Wild Thyme, Ulysses, and Othello.
Some of his popular works verge on the banal, but others show a
remarkable sophistication, particularly pieces like The Petite Suite de
Concert and The Bamboula.
Where can Coleridge-Taylor’s obvious response in music to his
African heritage most easily be found?
In a preface to Twenty-Four Negro Melodies Transcribed for the
Piano by S. Coleridge-Taylor, Op. 59, Booker T. Washington has writ-
The paternity of Mr. Coleridge-Taylor and his love for what is elemental and
racial found rich expression in the choral work by which he is best known, and
more obviously in his African Romances, Op. 17, a set of seven songs; the
African Suite for the piano, Op. 35; and Five Choral Ballads, for baritone solo,
quartet, chorus and orchestra, Op. 54, being a setting of five of Longfellow’s
Poems on Slavery. The transcription of Negro melodies contained in this vol-
ume is, however, the most complete expression of Mr. Coleridge-Taylor’s
native bent and power.

His early death in 1912 obviously put paid to a growing maturity

in his music. All the same, after the promise of his early work,
does he not seem to have stagnated a little?

6. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

There is a good deal of truth in this, but what has to be borne in

mind is the sheer pressure of ordinary, everyday work that enabled
him to keep himself and his family going in financial terms. What is
so heartening is that there is a notable revival accruing in his later
work, particularly Thelma, into which he obviously poured a great deal
of his creative energy, but also in The Tale of Old Japan and finally,
where perhaps his best gifts lay, in the Violin Concerto.
Everyone seems to have liked him as a person, and he does not
seem to have nourished any debilitating bitterness about the way
he and fellow Africans were treated. Was he as modest about his
own achievements?
One of his letters reveals much about his modesty. In a letter dated
July 22, 1912, he wrote:
And will you ask your mother to accept my thanks for a most delightful eve-
ning? It was ever so nice—the only blur was my incessant talk about myself.
And I want you and Mrs. Carr to believe me when I tell you that my “out-
look” on life is just as wholesome and beautiful as it was when I first knew you
years ago.
I love the best in music, pictures and literature a thousand times more than
I did when I was twenty. I mention this because I had an idea on Friday that
both you and your mother doubted this, and I hate to think of anyone (much
less you two) being shaken in their belief of me.


Rudolph Dunbar

To the best of current knowledge, Rudolph Dunbar was born on

April 5, 1899, in Nabacalis, British Guiana (now known as Guyana).
In fact, Dunbar’s birthdate is uncertain, as he gave various dates
throughout his career. However, Danish Immigration Office files and
various ship passenger lists give his birthdate as April 5, 1899.
Dunbar held many positions throughout his life, including clar-
inetist, music critic, orchestra conductor, music teacher and journalist.
The young Dunbar’s interest was sparked by hearing transcriptions of
Wagner and Elgar played in Georgetown by the Guyana Militia Band.
He joined the militia band as an apprentice clarinetist at the age of 14
and stayed with the group for five years. His talent was such that he
left the band when he was 19 to study at the Institute of Musical Art
(now the Juilliard School) in New York, living in the city until he grad-
uated in 1925. While at school, Dunbar studied composition, clarinet
and piano, but he was also active in the Harlem jazz scene, serving as
clarinet soloist on recordings by the Plantation Orchestra. During his
time in New York, he became a friend (and later champion) of the
African American composer William Grant Still; today their corre-
spondence can be found at the University of Arkansas.
Dunbar traveled to Paris for post-graduate study with some of the
finest music teachers in Europe. He continued his musical education
in France, Germany, and Austria. He studied composition with Paul
Vidal, clarinet playing with Louis Cahuzac and conducting with
Philippe Gaubert and Felix Weingartner.
News of Dunbar’s talent with the clarinet brought him to the

7. Rudolph Dunbar

attention of some of Paris’ cultural elite, including the widow of the

composer Claude Debussy. She invited Dunbar to play privately for a
select audience in her chambers. The reviews were glowing:
A clarinet recital is in itself a rarity but an eclectic and tastefully arranged pro-
gramme such as Mr Dunbar played is also uncommon. He went from Mozart
to Debussy, to Weber and Chopin, all played with
fine qualities, a rich fluent mechanism and
excellent appreciation for the different
styles of the composers. He was
recalled many times.

In 1931, Dunbar moved to

London and found work as a
music critic; he also started
the first clarinet school,
attracting students from
around the world. By 1939,
his reputation was such he
was commissioned to write
a textbook for clarinet play-
ers; his Treatise on the Clar-
inet (Boehm System) became
the standard reference work
for the instrument. The book
remained in print though ten edi-
tions, and today it is highly prized as
a collector’s item.
Remaining active as a Rudolph Dunbar (ca. 1920); photographer
jazz musician, Dunbar led unknown. Dunbar was a Guyanese conduc-
two jazz groups in 1930s tor, clarinetist, and composer, as well as
a jazz musician. He was the first black
Britain: the All British man to conduct the London Philharmonic
Coloured Band (also known Orchestra, the first black man to conduct
as the Rumba Coloured the Berlin Philharmonic and the first black
Orchestra) and Rudolph man to conduct orchestras in Poland
and Russia (Department of Special Collec-
Dunbar and His African tions and University Archives, W.E.B. Du
Polyphony; he made pio- Bois Library, University of Massachusetts
neering recordings of West Amherst).

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Indian music with both groups. He also composed, and his ballet score
from 1938, Dance of the Twenty-First Century (which he described as
“ultra modern”), written for the famous Cambridge University Foot-
lights Club, was broadcast nationally by NBC, with the composer con-
Dunbar was, like many musicians, habitually short of cash and
joined an American press agency, the Associated Negro Press of
Chicago, as its London editor. (Professor Lawrence Hogan of Union
County College in New Jersey has written a book about this agency.)
In 1919, Claude Barnett, a young graduate of Tuskegee Institute, had
decided that the great black newspapers that were coming into being
at that point in time should have an association of their own: a press
reporting association that would gather news, nationally and interna-
tionally. As early as 1934, Rudolph Dunbar turns up on the letterhead
of the Associated Negro Press as an executive correspondent. He was
supplying steady news on the Italian/Ethiopian war and also reporting
on Marcus Garvey.
The outbreak of World War II in 1939 was to bring Dunbar some
of his greatest challenges and also some of his finest moments as a
musician. As an accredited war correspondent of the Associated Negro
Press, he joined a black regiment that took part in the D-Day landings
in Normandy. He later arrived in Paris on the eve of liberation and
was the first foreigner to conduct the symphony orchestra after the
city was freed.
Dunbar’s conducting turn in Paris was not his only such oppor-
tunity during the war: in 1942, he led the London Philharmonic in the
Royal Albert Hall in a concert meant to raise money for “Britain’s
coloured allies.” The audience was appreciative of the works that he
conducted. The program was an absolute success. At that time, he
was the youngest person to have conducted the London Philhar-
monic Orchestra. The Picture Post wrote, “He is a musician of genuine
culture and a conductor vital enough to inspire his audience. It is to
be hoped that he will conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra
Dunbar’s excellent work for the Associated Negro Press of Chicago
gave him the necessary credibility as a war correspondent in Europe.

7. Rudolph Dunbar

He shared personal stories of his encounters with musicians who had

experienced Nazi crimes firsthand. Among other pieces he contributed
was an article written for the Chicago Defender (an African American
newspaper) in September 1944 titled “Trumpet Player Briggs Freed
after Four Years in Nazi Camp Near Paris.”
In this article, Dunbar shared with readers a personal account of the horrors of
the Nazi regime. Caught in Paris and sent to St. Denis concentration camp on
October 17, 1940, trumpeter Arthur Briggs survived depression by joining a
classical orchestra in the camp, where the German commandant attended both
their rehearsals and their concerts. The commandant then ordered Briggs to
join two other black musicians in the camp, “Gay Martins from West Africa
and Owen Macauly, a colored youth who was born in England,” to sing “Negro
spirituals.” Interestingly, Dunbar reported that although “there were about 50
colored men in the camp…. Briggs told me that there were no manifestations
of color prejudice. Briggs himself was well respected by every member of the

Dunbar’s journalism experiences, along with his work to “raise

funds for Britain’s colored allies,” reveal his support for racial equality
and willingness to confront European anti-black racism. Though Dun-
bar was a firm believer in American democratization, when asked at
his American debut whether he would settle in America, he replied,
“I think I will make my home in Paris where, if you are good, they will
applaud you whether you are pink, white or black, and if you are bad
they will whistle at you.” But he was also supportive of the United States
and objected when the British government promoted his career for
political ends: “[The British] want to say ‘Look what we have done for
Dunbar’—but it is not the British who have done it for me, it is the
The war as a whole ended in August 1945, and only a few weeks
later Dunbar was offered his most prestigious conducting opportunity
to date: leading Berlin’s world-famous philharmonic orchestra in two
concerts for Allied personnel and German civilians. He was ecstatic,
and so were the German musicians and public. On July 20, 1945, less
than three months since the end of the fighting in Europe and the fall
of the Third Reich, Ruth Andreas-Fischer, a writer and anti–Nazi
activist, had recorded a remarkable encounter that had occurred one
night in Berlin:

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

An American artist sought [us out]. A black man. He is as beautiful as a pan-

ther, and more passionately interested in Bach and Beethoven than most Ger-
mans. He has traveled around the world, and given concerts in countless
countries. “They flock to my concerts,” he said and looked at us with the eyes
of Ahasverus, “not because they want to hear my music, but because they want
to hear how a Negro makes music. We are the most disregarded people in the
world. Even more disregarded than the Jews, right?” And again he looks at us
with the eyes of Ahasverus. “Or the Germans.” Is it a victor standing before us,
in his elegantly tailored American uniform, beautiful like a panther, and pas-
sionately interested in Bach and Beethoven? Suddenly, we are all embarrassed
for each other. Until [one of us] pulls out a Bach Cantata, and hands it to his
beautiful guest. “Would you like to have it?”

(The “Ahasuerus” reference in this quote is a name used several times

in the Hebrew Bible, as well as related legends and apocrypha. This
name (or title) is applied in the Hebrew Scriptures to three rulers. The
same name is also applied uncertainly to a Babylonian official (or
Median king) noted in the Book of Tobit. Another alternative meaning
could perhaps be Wagnerian, or it might allude to Achim von Arnim’s
play, Halle und Jerusalem.)
In an event of historic political proportions, the first non–German
since the reign of Hitler and the first black man to conduct a Berlin
orchestra won an ovation of astonishing warmth.
At a concert this week in Berlin, Berlin’s famed 65-year-old Philharmonic
Orchestra was led by a U.S. war correspondent in battledress. Besides being a
war correspondent, the guest conductor was a Negro, born in British Guiana.
The 2,000 Berliners and the 500 Allied soldiers in the audience found it quite
an experience. They applauded warmly when the conductor led the orchestra
through Weber’s familiar Oberon and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique. They broke
into cheers, and called him back five times, when he gave them Berlin’s first
hearing of fellow-Negro William Grant Still’s boisterous, bluesy Afro-American
Slender, serious Rudolph Dunbar is no musical freshman. He studied at
Manhattan’s Juilliard School, has several times conducted the London Philhar-
monic. He was in Berlin as correspondent for the Associated Negro Press of
Chicago. Shortly before the Berlin Philharmonic’s Conductor Leo Borchard
was accidentally killed by U.S. sentries, he had invited Dunbar to guest-
conduct. U.S. occupation authorities were all for it, though their interest was
more in teaching the Germans a lesson in racial tolerance than in Dunbar’s

7. Rudolph Dunbar

The program that Dunbar conducted included Carl Maria von

Weber’s Oberon Overture, the Afro-American Symphony by William
Grant Still and Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony. Dr. Toby Thacker of the
University of Cardiff commented:
We have one work here: the Weber representing the German classical tradi-
tion, considered fairly safe and not a Nazi thing; you have a Russian work,
Tchaikovsky, which is some sort of gesture towards the Soviets, who are also
occupying parts of Berlin and parts of Germany; and then interestingly, of
course in this case, you have the Afro-American Symphony by William Grant
Still which can be seen as a specifically American work. And, of course, in this
context, what’s very interesting is that it’s a distinctly Afro-American work and
therefore supports the notion that Dunbar’s appearance in Berlin was very
much seen by the Americans as a gesture which would challenge ideas about
racial supremacy in Germany.

This was the first concert the Jews had attended since the Hitler
regime, and they were so elated that a group of them numbering about
30 went over to the conductor’s seat after the concert and said to Dun-
bar, “You are the symbol of the rise of oppressed peoples.” Dunbar also
satisfied the music critics who counted—the orchestra members. Said
the first flautist after Dunbar had led the men through the Afro-Amer-
ican Symphony, “At last I understand your American jazz.”
The event was not only important for the oppressed people in
Europe to feel a sense of liberation; it also spoke for the Caribbean
islands that Dunbar came from. It spoke to the black diaspora. Alain
Locke writes in the famous essay, “The New Negro,” “It is not the shuf-
fling, bumbling, stereotypical, hat-in-hand, rural kind of abused per-
son. One could read Dunbar at the intersection of many things at that
German concert.”
Ironically, Dunbar’s triumph with the Berlin Philharmonic in Sep-
tember 1945 marked the beginning of a downward spiral in his for-
tunes. He was offered numerous conducting opportunities, many of
them in Russia and Eastern Europe, and received glowing reviews; yet,
despite repeated and persistent efforts, he could not persuade the most
powerful cultural institution of the day to allow him to conduct its
orchestras. The BBC in the 1940s and 1950s was a gatekeeper for the
musical hierarchy, deciding for itself who was and who was not good
enough to appear on air. Although Dunbar had many excellent reviews

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

and an outstanding track record as a conductor, the BBC refused to

budge from its conviction that he was not of a good enough standard:
15th April 1946. To the Director of Radio diffusion Francaise, from Mr K A
Wright, Music Department:
Dear Sir, thank you for your letter regarding Rudolph Dunbar. He is from the
West Indies and a British subject and the reason why he got so much attention
during the war was that he represented the West Indies in our Ministry of Infor-
mation. Recently he seems to have devoted his programmes to American music,
hence, I presume, the similar support from the American press. It is a pity that
he cannot conduct because he must have done more harm than good to the
cause of the coloured people. He was a clarinet player but, again, not quite good
enough to play the interesting pieces he offered and I think that really he was
always more at home with a band than an orchestra.

The BBC’s official response was as follows:

“We have no prejudice; we would be delighted to engage Mr Dunbar but
unfortunately he is not up to our standards.” This gimmick was clever; it had
the desired effect, in such a way as to make people believe that I am a fraud. A
famous continental impresario, after making extensive investigation about my
stature as a conductor, received glowing tributes about my work. He was so
pleased that he wrote to me saying: “The English must be very proud of you.” I
replied to impresario thus: “The English are never proud or become excited
about the achievements of a British black man.”

The BBC does not emerge well from this account. Ultimately its
response to Dunbar must boil down to the prejudice of one producer,
though his attitude is indefensible, as there is plenty of evidence to
prove Dunbar’s competence as both a conductor and a clarinetist. The
decision here was a damning one for the BBC. Surely at this time it
would have been advantageous to use Dunbar in order to overcome
racist assumptions and underpin a liberal attitude on the BBC’s part?
By suggesting that he was totally incompetent and would do the cause
of colored people more harm than good, the organization overstated
its case and flew in the face of all reasonable judgment. It is not only
indefensible but also positively disgraceful that such prejudice should
have persisted.
At the end of the war, it seemed that Dunbar’s career was about
to take off. He was established as a leading performer and authority
on the clarinet, his conducting career was on the rise as concert life

7. Rudolph Dunbar

restarted, and he had become a role model for West Indians. Sadly,
however, this promise was not fulfilled.
Dunbar is documented as being the first black conductor of a sym-
phony orchestra in Poland (1959) and Russia (1964); both concerts
were in Soviet Bloc countries at the peak of the Cold War. He also pro-
moted concerts for the Jamaican Hurricane Relief Fund in 1951. (At
several postwar concerts, Dunbar presented the music of the black
British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, discussed in chapter 6.)
In the mid–1950s, buoyed by his success in Europe but increas-
ingly angry at what he perceived to be color prejudice by the BBC,
Rudolph Dunbar decided to return home to Guyana for a visit. He was
welcomed like a returning hero.
The community was ecstatic over this young Guyanese man of
African ancestry who apparently had made it in the international arena
and had come home. While in Guyana, he conducted the country’s
militia band, philharmonic orchestra and a youth choir. For many of
the Guyanese youngsters, going to see Dunbar was probably more than
just visiting a celebrity—it was also a tale of what was possible for poor
black children in Guyana.
Dunbar returned to England and seemingly disappeared from
public view, at least as a musician and conductor. He got involved with
other members of the Afro-Caribbean community and supported the
campaign for civil rights in Britain. His correspondence with the BBC
stretched over a period of nearly 20 years.
Though Dunbar never conducted for the BBC, he did conduct the
Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. A journalist throughout his life,
he also documented the independence of several African and
Caribbean countries from British colonial rule. Dunbar continued his
career as a musician and journalist until his death in London on June
10, 1988.
In the end, it is difficult to determine whether Dunbar’s conduct-
ing talents were truly eclipsed by de-Nazified conductors returning to
the podium after the war. Exactly what happened remains a mystery,
but there are some tantalizing clues. Dunbar’s brief obituary in the
Musical Times says, “He gradually withdrew from public life, and
devoted himself to fighting racism and trying to increase black involve-

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

ment in Western art music.” However, there seems to have been more
to it than a gradual withdrawal from public life.
Dr. Vibert C. Cambridge (of Ohio University) is one of the leading
authorities on music in Guyana, and in an article for the Stabroek News
in August 2004, Cambridge quoted from an interview Rudolph Dunbar
gave six months before his death:
Dunbar spoke about the particular vindictiveness of a producer/director of
music at the BBC who derailed his musical career in Europe. Dunbar
described that director of music as “despicable and vile” and the BBC “as stub-
born as mules and ruthless as rattlesnakes.”

v v v
The questions and answers that follow are based on Q&A sessions
from a series of lectures I presented at the CIEE Global Institute in
London as visiting professor in ethnomusicology from 2017 to 2018.

What do you think Dunbar’s conducting of the concert in Berlin

meant in the context of Hitler’s Aryan superiority ideology?
Germans by 1945 were used to having their ideas about racial
supremacy questioned. They certainly would not have been used at all
to the idea of a black person conducting an orchestra and, of course,
here, not just any orchestra but the Berlin Philharmonic, easily at that
time identified as Germany’s most prestigious orchestra, so it’s quite
a remarkable gesture in that sense by the American authorities.

What kind of greeting would his fellow countrymen and -women

have given him on his arrival in Guyana during his visit there?
Dunbar arrived in Guyana that time; if one came in by air, the air-
port is about 35 miles from the city, so you motored down to the city,
which took about two hours, but in the case of Rudolph they had a
small plane at that airport, and that brought him right into the city to
a tumultuous welcome from about, I would say, 40 to 50 thousand
people that were there to greet him.

What kind of impact would he have had on his arrival at what is

a small Caribbean island?

7. Rudolph Dunbar

There is always a sense of pride when you find someone from

Guyana doing well, and I’m sure it’s the kind of thing that you find in
people that come from a relatively small country—not small necessarily
in area terms, but certainly in population—and there is this pride that
you are a relatively small community; yet people have achieved these
things on a world stage.

Do you believe that Rudolph Dunbar died still hoping that one
day his chance would come? Was Rudolph, as he himself believed,
the victim of an unofficial color bar at the BBC in the 1950s?
Sadly, it seems that he became almost obsessed with his treatment
by the BBC and clearly longed for what he felt was a justifiable recog-
nition. What seems unforgivable is that so few people were prepared
to take up his cause and fight on his behalf. The music media of the
time must bear as much responsibility for this as the BBC itself.

Was he tarred with the brush of “communist sympathizer”

because of his many trips to Eastern Europe as the Cold War set
There is no way of knowing for sure why the BBC was so preju-
diced against him. It is, however, difficult to believe that he was seen
as a communist sympathizer. After all, throughout this period the Bol-
shoi Ballet was making triumphal visits to London and a steady stream
of Russian musicians were being welcomed, but who can really say?

Was he promoted beyond his abilities by the Colonial Office dur-

ing the war as a way of boosting relations in the colonies, or was
he simply a victim of circumstance, whose talents were never
fully recognized and who was swept aside by the tide of political
We will probably never know the answers to these 3 questions
above. However, for me, and for many others who remember the
extraordinary achievements of Rudolph Dunbar, the lesson of his life
is clear: never give up striving for your dreams, however unattainable
they may sometimes feel.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

How is Dunbar remembered today?

Today Rudolph Dunbar is remembered as a one of a pioneering
group of West Indians who fought racism in the UK. The musician
who was the first black conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, and who
wrote a standard reference work on the clarinet, does not warrant a
single mention in the current or earlier editions of the New Grove Dic-
tionary of Music and Musicians or other major music reference books.
Why remains a mystery.


Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin is undoubtedly the most talented of all those profiled

in this book. In a sad sense, too, his story is the most tragic. We have
been looking at the black influence on classical Western music, and in
some ways Joplin’s influence has been largely unacknowledged—but
extremely effective all the same.
Eubie Blake, in his introduction to Peter Gammond’s Scott Joplin
and the Ragtime Era, claims that “anything that is syncopated is basi-
cally ragtime. I don’t care whether it’s Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody or
Tchaikovsky (my favourite composer) in his Waltz of The Flowers.”
Joplin is the established and recognized master of the ragtime era. His
music was composed at the turn of the twentieth century but, perhaps
surprisingly, is astonishingly popular today—partly because of its use
in the film The Sting, partly because of Kenneth MacMillan’s brilliantly
choreographed Elite Syncopations to Joplin’s music and partly because
of Joshua Rifkin’s recordings of Joplin’s piano rags.
There is an uneasy parallel between Joplin and Gustav Mahler
(almost his exact contemporary): both were extremely popular in their
lifetime and then became almost forgotten. It seems incredible now,
but when Antony Tudor choreographed his Dark Elegies for Ballet
Rambert in 1937 to Mahler’s music, the composer was almost
unknown. Now he is regarded as one of the last great Romantics, per-
formed by orchestras all over the world and very much a part of the
classical repertory. In the same way, Joplin became almost completely
forgotten in spite of his influence on such key jazz musicians as Jelly
Roll Morton and Duke Ellington; on popular composers like Irving

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Berlin and George Gershwin; and on classical composers like Aaron

Copland, Darius Milhaud and Igor Stravinsky.
There is another, even more uneasy parallel between Joplin and
Sir Arthur Sullivan. Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas were immensely
popular in their day and have remained firmly in the general repertory
ever since. But Sullivan thought little of his achievements in this very
popular genre and longed to be taken seriously as a major classical
composer, particularly of oratorios. He never really achieved this ambi-
tion. In the same way, Joplin seems to have thought little of his bril-
liance in the world of ragtime and wanted to be taken seriously as a
composer of opera. He, too, never achieved his ambition.
Inevitably, we must look at the
development of ragtime and Joplin’s
part in it. But there is a major
question to be considered first:
Sullivan was at least a mem-
ber of the elite musical
establishment. He was
knighted. He was a promi-
nent member of one of
the most exclusive clubs
in London (the Garrick
Club). By contrast, Joplin
was a black man at a time
when black people were
somehow thought of as belong-
ing to an inferior species. In spite
of the widespread popu-
larity of his music, Joplin
Portrait of Scott Joplin first published in St.
Louis Globe-Democrat, June 7, 1903; artist was never a member of
unknown. Joplin was an African American the elite musical estab-
composer and pianist. He achieved fame for lishment in the United
his ragtime compositions and was dubbed the States. Worse still, he eked
“King of Ragtime.” During his brief career,
he wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one bal- out a relatively impecu-
let, and two operas (© British Library Board nious livelihood by play-
h.1324.3 pg. 1). ing the piano in brothels

8. Scott Joplin

and similarly sleazy venues. These disadvantages were enormous hand-

icaps when he wanted to be taken seriously as a composer of opera. The
United States in the early twentieth century was all too prim and proper.
Brothels belonged to a whole range of unmentionable activities. In a
terrible sense, too, Joplin’s environment ultimately destroyed him. He
died of syphilis—another unmentionable. Clearly it would be absurd
to suggest that syphilis was restricted to brothels. Wrenching our-
selves back from the United States to Britain, syphilis had no respect for
class—Winston Churchill’s own father, a promising chancellor of the
Exchequer, Lord Randolph Churchill, died of general paralysis of the
insane (the tertiary stage of syphilis), as Joplin did in 1917. Nevertheless,
in prim and proper American eyes, brothels, syphilis and Joplin all went
In view of his remarkable talent, it is surprising how little we know
of the actual facts of Joplin’s life. We are not positively sure where or
when he was born, but it seems to have been sometime between June
1867 and mid–January 1868. In spite of extensive research by devoted
musicologists, much of his childhood remains a mystery. His father
had been a slave until emancipation and continued to work as a farm
laborer but then moved to the newly established town of Texarkana,
on the border between Texas and Arkansas. There is no real evidence,
but it seems that Joplin’s mother worked for a white family that
owned a piano on which Joplin taught himself the rudiments of music.
Nothing could better illustrate the all-enveloping musical culture of
both slave and subsequent black society. Surrounded by rhythmic
music, it is not really surprising that Joplin launched himself on the
Apparently, a German-born music teacher, Julius Weiss, was
impressed by Joplin’s innate musical talent and taught him the basics
of musical technology in addition to introducing him to the rich treas-
ure house of European music, with a particular emphasis on opera.
There was a growing cult of admiration for Richard Wagner’s operas
in America, and there can be little doubt that Weiss echoed this rev-
erence, so that, from an early age, Joplin was introduced to the latest
developments in European lyric theater. This possibly explains his life-
long wish to be taken seriously as an opera composer.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

In the 1880s, Joplin seems to have traveled to St. Louis, which was
destined (not altogether coincidentally) to become a major center for
ragtime. The first actual documents of Joplin’s career are newspaper
reports stating that in 1891 he was back in Texarkana working with a
minstrel troop. In 1893, he was in Chicago for the World’s Fair, leading
a band and playing a cornet. He then returned to the family home of
Sedalia, playing a first cornet in the Queens City Cornet Band. From
then on, he seems to have adopted a career as a traveling musician
with his own band. In 1895, he went as far east as Syracuse, New York,
with his Texas Medley Quartet. He was still, however, based in Sedalia,
working on and off there as a pianist at both of the town’s social clubs
for black men and teaching other young musicians, including Scott
Hayden and Arthur Marshall (with both of whom he later wrote col-
laborative rags). In 1896, he attended music classes at George R. Smith
College in Sedalia, but all its records were destroyed in a fire in 1925,
so we do not know what he actually studied.
Local stories about Joplin suggest that it was not until the end of
the 1890s that he achieved complete mastery of musical notation. How-
ever, this did not prevent him from spreading his wings as a composer.
In 1896, he published two marches and an attractive waltz. In 1898,
he published Original Rags, but a staff arranger at the publisher
claimed equal credit as a composer. This situation led Joplin to seek
the assistance of a young Sedalia lawyer, Robert Higdon, and they drew
up a proper contract with a Sedalia music store owner and publisher,
John Stark, to publish Maple Leaf Rag, which became a resoundingly
famous piano rag. The contract laid down that Joplin should receive
a 1 percent royalty on each sale. This agreement could not have come
at a better time, as the popularity of the Maple Leaf Rag ensured Joplin
a small but steady income for the rest of his life. Only about four hun-
dred copies were sold in the first year, but by 1909 about half a million
had been sold, and this healthy rate continued for the next twenty
In 1890, Joplin broke new ground with The Ragtime Dance, a stage
work for dancers with a singing narrator. This was a type of folk ballet
showing the kind of dances that took place in the local black clubs in
Sedalia. Although it was not published until 1902, it had already been

8. Scott Joplin

performed in 1899 by a group of talented young dancers and singers

from one of these clubs.
In 1901, Joplin moved permanently to St. Louis with his new wife,
Belle Hayden, the widow of Scott Hayden’s older brother. Here he con-
tinued to publish, since his publisher John Stark had also moved to the
In 1903, Joplin filed a copyright application for an opera titled A
Guest of Honor. Later in the year, he formed an opera company with
thirty members and, after rehearsals at the Crawford Theatre, set out
on a tour of Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. Sadly, early
on in the tour, a member of the company stole the box office receipts,
and by the time they got to Kansas Joplin could not meet his payroll.
All his possessions, including the opera scores, were confiscated.
Copies of the score had not accompanied the copyright application
and were never filed with the Library of Congress. As a result, all music
for this opera was completely lost. Newspaper reviews reveal that the
opera was about black leader Booker T. Washington’s dinner with Pres-
ident Theodore Roosevelt at the White House in 1901. This was a seri-
ous milestone in the search for black identity and status, an event that
split the nation, and it would be fascinating to look at Joplin’s coverage
and at what he considered important, but unfortunately the records
are too scanty for us to really know. We do know that Joplin paid a
special tribute to Roosevelt with his rag A Strenuous Life.
After the abysmal failure of his opera tour, Joplin, while on a visit
to Arkansas, met a nineteen-year-old woman named Freddie Alexan-
der and seems to have fallen completely for her charms. He dedicated
The Chrysanthemum to her (the music was published in 1904). He
returned to Sedalia and ended his marriage with Belle, and then he went
back to Arkansas and married Freddie in Little Rock. They traveled back
to Sedalia by train, stopping at towns along the way so that Joplin could
give prearranged concerts. Sadly, this proved too much for Freddie, who
came down with a cold that developed into pneumonia; she died at
the age of twenty on September 10, 1904, ten weeks after their wedding.
After Freddie’s funeral in Sedalia, Joplin left and never went back.
From then on, he seems to have spent most of his time in New York,
trying, while publishing a number of rags but living in financially diffi-

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

cult circumstances, to find backing for the next opera he had written:
Treemonisha. In 1908, he published a ragtime manual called School of
Ragtime but then turned to a new publisher, Seminary Music, a firm
that shared office space and worked together with Ted Snyder Music
(a publisher that employed Irving Berlin, who went on to an amazing
career as America’s greatest songwriter). Joplin told friends that he
had submitted his opera to Snyder’s but that Berlin rejected it a few
months later. The next spring, Berlin published his most successful
song up to that point: “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Joplin told friends
that at least part of this song was taken from his opera. Joplin was not
normally a bitter man and had a long list of successful songs behind
him, so there seems little reason to doubt that he genuinely felt he had
a grievance. These things are intangible, and it may well be that Berlin
derived something from Joplin’s score that he subsequently felt was
his own. Who can really say where the truth lies?
As a result, Joplin altered the section of his opera that he claimed
was lifted and then published the opera himself in May 1911. Joplin
offered a copy of the score to the editor of the American Musician and
Art Journal, an important musical magazine of the time. They pub-
lished a lengthy review of the score, claiming it was the most American
opera ever composed. In spite of this praise, Joplin never managed an
actual production of the opera (several were announced but never
materialized). In 1913, Joplin—together with a new wife, Lottie Stokes—
formed his own publishing company, releasing Magnetic Rag in 1914.
Over the next two years, Joplin composed several new rags and songs,
an act for vaudeville, a musical, a symphony and a piano concerto, but
none of them were published and the music has been lost. By 1916, the
tertiary stage of syphilis rendered Joplin incompetent, and in early
1917 he was admitted to a mental institution, where he died three
months later on April 1, 1917.
The prim and proper musical elite may have despised and rejected
Joplin, but the musical public certainly did not. He published rag after
rag during his lifetime and achieved a long list of popular successes.
He was indeed the king of ragtime, but what was ragtime?
There are two things to emphasize about this new musical devel-
opment. The first is that it emerged not from white music but from

8. Scott Joplin

black music. All the same, this was black music (and black composers)
that had been exposed to and influenced by the white European music
tradition. Its emergence speaks volumes about the creative gifts and
skills of the black musicians who created it. We know that the African
culture and society from which black slaves were so cruelly torn was
(and remains) a society where music and dance played a decisive and
widespread role. In spite of the appalling conditions to which they
were subjected in the Caribbean and on the American mainland, slaves’
basic attitudes to music and dance survived the very worst their white
owners could inflict upon them. After eventually winning emancipa-
tion from slavery, it is nothing short of astonishing how quickly their
achievements in music and dance blossomed.
The second point to emphasize about the emergence of ragtime,
and it is a point that some musicologists have not taken very seriously,
is that ragtime is not only about music but also about dance. When
Scott Joplin, in his School of Ragtime, states firmly that ragtime should
not be played too fast, he knows all too well (from having been a piano
accompanist) that ragtime is not so much there to be listened to as to
underpin the excitement and exhilaration of dance, of human move-
ment to music. In this study, we are not looking at the equally fasci-
nating creative developments in dance that were part and parcel of the
development of ragtime; we are simply looking at the music. Never-
theless, it is in the back of everybody’s mind as they listen to ragtime
music—it is the urge to move, to dance, to be a part of this basic human
activity found everywhere in the world where humans exist.
As Eubie Blake insists, ragtime is about syncopation. Syncopation
is about rhythm. As we have seen, what differentiates African music
from European music is the African emphasis on rhythm, which is, of
course, bound up not only with the drums of African music but also
with the myriad movements of African dance. It is not surprising that
creative developments like syncopated music should emerge from bat-
tered remnants of African musical culture in America. Yet it has to be
emphasized that ragtime is not African. It was a quite new develop-
ment that emerged when the African traditions merged with those of
Europe. Ragtime is crucially and essentially American. Indeed, it was
the United States’ first cultural export. Ragtime took Europe by storm

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

and conquered European popular music just as it had done in America.

Watching England’s Royal Ballet perform Kenneth MacMillan’s bril-
liant and inventive one-act ballet known as Elite Syncopations (1974),
the audience is watching white musicians and largely white dancers
dancing to Scott Joplin’s music, which is based as much on the African
tradition as on the European. Joplin would be pleased that the musi-
cians do not take the ragtime music too fast. They cannot, because the
ragtime is doing what it was designed to do: underpinning people rev-
eling in the joy of movement to music—in this case, music that is as
much African in origin as European.
We have already noted the sad period of neglect and obscurity
into which ragtime fell after Joplin’s death. However, as early as the
1940s, as musicians looked back at the origins and traditional devel-
opment of jazz, a slow but steady revival of interest in ragtime gradually
saw more and more performances of original ragtime alongside later
jazz developments. This interest grew steadily, reaching an early peak
in the 1970s as new recordings of Joplin’s music, produced for the first
time on classical labels, achieved a surprising popular demand in sales.
Notated music was republished, particularly a two-volume set issued
by the New York Public Library. Finally, at long last, the opera
Treemonisha was successfully staged, and its appearance on Broadway
would surely have gladdened Joplin’s heart had he been alive to see it.
In addition, the film director George Roy Hill used Joplin’s music in a
very successful film, The Sting, which established ragtime once again
in both popular and classical music performances. Two other ballets
of the period were also choreographed to Joplin rags: Barry Moreland’s
Prodigal Son for London Festival Ballet and Alfonso Catá and Kent
Stowell’s Ragtime for Frankfurt Ballet. In 1976, the Pulitzer Committee,
no longer a prim and proper source of musical censorship, issued a
posthumous award for Scott Joplin’s contribution to American music.
Ragtime thus became (and has remained) a permanent part of Amer-
ican musical territory.
These developments continue to have a lasting influence on the clas-
sical music tradition, as Charles Ives wrote in his Essays Before a Sonata:
To examine ragtime rhythms and the syncopations of Schumann or of Brahms
seems to the writer to show how much alike they are not. Ragtime, as we hear

8. Scott Joplin

it, is, of course, more (but not much more) than a natural dogma of shifted
accents. It is something like wearing a derby hat on the back of the head, a
shuffling lilt of a happy soul just let out of a Baptist church in old Alabama.

When we listen to Dvořák, Debussy, Copland, Milhaud or Stravinsky,

every now and then, in the back of our minds, there is more than a
hint that Scott Joplin’s influence will live forever in the world of music.
v v v
The questions and answers that follow are based on Q&A ses-
sions from a series of lectures I presented at the CIEE Global Insti-
tute in London as visiting professor in ethnomusicology from 2017 to
Why was Joplin ignored and forgotten so soon after his death?
It is always difficult to explain the ebb and flow of what is in fashion
and what is not. It is not so much that Joplin was ignored and forgotten
as that popular music was rapidly evolving and taking on new forms.
The key to understanding the changes lies as much in the world of
popular dance as in the world of popular music. As “swing” changed
the fashions in dance halls, so what was acceptable in music altered
radically, and original ragtime where Joplin had reigned supreme was
suddenly no longer relevant.
Are his operatic talents as impressive as his admirers claim?
What little evidence we have shows that Joplin was both original,
vividly creative and immediately acceptable. It is a major tragedy in
operatic music in general that so little of his brilliance has managed
to survive.
Admittedly it is pure speculation, but had he not succumbed to
syphilis, does it really look as though he might have developed
into a major classical composer?
Historians are always fascinated by the “what ifs” of history, but
sadly historians are limited to recounting what actually happened and
trying to analyze that, rather than wandering down the blind paths of
what might have happened if only such and such. The facts are that

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Joplin succumbed to general paralysis of the insane at an early age,

and his undoubted talents died with him.
He was immensely successful as a composer of ragtime, but how
innovative was he?
The two things speak for themselves. He was immensely successful
because he was different, because his ragtime music sounded as fresh
and new as undoubtedly it was. To a certain extent, his innovations
are screened from a later generation simply because so many of his
contemporaries fastened onto his innovations and imitated them. We
now see the era as a whole, but he was the undoubted leader who set
the style.
Will we ever know how much of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was
It is always better to be borrowed from than to have to borrow.
Irving Berlin is a very famous name in the history of popular music,
and there can be no doubt about his creative and original talent.
All the same, it is quite likely that in the early days of his long and
illustrious composing career, he consciously or unconsciously
responded to another major talent. These things are impossible to
prove, and the listener must in the last resort follow his or her own
Was the time he had to spend as a performer and as a teacher a
help or a hindrance to him as a composer?
In 1913, Joplin set up, with his new wife, his own publishing com-
pany, which published Magnetic Rag in 1914. In the next two years he
composed several new rags and songs, a vaudeville act, a musical, a
symphony and a piano concerto, but none of them were published and
the manuscripts have disappeared. By 1916, he was beginning to be
seriously affected by the disease of syphilis. Looking over his career,
it is astonishing to observe the energy and creative ability [with]
which he tackled his work. Obviously he had to perform and to teach
in order to have enough money to survive, but, equally obviously, from
somewhere he found the energy to compose and compose and com-

8. Scott Joplin

pose. Perhaps we should accept Shakespeare’s famous words and apply

them to Joplin: “take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like
Has he influenced any classical musicians or composers of the
twenty-first century?
As I understand it, the whole of this book is devoted to looking
at the ways in which African, and particularly African American, music
has had an influence on the development of classical music, particularly
in the twentieth and twenty-first century. The memorial to Sir Christo-
pher Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral reads, “si Momumentum requris,
circumspice” (if you require a monument, look around you). Joplin
undoubtedly made a major contribution to the development of African
American popular music. This, in turn, has been a major influence on
a significant number of composers in the classical tradition; in that
sense, Joplin’s monument is all around us.
Was he more willing than most composers to collaborate with
other composers?
He does not seem to have [had] any problems [with] collaboration.
He was clearly confident of his own ability. We have hinted at a possi-
ble unwilling cooperation with Irving Berlin, but he was quite
happy to work with other composers if and when the occasion called
for it.
He was quite prepared to form his own bands and direct an
opera company. Is this usual for composers to be so prepared to
take charge?
Musical history is littered with examples of composers who were
all too willing to take charge and often had to do so in order to achieve
the effects that they were striving for. Creative talent and administra-
tive ability are often intertwined. The obvious example is Wagner, who
not only wrote operas but produced a whole new theory about how to
perform them, got a special theater built for them and directed almost
every detail of each production. Joplin was no more and no less unusual
than many other famous composers in doing what he did.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

What insights into his character does his falling so heavily for a
nineteen-year-old girl, having three wives and dying of syphilis
give us?
We know very little about Joplin the man. What facts we have
allow us to make assumptions. He certainly had three wives, he clearly
fell heavily for a nineteen-year-old girl, and, sadly, somewhere along
the line he contracted syphilis. That is all we know.


Florence Beatrice Price


Florence Beatrice Price was born within a surprisingly successful

upper-middle-class black professional group in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Her father was a successful dentist (he even had the state governor as
one of his patients), and her mother had a career as a teacher, then a
restaurant owner and dabbler in real estate.
Price’s family was deeply religious and played a prominent role in
the life of the local Presbyterian church, where music was taken seri-
ously, steeped in the liturgical traditions of Western European classical
music. This was an unusually rich background for a budding composer
who soon displayed real musical talent at an early age. On the one
hand, she was brought up in the rich musical tradition of Negro spir-
ituals and black dance; on the other hand, she had early and formative
access to the whole European musical tradition, particularly where it
connected with the rituals of the church.
It should also be remembered that the 1920s and 1930s saw the
steady rise of what is now known as the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural
movement (particularly among writers and poets) centered around
Harlem, New York. One of the movement’s chief poets was Langston
Hughes, and it is clear from her frequent use of his writings in her
work that Florence Price was deeply influenced by and very much a
part of this growing sense of an African American identity and desire
for equality, status and artistic freedom.
Astonishingly, Price first performed as a musician at the piano in
public at the age of four. At the age of eleven she had a composition
published and later received her first fee for a composition at the age

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

of sixteen. In 1903, she entered the New England Conservatory, appar-

ently assuming a Mexican identity in order to avoid any discrimination
because she was black. This fact alone tells us a great deal about the
influences surrounding her
early years. She had been lucky
in her upbringing, especially in
the musical interest of her par-
ents and church, and she was
as well equipped as any other
student in the conservatory to
tackle the coursework, but
because she was black she was
already seen as handicapped
and different from her fellow
students. During her three
years as a student, she also
worked as a church organist
and pianist. She graduated with
qualifications both as an organ-
ist and in musical education.
Price taught in the music
department at Shorter College
in Arkansas from 1906 to 1910,
Florence Price was the first African in addition to looking after her
American Woman to have a symphony
father, who had separated from
performed by a major orchestra. She
composed more than three hundred his wife. She then took a job as
works, and her songs and arrangements head of music at Clarke Uni-
were performed by some of the most versity in Atlanta, Georgia,
admired voices of her day. Her sym- from 1910 to 1912. But she sub-
phonies and chamber works were
famous for incorporating the melodies sequently returned to Little
from Negro spirituals, and her work is Rock, Arkansas, to marry a
considered an important part of the young attorney with whom she
New Negro arts movement (First Acces- lived for fifteen years and had
sion Florence Price Papers, MC 988,
Box 1, Folder 12, Item 1, Special Collec-
two daughters and a son who
tions, University of Arkansas Libraries, sadly died in infancy. She even-
Fayetteville). tually separated from her hus-

9. Florence Beatrice Price

band, and, with two daughters to bring up, she needed a variety of pro-
fessional musical activities to earn enough to live on during a period
of economic setbacks known as the Great Depression. She managed,
but the wonder is not so much that she kept herself financially afloat
but that she managed a whole range of musical compositions.
In 1932, Price’s Symphony in E Minor was played by the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra and won the Wanamaker Prize, bringing her the
fame she richly deserved. In the same competition, her Piano Sonata
in E Minor topped its category, and her student and friend Margaret
Bonds won the first prize for Price’s song The Sea Ghost. Price wrote
afterward, “I found it possible to snatch a few precious days in the
month of January in which to write undisturbed. But, oh dear me, when
shall I ever be so fortunate again as to break a foot.”
The last movement of the Symphony in E Minor is of particular
significance for the purposes of this book, as this piece provides clear
evidence that black musical culture, having originated in Africa and
adapted to slavery in the Caribbean and southern American states,
gradually influenced classical Western music and overwhelmingly
transformed popular music. Price’s symphony is completely conven-
tional in having four movements and is scored for a usual-sized orches-
tra. However, she brings in large and small African drums, cathedral
chimes, orchestral bells and a whistle. Throughout, she also infuses
the traditional form with black music techniques that were well outside
the usual classical approach. In the last movement, which might have
been expected to be a minuet, a trio or a scherzo, she breathtakingly
uses the rhythms of the Juba dance.
In the early days of slavery, rhythmic instruments (particularly
drums) were banned whenever groups of slaves assembled in their
spare time to dance. The Juba dance (which involves stomping as well
as slapping and patting of one’s arms, legs, chest, and cheeks) became
a useful alternative to dancing to drums and remained widespread and
popular among black circles throughout the nineteenth century. In
Price’s able hands, this dance form invaded the Western classical tra-
dition and gave it fresh vigor.
The symphony was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orches-
tra, conducted by Frederick Stock, on June 15, 1933, at the Century of

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Progress Exhibition. It represented a very positive step in the growing

status not only of African music but also of black people (and partic-
ularly black women). Florence Price thus became the first black female
composer to have a symphonic work performed by a major American
In spite of all her teaching commitments and the need to keep her
finances stable, Price composed more than three hundred songs, piano
pieces and orchestral works. Many of her songs were arrangements of
Negro folk songs and spirituals. These were in themselves something
new and fresh in the Western musical tradition.
It has to be remembered that the music slaves had brought with
them from Africa was viewed by their white owners with great suspi-
cion. Here was something they did not really understand any more than
the African dance forms that accompanied it. Both seemed outlandish,
alien and vaguely threatening. In the early days of slavery, not only in
the islands of the Caribbean but also in the southern states of America,
there were very persistent fears about the potential for rebellion among
the slaves. Drumming in particular was seen as a way for slaves to con-
vey hidden messages of revolt to each other. When they were allowed
to come together as groups in their spare time to dance for relaxation,
the use of drums was strictly forbidden, as was any kind of African
musical instrument, if only because the slave owners had not the
faintest idea of what these instruments could do or create. However,
the slaves still had their musical memories, their voices and their bodies.
With these, they could keep alive their ancestral music, the vivid and
entirely different African musical culture from which they had been so
cruelly torn. It was a major aspect of their inevitable search for a kind
of identity other than that of “slave,” which was being forced upon them.
Out of these feelings emerged the Negro folk song, particularly
the spiritual. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass, in The Narrative of
the Life of Frederick Douglass (his 1845 memoir and treatise publication
on abolition), stated that spirituals
told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension;
they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint
of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony
against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.

9. Florence Beatrice Price

The African American spiritual has three main forms: the call and
response chant; the slow, long phrase melody; and the syncopated seg-
mented melody. The musicologist John W. Work Jr. (1873–1895) was
among the first collectors of Negro and folk songs. In 1940, his son,
John W. Work III, wrote one of the first books on African American
folk songs: American Negro Songs: 230 Folk Songs and Spirituals, Reli-
gious and Secular. In it he claimed, “From the standpoint of form,
melodic variety, and emotional expressiveness, the spiritual is the most
highly developed of the Negro folk songs.” In his analysis, Work
insisted, “There were employed notes foreign to the conventional major
and minor scales with such frequency as to justify their being regarded
as distinct. The most common of these are ‘flatted third’ (the feature
of the blues) and the flatted seventh.”
These syncopated rhythms brought something fresh and different
to classical music, and they added a vibrancy in performance that Flo-
rence Price was among the first not just to appreciate but also to use
in her own compositions. She was fortunate in that her close involve-
ment with her church, particularly as an organist, gave her a ready
outlet for the performance of her works—a splendid stimulus for any
In 1940, Price became a member of the American Society of Com-
posers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), sponsored by the composer
John Alden Carpenter. Her works became widely known, as they were
performed by musicians like Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price and
the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Following the success of her Sym-
phony in E Minor, Price’s orchestral compositions were performed by
recognized and important orchestras such as the Detroit Symphony,
the Michigan WPA Symphony and the American Symphony. Yet she
had difficulty getting any of her orchestral works published and clearly
felt victimized by both her race and her gender. In a letter written to
the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, she makes this feel-
ing very clear:
My dear Dr. Koussevizky,
To begin with I have two handicaps—those of sex and race. I am a woman;
and I have some Negro blood in my veins. Knowing the worst, then, would you
be good enough to hold in check the possible inclination to regard women’s

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

composition as long on emotionalism but short on virility and thought con-

tent—until you shall have examined some of my work?
As to the handicap of race, may I relieve you by saying that I neither expect
nor ask any concession on that score. I should like to be judged on merit
alone—the great trouble having been to get conductors, who know nothing of
my work … to even consent to examine a score.

The failure to get her orchestral works published may go some

way toward explaining the relative obscurity into which Florence Price
has fallen in the twenty-first century. She died in 1953 at St. Luke’s
Hospital in Chicago, immediately next door to the Grace Episcopal
Church, where she had played many of her organ compositions.
v v v
The questions and answers that follow are based on Q&A sessions
from a series of lectures I presented at the CIEE Global Institute in
London as visiting professor in ethnomusicology from 2017 to 2018.
Instead of playing down African ancestry, Florence Price
embraced it enthusiastically, as she showed in her music. Was
this a particularly brave move for the time?
Florence Price belonged to a small and not at all representative
elite, a cultivated and educated, affluent middle class, in spite of exist-
ing as black people surrounded by prejudice. Her ancestry was incred-
ibly mixed—French, Indian and Spanish on her mother’s side and
Negro, Indian and English on her father’s side. Her skin tone, her
accent and her way of speaking, and her unusually affluent background
could have enabled her to step away from her black heritage, immersed
as she was in the Harlem Renaissance and in particular the Chicago
Black Renaissance. It is clear that, as a composer, much of her inspi-
ration was derived as much from Afro-American music as from the
Western European tradition. As a composer, she could not possibly
step away from her major interest. Her decision to immerse herself in
Afro-American music clearly defined, for her, who she was and what
she wanted to be. It was not so much brave as inevitable.
What were the influences that persuaded her to identify so
clearly with Afro-American music?

9. Florence Beatrice Price

There is a depressing lack of documentation among early Afro-

American composers. One example will have to suffice, but an out-
standing composer in the Harlem Renaissance, as well as being fiercely
influential in the Chicago Black Renaissance, was Nora Douglas Holt.
She wrote over two hundred works that were performed and admired
at the time, but nobody was prepared to publish them. They have all
been lost, with the exception of one piece: Negro Dance for solo piano.
She was by no means exceptional. A depressing number of composers
and names have faded into oblivion, but in their time, they all helped
to create what became a massive change in attitudes and understand-
ing. It was this tradition that so influenced Florence Price.
One composer from this period, Harry T. Burleigh (1866–1949),
had been published and has survived, particularly his contributions to
art song and arrangements of spirituals for solo voice. He wrote, “My
desire is to preserve them in harmonies that belong to modern meth-
ods of tonal progression without robbing the melodies of their racial
flavor.” Burleigh had worked with Dvořák, whose New World Symphony
proved so influential in introducing African influence into Western
classical music. Yet Dvořák came to African music as a Western tourist
fascinated by something alien. Burleigh had been brought up in it from
infancy, and so, it is worth remembering, had Florence Price. They
spoke with an authentic local voice deeply rooted in a flourishing tra-
dition. That is what makes Price so powerful.
What were the main aims, musically speaking, of the Harlem
Renaissance and the Chicago Black Renaissance?
Alain Locke, a leading figure in the renaissance, wrote, “The
younger generation is vibrant with a new psychology: the new spirit
is awake in the masses, and under the very eyes of the professional
observers is transforming what has been a perennial problem into the
progressive phases of contemporary Negro life.”
Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life at last offered a medium for
Afro-American artists and authors who were ignored by the main-
stream media of the time. A wealthy Harlem resident and businessman,
Casper Holstein, gave one thousand dollars to Opportunity for Holstein
Prizes for composers, and Price won second prize for a piano suite

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

titled In the Land O’Cotton. So here was the embodiment of what the
Harlem Renaissance and the Chicago Black Renaissance were aiming
for: recognition as equal artists in terms of merit and claiming a status
that transcended concepts of race and skin color.
There were other issues involved in Price’s struggle for recogni-
tion. As she said in her well-publicized letter to Dr. Koussevitzky,
“To begin with I have two handicaps—those of sex and race.” She
was a woman at a time when women were almost as oppressed
and devalued as were black people, particularly in the realms of
artistic creation. Was she alone in seeking recognition in terms of
her merit rather than her gender?
She was not alone. As well as Price and Margaret Bonds [covered
elsewhere in this book], there was not only Holt, whom we have men-
tioned above, but other women composers like Irene Britton Smith,
who studied music theory and composition with Stella Roberts at the
American Conservatory and Vittorio Giannini at Juilliard and went on
to study with Nadia Boulanger at the Fontainebleau Conservatory in
France. Women were in fact among the major forces for change during
this period. Estella Bonds had been president of the Chicago Treble
Clef Club, with Price as director. Estella was also a president of the
CMA, as were Holt and Neota L. McCurdy Dyett. The National Asso-
ciation of Negro Musicians [NANM] had three women presidents
between the years 1930 and 1938: Lillian LeMon, Maude Roberts
George and Camille L. Nickerson. It is clear that women were becom-
ing a force to be reckoned with in the movement.
Price won the piano composition category and the symphonic
category in the 1932 Rodman Wanamaker Music Contest. How
was this contest established, and what was its status and impor-
The Wanamaker family was foremost among the patrons of
Chicago’s artistic community. They contributed and were very much
a part of beliefs that achievements of black people in the arts could
help dissolve commonly held assumptions of white superiority. Led by
Rodman Wanamaker, they supported a number of projects that helped

9. Florence Beatrice Price

to empower oppressed communities, ranging from the homeless in

Philadelphia to supporting what remained of the original Native Amer-
ican population. Inevitably, within these aims the plight of Afro-
Americans became a major cause for support. Rodman Wanamaker
was not only vividly aware of the oppression suffered by Afro-
Americans but also himself fascinated by their music. He set up the
Wanamaker Music Contest specifically to give Afro-American com-
posers greater chances for recognition, and also, because it was done
in partnership with the NANM, it gave them status and prestige in the
musical world at large.
How successful was the Rodman Wanamaker Music Contest in
achieving its aim?
The contest could hardly have been more successful. It brought
Price to the attention of the German composer and conductor Fred-
erick Stock, who was music director of the Chicago Symphony Orches-
tra. Stock had been searching for work that could be appropriate for
the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, which was capturing the attention
of not only America but of the world in general. On June 15, 1933, the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed Price’s Symphony No. 1 in E
Minor at the World’s Fair, making her the first Afro-American woman
composer to have a symphonic work performed by a major orchestra.
Even more importantly, the Symphony No. 1 in E Minor itself had a
remarkable success. In the months that followed, others of Price’s com-
positions were included in the World’s Fair Century of Progress Exhi-
bition and also in events set up by the International Congress of
Women as well as the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People (NAACP).
To what extent was Florence Price’s success a personal achieve-
ment, and to what extent did it help the cause of Afro-American
It did even more than that. Modern feminists still regard this as
a major achievement for their cause. Not only was Florence Price an
Afro-American composer, she was also a woman. That a woman could
achieve what she did advanced the cause of women’s equality with

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

men, if anything even more than it had advanced the cause of black
Afro- Americans with their fellow white American citizens. Her
achievement certainly brought widespread satisfaction among Afro-
Americans that one of their number should prove as gifted, or even
more so, than any white composer. But it also heartened women still
struggling for equality. The Afro-American composer and author
Shirley Graham Du Bois wrote in 1936, “Spirituals to symphonies in
less than fifty years! How could they attempt it? Among her millions
of citizens, America can boast of but a few symphonists…. And one
of these symphonists is a woman! Florence B. Price.”
How successfully did Florence Price make the most of her new-
found 1932 achievements?
It has to be remembered that World War II had a devastating
effect on the growth of artistic achievement in the 1930s and 1940s.
All the same, Florence Price’s reputation steadily increased during this
period. After the war, in 1951, she was approached by Sir John Barbi-
rolli, then music director of the famous Hallé Orchestra based in Man-
chester, England. He was anxious to commission an orchestral work
based on traditional Afro-American spirituals. Nothing could better
illustrate her growing status. She completed the work, but medical
heart problems prevented her from attending the performance. She
was to have received an award in Paris in 1953, but again heart prob-
lems prevented her from doing so. She died in Chicago’s St. Luke’s
Hospital in 1953.
What became of her growing status and reputation? Why do we
hear so little about her? Why are her works so seldom performed?
Sadly, she has joined the long list of women writers, painters and
composers whose talents, while clearly recognized in their own time,
have faded into oblivion, as the history of art has slowly but firmly
edged them out of the limelight. The history of art has largely been
written by men. Feminists are gradually waking up to the many injus-
tices their gender has had to suffer—not only at the time that they
were creating but by the way that they are viewed by posterity. Florence
Price is one such victim. She has quite simply been written out of most

9. Florence Beatrice Price

accounts of Afro-American achievements in the arts. Sadly, it is true

that today she hardly exists at all in the minds of the great majority of
music lovers. As a black writer, I am forced over and over again to sup-
press a righteous indignation at the way my black forebears, who
included actual slaves, were treated, were oppressed, were humiliated,
were robbed of the dignity of being human. Yet I, too, am a man. I can
only guess at the feelings of feminists looking back at the way women,
and not only black women, were treated in the past.


William Grant Still


William Grant Still was known during his lifetime as the dean of
Afro- American composers. He composed more than 150 works,
including five symphonies and eight operas. In addition to being taken
seriously in America, his work has been performed as part of the gen-
eral orchestral repertoire throughout the Western musical world.
As with Scott Joplin, Still is an example of an innate musical talent
that overcame all early obstacles and proved irresistible. His mother
and father were both teachers in Alabama and then Mississippi, where
he was born. His father undoubtedly had musical talents but died at
the early age of twenty-four, leaving young William to be brought up
by his mother, who wanted him to become a doctor; as a result, he
enrolled at Wilberforce College in Idaho to study science. She had,
however, also arranged for him to study the violin and seems to have
been very firm in making sure that he practiced properly. There was
no music department at Wilberforce, but it had a student band, and
Still took over the direction and even made arrangements for a stu-
dents’ string quartet. His early hero was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor,
whom he idolized as a student (although he never actually met him)
and who became a major influence on his early development: “I tried
to imitate him in every way possible, even tried to make my rather
straight hair stand up on my head bushily like he wore his. That was
next to impossible, but I tried hard and long.”
In 1912, Still returned home from school to discover that his step-
father had bought a Victrola. He spent day after day listening to record-
ings of operas. This changed his life, and he decided to immerse himself

10. William Grant Still

in a musical career. In 1914, he

left college to go to Columbus,
Ohio, to play as a professional
in a small group. The following
year, he married Grace Bundy;
they were together until 1938
and had four children (three girls
and a boy). The group Still joined
had a piano, clarinet, violin and
cello; he played the cello. They
played for an athletic club, white
vaudeville shows and Luna
Park in Cleveland. Their reper-
tory was conventional European
music like Straus’ Chocolate Sol-
In 1917, Still received a small
legacy from his father and
decided to use it studying music
at Oberlin. But, overcome with
enthusiasm as America finally
joined World War I, he enlisted William Grant Still (photograph by
in the navy. Black people were Carl Van Vechten, Library of Con-
then restricted to relatively gress).
menial jobs, so he became a mess
steward, though apparently not a very good one. When the navy dis-
covered that Still could play the violin, he was transferred to the offi-
cers’ mess, where he played with a white pianist, trundling out tunes
like “You Made Me Love You,” “Roses of Picardy,” and “After You’ve
Gone.” In the Bay of Biscay, the sailors were attacked with torpedoes
but kept the music going in splendid style. (Presumably “After You’ve
Gone” was depressingly appropriate under these circumstances.) On
Still’s return to Oberlin in 1919, a teacher was so impressed with his
setting of a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that he suggested Still study
composition and, hearing that he could not afford to join that course,
arranged for him to join for free.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Prior to joining the navy, Still had spent a summer working for
the blues man W.C. Handy, making band arrangements for “Beale
Street Blues” and “St. Louis Blues,” among others. His grandmother
had regularly sung spirituals to him when he was a boy. When Still
returned to Oberlin to continue his studies, Handy had moved to New
York from Memphis and wanted him to make arrangements for the
group, which Still did for two years.
In 1921, Still was playing the oboe in the orchestra of a blues musi-
cal called Shuffle Along. A surprising amount of talent was associated
with this very successful musical, which ran for two years in New York
before going on tour, including Paul Robeson, Caterina Jarboro, Flo-
rence Mills and Josephine Baker. While on tour in Boston, Still went
to the New England Conservatory, then directed by George Whitefield
Chadwick, hoping to study composition. Chadwick, after looking at
something Still had written, was so impressed that he offered to teach
him free of charge. He subsequently became a major influence in Still’s
musical development.
At the time he met Still, Chadwick was at the end of a musical career
that had started well but ultimately faded away so that his works were
seldom performed and an opera that he had hoped would be the peak
of his career was rejected by the Metropolitan Opera and never per-
formed in his lifetime. Yet, as director of the conservatory, he was greatly
respected in the musical world and had much to pass on to Still. Musi-
cally, Chadwick was firmly based in the German romantic style but had
consciously set out to give that noble tradition a flavor that was uniquely
American. In a speech in 1966, Still spoke of “that wonderful pioneer
American composer, George W. Chadwick, who introduced me to the
possibilities inherent in serious American music…. I gained an appre-
ciation of the American tradition and potential in music…. It was [Chad-
wick] more than anyone else who inspired me to write American music.”
Then, astonishingly, this gifted young black American went to
study with Edgard Varèse, who had decided he wanted to teach a young
black composer in the new avant-garde tradition. Still recommended
himself and studied with Varèse for two years. Ultimately, although
acknowledging that he learned much about musical experimentation
from Varèse, Still rejected Varèse as a major influence:

10. William Grant Still

[Varèse] took for himself, and encouraged in others, absolute freedom in com-
posing. Inevitably, while I was studying with him, I began to think as he did
and to compose music which was performed; music which was applauded by
the avant-garde, such as were found in the International Composers’ Guild. As
a matter of fact, I was so intrigued by what I had learned from Mr. Varèse that
I let it get the better of me. I became its servant, not its master…. But at the
same time, the things I learned from Mr. Varèse—let us call them horizons he
opened up to me—have had a profound effect on the music I have written

In later life, Still came to be even more circumspect about Varèse:

Possibly some of you know that for me, the so-called “avant-garde” is now the
rear guard, for I studied with its high priest, Edgar Varèse, in the Twenties,
and became a devoted disciple…. I learned a great deal from the avant-garde
idiom and from Mr. Varèse, but—just as with jazz—I learned, but did not bow
to its complete domination.

Around this time, Still (with a secure background in the Germanic-

European tradition from Chadwick and the latest avant-garde exper-
iments from Varèse) seems to have begun to find his own voice, not
only as a composer able to combine a wide background of different
styles but also as a composer with a mission. He was becoming aware
that music could embody both the plight and the identity of black
Americans, a sadly segregated group seemingly condemned to inferi-
ority compared to their white fellow Americans. Although Still spent
much of his early life arranging and composing popular music, includ-
ing music for film and later television, his major influence was serious
classical music, a perfect example of the Afro-American impact on the
European classical tradition.
We have already referred elsewhere to the Harlem Renaissance,
but toward the end of 1930 and the beginning of 1931, this renaissance,
essentially a literary one, began to run out of steam. Langston Hughes
That spring for me (and, I guess, for all of us) was the end of the Harlem Ren-
aissance. We were no longer in vogue, anyway, we Negroes. Sophisticated New
Yorkers turned to Noel Coward. Colored actors began to go hungry, publishers
politely rejected new manuscripts, and patrons found other uses for their
money. The cycle that had charlestoned into being on the dancing heels of
Shuffle Along now ended in Green Pastures with De Lawd.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

In 1931, Still finally emerged as a composer in his own right, but

also as a major voice in the movement that had culminated in the
Harlem Renaissance. He consciously and deliberately felt that he was
voicing the urge for justice against discrimination and oppression
deeply felt by Afro-American people. He was breaking new ground in
many ways, being among the first Afro-American composers to write
symphonies, including the first major work by a black composer to be
performed by a major orchestra. As a composer, Still embodied many
of the aims of the Harlem Renaissance in music (as opposed to most
of the movement’s other achievements, which had been primarily lit-
erary). Yet even more than this was the undoubted fact that Still could
be grouped and enrolled among the leading new composers of his day
quite irrespective of his race. In 1931, his Afro-American Symphony
was seen as equivalent to pivotal compositions of the time like Aaron
Copland’s Piano Variations, Ruth Crawford’s String Quartet and
Edgard Varèse’s Ionisation. These works came at the end of an exciting
decade of economic prosperity seething with creative vigor and inno-
vations, packed with optimism about the future and a growing desire
that things should change for the better. Sadly, 1931 ushered in not
just the sad fizzling out of the Harlem Renaissance but also the horri-
fying experiences of the Great Depression as an economic boom col-
lapsed in disaster. When people were desperate to keep their jobs and
to put a meal on the table, the cultural excitements of the New Woman,
the New Negro, the New Art and the New Music were either com-
pletely forgotten or ruthlessly shoved aside.
Still, in his early career, had been fortunately able to straddle two
very different worlds. The world of popular music, of Shuffle Along
and the jazz that had developed from ragtime and the spirituals of the
blues, was very different from the world of classical music, of big
orchestras and major European composers. Working with Varèse, Still
was accepted and made contacts in the world of the musical elite. He
also established himself as the only black concert composer of his day
in a world that was otherwise dominated by exclusively white com-
posers, conductors and even largely performers. Varèse introduced
Still to Howard Hanson, who later conducted the premiere of the Afro-
American Symphony. Still’s first work to be performed in the rarefied

10. William Grant Still

atmosphere of the world of orchestral music was From the Land of

Dreams (apparently somewhat marred by the dissonances he had
inherited from Varèse). This music is now lost. But in the Afro-Amer-
ican Symphony, Still consciously turned to writing music that not only
was excitingly representative of black culture but also shed a good deal
of the influence from Varèse in favor of a musical gift with melody that
was likeable and accessible for a wide audience. In 1975, he stated:
After this period [of writing “ultramodern” music], I felt that I wanted for a
while to devote myself to writing racial music. And here, because of my own
racial background, a great many people decided that I ought to confine myself
to that sort of music. In that too, I disagreed. I was glad to write Negro music
then, and I still do it when I feel so inclined, for I have a great love and respect
for the idiom. But it has certainly not been the only musical idiom to attract

In 1926, the first performance of Still’s Levee Land by the Inter-

national Composers’ Guild, written for the well-known black singer
Florence Mills, was a grandly social occasion attended by music nota-
bles like George Gershwin, Carl Van Vechten and Arturo Toscanini.
Two years earlier had seen the premiere of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in
Blue. Here, for the first time, Still was not only consciously using black
musical themes to express the cultural aims of black people but also
writing for a black singer associated with cabaret and musicals rather
than the elite world of classical music. He was breaking new ground,
and in 1931 came the rich harvest of his Afro-American Symphony,
with its popular themes melded by a composer who was at last finding
his own voice and style.
The progression of Still’s ideas was fascinating. He recognized
that he and fellow blacks felt different from (and, to some extent, antag-
onized by their treatment by) the white majority. But he came to be
firmly opposed to the idea that Afro-Americans should remain differ-
ent from but equal to whites. He felt that from the fusion of Afro-
American and white cultural traditions a new kind of culture could
emerge, one that was truly American and truly united. In 1969, he
Make no mistake about it: segregation today is illegal because those of us who
came before fought a legal battle against it and struggled to gain our rights as

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

American citizens—this, during a period when our opportunities were so far

less than those of today. We didn’t waste time and energy returning hatred for
hatred. Instead, we continued moving toward our goal, never forgetting that
our progress was being hastened because of the help given us by many fine,
White Americans. We won the battle with their help.

In some respects, Still was wonderfully conservative. He felt that

he had seen through what Varèse had to teach him and that composers
in the Stockhausen tradition were working in a remarkably limited
style, one that cut itself off from an audience by its very dissonance.
He went so far as to suggest that it was not really music at all: “in any
discussion of the requirements of American music, I think we have
the right, first of all, to demand that it be music.” This comment is dis-
tressingly reminiscent of what Gioachino Rossini said about Hector
Berlioz’s Funeral March: “How fortunate we are that this has nothing
to do with music.”
All the same, Still himself progressed from a grounding in Amer-
ican popular music and the European classical music tradition to a
conscious effort to write music that would both expose and improve
Afro- American oppression, going on to write music that would
embody a variety of styles and develop into a new and healthy combi-
nation that overcame both hatred and resentment.

v v v
The questions and answers that follow are based on Q&A sessions
from a series of lectures I presented at the CIEE Global Institute in
London as visiting professor in ethnomusicology from 2017 to 2018.

To what extent did William Grant Still embody the aspirations of

the Harlem Renaissance?
Undoubtedly Still echoed the themes of the Harlem Renaissance
by taking black musical folklore and transforming it into serious clas-
sical music. This had, of course, been done by earlier composers like
Harry T. Burleigh (1866–1949), Clarence Cameron White (1880–
1960), Still’s black British cultural hero, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
(1875–1912) and R. Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943).
Still did not restrict himself to music alone but, in true Harlem

10. William Grant Still

Renaissance style, looked for inspiration to visual artists as well. His

Suite for Violin and Piano in 1943 relies heavily on African music, just
as he had managed earlier in his choral ballet, Sahdji, in 1931. The first
movement of his suite looked at Richmond Barthé’s African Dancer
and contained a three-measure phrase structure in the opening theme
and a contrasting blues middle section. The second movement related
to Sargent Johnson’s lithograph, Mother and Child, and the finale was
based on Gamin, a bronze sculpture by Augusta Savage which was
used on the cover of the recording for New World Records and was
premiered in Boston’s Jordan Hall on March 12, 1944.
The Afro-American Symphony of 1930 bases itself not on Afro-
American spirituals but on Afro-American blues. Was this a rev-
olutionary departure at the time?
Still felt that his Afro-American Symphony should be based on
what he calls “the sons of the soil, who still retain so many of the traits
peculiar to their African forebears.” Whereas the spirituals embodied
the coming together of African and European influences, he felt the
blues were the true voice of an oppressed people. Musically speaking,
the blues are very precisely defined in a given form: eight or twelve
bars of music with a rigid progression of chords. Such a closed form
made it difficult for a composer to create the continuous musical devel-
opment which is an essential part of symphonic composition. Just as
the very closely precise forms of Ukrainian folk songs limited the pos-
sibility for Tchaikovsky in his Symphony No. 2, so did opting for the
blues as his basic inspiration limit the range of choices open to Still in
his Afro-American Symphony. Still brilliantly overcame these limita-
tions by both using the blues and also moving outside them. Still has
described this symphony as being “based on a simple little blues
theme.” But as well as the twelve-bar blues in the first movement, he
uses a spiritual in the second, a minstrel song in the third and a church
hymn in the finale. It must also be remembered that, in true Harlem
Renaissance style, Still links the symphony with the poetry of Paul Lau-
rence Dunbar. Each movement is prefaced with a Dunbar epigraph,
and for those aware of the poetry from which these epigraphs are taken,
this adds a particular layer of richness to the effect of the music which

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

follows it. In effect, while it was revolutionary to use the blues as a

basis for a full classical symphony, Still overcomes their limitations, as
far as classical music is concerned, by stepping outside of them.
How crucial for Still’s development was his association with the
avant-garde European composer Edgard Varèse?
The sheer chance which characterized their meeting in the first
place has become something of a musical legend. Apparently, on a
transatlantic trip in the early 1920s, Varèse met and was impressed by
a Colonel Charles Young, a Negro who had seen thirty-four years’
active service in the United States Army. This man impressed Varèse
so much that he decided to offer a scholarship for a black person to
study with him, and Varèse wrote to different prominent black musi-
cians in New York asking them to nominate a candidate. One of the
letters reached the Black Swan phonograph company, where Still was
working, and Still promptly proposed himself as a candidate.
Varèse seems to have not only opened up a musical world of new
possibilities for Still, but, even more importantly, as a leading light in
the International Composers’ Guild, he presented Still with opportu-
nities to have his work performed and also introduced him to major
conductors of the time, including Leopold Stokowski, conductor of
the Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Goossens, conductor of the
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra; and Georges Barrère, conductor
of the Little Symphony Orchestra. By the end of their association, Still
had more works performed by the guild than most other Americans.
In no sense can Varèse be seen as being preoccupied by racial
issues within his work. Yet Still increasingly took up Afro-
American issues of racism and discrimination in his own work.
Did this help him finally to break away from the Varèse influence
that had dominated some of his earlier classical music?
Living in Harlem in the 1920s, Still was very much involved with
creative artists like Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, who overtly
rejoiced in their Afro-American origins and cultural beginnings. At
the same time, a number of white artists like Copland, George Gersh-
win and Carl Van Vechten self-consciously used black themes and

10. William Grant Still

idioms in their work. In the last analysis, his parting from Varèse was
perhaps more of an inevitable musical development than something
related to the racial struggles of his time, but they, too, were no doubt
a major influence in his thinking.
Still seems to have been grouped as a modernist by the support-
ers of modernism; yet, as he developed, he undoubtedly outgrew
them. Did this give him a unique position in the world of Ameri-
can music, seemingly with a foot in each camp?
You are right. He was seen as a modernist, but I think it should
be emphasized that although he undoubtedly and equally passionately
involved himself in racialist issues, he was not essentially a modernist,
and he was not essentially an espouser of the racialist cause. As a com-
poser, he was larger than either or both of these issues. His musical
development, which has been a major influence in American classical
music, was essentially concerned with developing music themes rather
than cultural issues. He was creating for the countless numbers of lis-
teners who attend concerts, who buy classical records, who listen end-
lessly to radio performances; he was writing American music for
Americans. Of course, this involved American issues, cultural issues,
racist issues, musical issues, but it is the amalgam of all these things
which makes American classical music today so rich in its heritage
and in its possibilities.


Margaret Allison Bonds


In looking at the life and compositions of Margaret Allison Bonds,

we are moving into a very different era. In the 1920s and 1930s, the
major center of artistic creativity is generally acknowledged to have
been Paris. That is where major creative artists went and worked; in
an artistic sense, it was the place to be for those who mattered and
counted and for the countless hangers-on who basked in the glow of
reflected artistic achievement. By the 1950s and 1960s, however, every-
thing had changed. Paris gradually seemed to lose much of its creative
edge, and the center of artistic creativity moved across the Atlantic to
New York.
At least part of the reason for this outburst of creative energy in
America came from the struggle for equality and status by the steadily
growing black movement, perhaps best exemplified by the Harlem
Renaissance. But there were, of course, a great many other reasons.
The United States had emerged as the victor in World War II, and with
victory came a growing realization that America was now a world
superpower and a bastion for democracy in what was increasingly seen
as the new tensions of the Cold War. This brought enormous self-
confidence among Americans amid an increasing awareness of their
new importance in the world.
Hollywood had steadily established itself as the center for film-
making, and American films gave the American Dream new and
important status throughout the world. The emerging and increasing
influence of the television industry and the rivalry between filmmaking
and television production also engendered a new creative energy dom-

11. Margaret Allison Bonds

inated by the sheer size of the growing American media market. The
increasing blurring of the division between popular and high art
undoubtedly played an important part as well. Likewise, the growing
influence of both classical ballet and American modern dance should
not be underestimated as another important element in establishing
the status of American creativity. The New York City Ballet and Amer-
ican Ballet Theatre gradually established themselves as major players
during this period, accustoming audiences to listen to both classical
and modern music as the repertory extended. American modern
dance, led by creative exponents like Martha Graham and the black
Alvin Ailey, increasingly used American modern composers as well as
exciting new designers
and was sometimes in the
forefront of a creative
surge that seems to have
invigorated all the arts,
from literature to paint-
ing, sculpture and music.
The 1960s and 1970s in
particular were an excit-
ing time both for creative
artists and, as a result of
the increasing power of
the media, for their rap-
idly widening audiences.
It is against this back-
ground that the work and
achievements of Margaret
Allison Bonds should be
set and viewed.
Bonds was a well-
known concert pianist,
but she was much more
than that. She also ran her
own music studios and, Margaret Alison Bonds (photograph by Carl
as an educator, proved to Van Vechten, Library of Congress).

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

be a major influence in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Even more
important, she composed music steadily from 1932 until her death.
Impressively, she ventured into the challenging, large forms of music
making, including symphonies, ballets and oratorios. She was also
much admired as a composer of solo piano and vocal works. She dis-
played a wide range of creativity in styles such as art songs, spirituals,
musical theater songs and jazz songs. She was very much a part of the
American literary surge in creativity during the 1950s and 1960s, set-
ting her songs almost exclusively to American poetry, and she
responded particularly to the growing popularity of American jazz,
echoing African American folk songs, ragtime and the blues.
Margaret Bonds began a long career as a concert pianist at the
age of twenty. She also worked as a rehearsal and audition pianist at
the Apollo Theater and the American Theatre Wing. In effect, she
inaugurated and inspired a long succession of African American female
concert pianists, and, through sheer ability, she dissolved racial prej-
udice when she became the first African American woman to perform
as a featured soloist with impressive orchestras like the Chicago Sym-
phony Orchestra, the Chicago Women’s Symphony, the WNYC
Orchestra and the Scranton Philharmonic Orchestra. Florence Price
taught Bonds (among others), and the two women became friends,
shared an apartment for several years and clearly had a beneficial influ-
ence on each other. Price, with her two daughters, boarded for a time
with the Bonds’ family. As Bonds remembered:
Florence and I would sit in that kitchen, and I was trying to help her with her
extractions of orchestration parts…. When Florence had something that she
had to do, every black musician in Chicago who could write was either
scratching mistakes, or copying, or extracting, or doing something to get Flo-
rence’s work done.

From 1929 to 1934, Bonds studied at Northwestern University in

Evanston, Illinois. At that time, 30 percent of the student body was
female and “blacks were separated from whites by law and by private
action in transportation, public accommodations, recreational facili-
ties, prisons, armed forces, and schools in both Northern and Southern
states.” Bonds could not swim in the university swimming pools, and
although there were dormitories, there were none for African Amer-

11. Margaret Allison Bonds

ican students on the campus. She was even barred from some of the
restaurants that students used because of her color:
I was in this prejudiced university, this terribly prejudiced place…. I was look-
ing in the basement of the Evanston Public Library where they had the poetry.
I came in contact with this wonderful poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,”
and I’m sure it helped my feelings of security. Because in that poem he
[Langston Hughes] tells how great the black man is. And if I had any misgiv-
ings, which I would have to have—here you are in a setup where the restau-
rants won’t serve you and you’re going to college, you’re sacrificing, trying to
get through school—and I know that poem helped save me.

In 1933, the African American dancer and choreographer Kather-

ine Dunham (1909–2006) established the Negro Dance Arts Studio at
3638 South Parkway in Chicago. Margaret Bonds and Florence Price
both worked for this institution as pianists and composers. This expe-
rience brought Bonds into close contact with modern dance, ballet
and the music of the African American composer William Grant Still.
In her first year at the studio, Bonds was the rehearsal pianist for a
production of Still’s ballet La Guiablesse. Katherine Dunham was one
of the principal soloists, and the ballet was directed and choreographed
by Ruth Page (1899–1991). Still’s musical composing style clearly had
an influence on Bonds. In 1964, she composed a ballet called The
Migration for the choreographer, dancer and Tony Award winner Tal-
ley Beatty (1918–1985).
In 1937, Bonds set up the Allied Arts Academy, a school for ballet,
art and music. But in a time of economic recession, it struggled until
1939, when it had to close, and Bonds moved to New York to work at
the Apollo Theater. In 1942, a Roy Harris Fellowship enabled her to
study composition at the Juilliard School.
Interestingly, Bonds had one lesson with the renowned piano
teacher Nadia Boulanger. Bonds described her work as “jazz and bluesy,
and spiritual and Tchaikovsky all rolled up in one.” She then added,
“No wonder Boulanger didn’t quite understand what my music is all
about.” Here we have a direct confrontation between the Western clas-
sical music tradition and that of music deeply influenced by African
American musical forms. It is interesting that Boulanger found herself
at a loss and also that Bonds was unable to make sufficient connection

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

to benefit from what Boulanger had to offer. Boulanger said that Bonds
“had something but she didn’t quite know what to do with it.” Neither
emerges with credit from that one lesson, but a new kind of music was
emerging from the fusion of these two elements, and although
Boulanger was unable to appreciate it, Bonds herself was deeply influ-
enced by the Western music tradition to which she had access through
her inspiring teacher Florence Price.
In 1962, Leontyne Price commissioned two spirituals from Mar-
garet Bonds as part of Price’s first recording of African American spir-
ituals titled Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: Fourteen Spirituals, recorded
for RSA. Price herself went overboard about the American Negro spir-
I know of no poetry or music which expresses the humility, the devout sincer-
ity to our Omnipotent as the American Negro spiritual does. These are beauti-
ful songs which poured originally from the souls of people seeking for a better
place, exclaiming their childlike belief in His wisdom and understanding as
well as portraying the patience of a people of great faith. The spiritual is a
great American heritage, as truly American as apple pie or Boston baked
beans. Spirituals are a musical expression of a great people who are great

It is perhaps unkind to note that neither apple pie nor baked beans are
really American; both were part of the European culinary heritage long
before the American colonies were even thought of. Both apple pie
and baked beans derive as much from Europe as from America, and
so, of course, does the Negro spiritual. Spirituals are not to be found
in Africa, nor are they found in Europe; rather, they are an exhilarating
combination of two major influences.
Bonds included in one of her two compositions for Price a song
she had originally written in 1935 for the contralto Marian Anderson.
It was titled “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and is now
available in a song anthology by Vivian Taylor titled Art Songs and
Spirituals by African American Women Composers. This song was to
become one of the best known of Bonds’ work and is an excellent exam-
ple of a short, syncopated segmented melody. In many ways, it is
exactly what a good African American spiritual should be and brought
Bonds justifiable celebrity.

11. Margaret Allison Bonds

In 1972, Bonds died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-nine. A

week before her death, she had been discussing with Zubin Mehta
(then director and conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orches-
tra) a performance of her oratorio Credo. On May 21, 1972, hardly four
weeks after Bonds’ death, Mehta conducted the Los Angeles Philhar-
monic Orchestra in a memorial concert for Margaret Bonds. The per-
formance not only included Bonds’ Credo but also featured the Albert
McNeil Singers performing several of Bonds’ African American spir-
ituals. Additional memorial services were held for her in the three
cities in which she had worked: New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

v v v

The questions and answers that follow are based on Q&A sessions
from a series of lectures I presented at the CIEE Global Institute in
London as visiting professor in ethnomusicology from 2017 to 2018.

How varied were Margaret Allison Bonds’ compositions?

It should be remembered that Margaret Allison Bonds was com-
posing over quite a lengthy period, 1932–1972, forty years in which
the musical heritage was greatly enhanced and indeed altered. Bonds
confidently used the large forms of classical music in the early twen-
tieth century: symphony, ballet, and oratorio. She was equally success-
ful in solo piano and vocal works. Her solo vocal work included over
one hundred pieces, showing themselves a surprising variety—art
songs, spirituals, musical theater songs as well as jazz songs. She was
very much part of her American culture in largely setting her music
to American poetry, and her jazz works could not have been more
American. Over half of the solo vocal works she created used the
poetry of her longstanding friend Langston Hughes (1902–1967),
himself also a founding father of the Harlem Renaissance. Bonds
also composed music for several of Langston Hughes’ work for the

We know that Langston Hughes played an important part in her

cultural development. Was she perhaps overdominated by his
rebellious attitudes and assumptions?

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

Not at all. She was very much her own person and dominated the
culture of her time and place in her own right, with her own tastes and
attitudes. Her songs include the poetry of Countee Cullen (1903–
1946), Arna Bontemps (1902–1973), as well as poems by Edna St. Vin-
cent Millay (1892–1950), Robert Frost (1874–1963), W.E.B. Du Bois
(1868–1963), Roger Chaney, Marjorie May, Malone Dickerson, and
also a single poem written by Bonds.
She was a successful concert pianist in her own right, but she also
worked as a rehearsal and audition pianist at the Apollo Theater and
the American Theatre Wing. Just as Florence Price was important in
becoming the first female and black composer to be performed by a
major classical orchestra, so, too, was Bonds almost equally influential
when she became the first Afro-American woman to perform as a fea-
tured soloist with orchestras like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
She established herself in her own right both as a performer and as a
composer and broke across many boundaries in doing so, establishing
herself as a role model for others to follow.
In what ways did she manage to spread her influence in her own
As well as undoubtedly making waves as a distinguished concert
pianist, her compositions were in themselves performed widely, and,
in her work as a rehearsal and audition pianist, she was in constant
contact with many of the theatrical figures of her time. Yet she did
much more than that. In Chicago, in New York and Los Angeles, she
established her own private music studios where she taught both piano
and music composition. As a volunteer she taught music to children
in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, which sadly meant a preponder-
ance of black students, as well as sight singing classes in big community
How special was she as a concert pianist?
Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to look at the
response to her playing of John Alden Carpenter’s Concertino, conducted
by Frederick Stock. Her performance was reviewed by every major and
minor newspaper in Chicago. Here are quotations from four of them:

11. Margaret Allison Bonds

Applause too, crowned the efforts of Miss Bonds who was literally covered
with flowers and might have counted at least six recalls to the platform.
—American, June 16, 1933
Miss Margaret Bonds, talented pianist and a graduate of Northwestern School
of Music reached the heights expected of her in her rendition of the “Con-
certino” by John Alden Carpenter.—Chicago Defender, June 17, 1933
Miss Bonds who played the solo part in Mr. Carpenter’s Concertino is a tal-
ented Negro pianist. She has a brilliant, well developed technique, with a tone
tending toward modern brittleness rather than old fashioned suavity, and she
played with much composure and good sense of the lines of construction of
the work.—Chicago Tribune, June 16, 1933
Miss Bonds vivid style and able technique together with a rhythmic instinct
which may be racial or musicianly and doubtless is both, made Mr. Carpenter’s
graceful work glow with a fire more experienced pianists well might envy. I am
not certain that her treatment of the piece did not intensify the feeling that
grew in me as the work progressed—that this score some 15 years of age, a
fairly “grown-up” stage for an art work these days, has enduring qualities of
beauty not numerous in the much touted efforts of some of our best and most
recent jazz experts.—Chicago Herald Examiner, June 16, 1933

The 1960s were stirring times for those who believed in equal
rights for black people. How closely involved was Margaret Alli-
son Bonds in the civil rights movement?
She was very much part of the civil rights movement. From March
16 to March 21, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, along with 3,200
activists, marched from Selma to Montgomery. This impelled Presi-
dent Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. This
major event, known as “March on Montgomery,” was the inspiration
for Bonds’ symphonic work Montgomery Variations later in the year,
and she dedicated the work to Dr. Martin Luther King.
How seriously did Margaret Allison Bonds take her work as an
arts educator?
Her capacity for hard work was nothing short of astonishing. As
well as all her other activities, in 1962 the New York Chief announced,
“Margaret Bonds … has been appointed chairman of the music com-
mittee to help Manhattan Borough President Edward R. Dudley in his
plans to establish a Cultural Community Center in the Harlem area.”

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

She was an active member of the New York Singing Teachers Associ-
ation and of the Eastern Region of the NANM, where she was chair of
African American music in 1960.
How widely was her importance recognized in her own time?
In 1963, she was on the Honor Roll of the Fifty Outstanding Negro
Women in the United States, and in 1964 she received the Woman of
the Century Award, as well as three awards from the leading United
States performing rights association, the American Society of Com-
posers, Authors, and Publishers (more commonly referred to as
ASCAP). Bonds received an Alumni Medal from Northwestern Uni-
versity on January 29, 1967, and an honor from Mayor Richard J. Daley
of Chicago, who declared January 31, 1967, “Margaret Bonds Day.” The
program from the Founders’ Day Convocation where Bonds was
awarded the Alumni Medal from Northwestern University reads:
Truly a master musician, Margaret Bonds has given full measure of her special
talent to the world. A “goodwill ambassador” extraordinary, she has been
invited coast to coast in America and to foreign lands, including Russia and
Africa, to hear her compositions performed by student choirs. She is a brilliant
pianist, having an extensive background of concertizing with leading orches-
tras. Many of her works have been recorded by noted artists. The outstanding
achievements of Margaret Bonds are a source of great pride to her Alma

How important were her later years?

She died of a heart struck at the age of fifty-nine, so her later years
should have lasted much longer than they did. Between 1967 and 1972,
she moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as director of the Inner
City Repertory Theatre, where she taught piano [and] music theory
and directed musicals such as Harvey Schmidt’s The Fantasticks, Kurt
Weill’s Street Scene, and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. In 1971,
the Golden Gate Branch of the NANM produced a concert titled “Eve-
ning with Margaret Bonds.” In 1971, she was commissioned to write
the symphonic tone poem Scripture Reading. Admittedly she drank a
good deal of bourbon to enable her to cope with the pressure of her
many and varied activities. This may well have contributed to her sad
and sudden death from heart failure in April 1972.


African American
Composers of
Classical Music

This chapter evolved from discussions, questions and answers

during a series of lectures that I presented as visiting professor in eth-
nomusicology at the CIEE Global Institute in London. Obviously the
profiles included here are neither inclusive nor comprehensive, but I
hope they make a serious contribution not only to the development of
American classical music but also to the surprisingly influential effects
of Afro-American music upon it.
So far in this book we have concentrated on black individuals
whose outstanding musical talent emerged in spite of the prejudices
that surrounded them and the disadvantages of belonging to a despised
racial minority. These conditions certainly existed throughout the
beginning of the twentieth century, but very gradually saner attitudes
began to prevail. It would be wrong to pretend that racial attitudes do
not still persist throughout American society, but it would be equally
wrong to suggest that nothing has changed. In fact, there have been
nothing short of astonishing changes in attitudes about black people
as the twentieth century gradually merged into the twenty-first. Look-
ing at the problems that gifted black musicians faced in 1900 and those
experienced in 2000 reveals how great the changes have been.
Changes have occurred in part because of the steady emergence

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

throughout the twentieth century of gifted black composers who slowly

but surely permeated the world of classical European-based music. It
was possible right from the beginning of the twentieth century to talk
of a “school” of Afro-American composers. Musicians such as Harry
T. Burleigh (1866–1949), Will Marion Cook (1869–1944), J. Rosamond
Johnson (1873–1954), R. Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943), and Clarence
Cameron White (1880–1960) were all examples of a sea change that
was taking place. They were well trained, they had good qualifications
and they contributed impressive compositions to the classical tradi-
tion. They could not earn a living as composers, but all taught, per-
formed or became involved in the world of theater music and Tin Pan
Inevitably, because they wanted their works to be published, these
composers concentrated on the smaller forms of the European tradi-
tion (art songs, piano and violin works as well as choral compositions),
as Burleigh stated in an interview:
I started a string quartet…. I would like to do work in different fields, but …
you see, I have a mission. I must make my music known, and songs are the
only things it pays a publisher to issue. A chamber piece may be played once
and forgotten. You can’t get it published. You get a little discouraged and you
go back to writing songs.

In their works there is plenty of evidence of their Afro-American ori-

gins. Dett in particular wrote:
“In the Bottoms” is a Suite of five numbers giving pictures or moods of scenes
peculiar to Negro life in the river bottoms of the Southern sections of North
America. It is similar in its expression, and in a way a continuation of the sen-
timents already set forth in the “Magnolia” Suite.... Neither Suite, like Dvorak’s
famous “New World Symphony,” is dependent for its effect upon the introduc-
tion of folk-songs…. As it quite is possible to describe the traits, habits, and
customs of a people without using the vernacular, so it is similarly possible to
musically portray racial peculiarities without the use of national tunes or folk-

No doubt Dett was also remembering that in 1905 Samuel Coleridge-

Taylor had published piano arrangements of black folk songs, titled
Twenty-Four Negro Melodies.
In the cathedral of Salzburg, Dett, in his role as director of the
Hampton Institute, was made vividly aware of the racist assumption

12. Twentieth-Century African American Composers

that black musicians could not be considered capable of composing

classical music. He recalled:
As we neared the exit, he [the tour guide] was full of praise and thanks. “That
was the most beautiful Ave,” he said, “but I don’t believe I ever heard it before.
Whose is it?” Not wishing to create a scene within sacred precincts, I waited
until we were outside before saying as softly as I could, “Mine!”

It is interesting that Dett did not wish to make a scene within the cathe-
dral. What sort of a scene could that have been? Presumably he was
restraining a wish to turn on the tour guide and demand why he would
assume that no black person could write an “Ave Maria.”
During his long and impressive career, Dett must have come up
against prejudices like this time and time again. What is so interesting
is that the sheer merit of his musical compositions succeeded in break-
ing down prejudice after prejudice. What is really significant is not the
tour guide’s racist assumption but the fact that a black choir was per-
forming a black composer’s work in Salzburg Cathedral. That in itself
speaks for the whole range of Dett’s achievements, as well as those of
his fellow composers.
In the 1920s, this group gradually acquired the confidence to
tackle more challenging forms than songs—chamber music, oratorios,
ballets and even operas and symphonies, as Dett says:
We have this wonderful store of folk music—the melodies of an enslaved peo-
ple…. But this store will be of no value unless we utilize it, unless we treat it in
such manner that it can be presented in choral form, in lyric and operatic
works, in concertos and suites and salon music—unless our musical architects
take the rough timber of Negro themes and fashion from it music which will
prove that we, too, have national feelings and characteristics, as have the Euro-
pean peoples whose forms we have zealously followed for so long.

In 2014, the Cincinnati May Festival revived Dett’s oratorio The

Ordering of Moses, presenting it the same week in Cincinnati and at
Carnegie Hall in New York. They re-created a depressing incident from
the world premiere in 1937, when the NBC network cut the piece off
in mid-performance of a live broadcast. This was thought to have been
done because of complaints from listeners about having to endure
music composed by an Afro-American. The above discussion about
overcoming racial prejudice highlights this episode and underlines the

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

fact that by the time the oratorio was performed in 2014, there had
been a staggering alteration in social attitudes and a healthier assump-
tion that music should survive based on merit alone.
A fresh generation of black composers gradually infiltrated the
classical music scene from the 1920s onward. As well as William Grant
Still, whom we have looked at already, William Dawson (1899–1990)
composed his much-admired Negro Folk Symphony (1932), deliberately
intending to “write a symphony in the Negro folk idiom, based on
authentic folk music, but in the same symphonic form used by com-
posers of the romantic nationalist school.” Likewise, while we have
already looked at Florence B. Price, among her black contemporaries
were Hall Johnson (1888–1970), Frederick Hall (1898–1954), Edward
Boatner (1898–1981), and John Wesley Work III (1901–1967).
The process continued in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly with
Howard Swanson (1907–1978), whose Short Symphony (1948) won the
award for the best orchestral work performed during 1950–1951 by
the New York Music Critic Circle. He went on to write three sym-
phonies (1948, 1949 and 1956,) a Concerto for Orchestra (1957), two
piano sonatas (1946 and 1972), a piano concerto and more than thirty
songs. He has established himself as a firm favorite in the concert
repertoire. As well as Swanson, who was very much aware of black
nationalism (particularly in his setting of Langston Hughes’ poem “The
Negro Speaks of Rivers”), there were Willis Laurence James (1900–
1966), Undine Smith Moore (1904–1989), Mark Fax (1911–1974), Noah
Ryder (1914–1964), John Duncan (1913–1975), and Thomas Kerr
(1915–1988). We have already covered Margaret Bonds elsewhere.
The second half of the twentieth century saw an impressive group
of black composers who were beginning to benefit from widespread
changes in attitudes. They studied at important music schools like
Curtis, Eastman, Juilliard and Yale, and many had the very best com-
poser teachers, like Hindemith, Dallapiccola, Boulanger and Milhaud.
On their way, they gathered professional qualifications and took fel-
lowships and many other awards in their stride. This group includes
Arthur Cunningham (1928–1997), Thomas J. Anderson (1928–),
Ulysses Kay (1917–1995), Julia Perry (1924–1979), George T. Walker
(1922–2018), and Hale Smith (1925–2009). What was so heartening

12. Twentieth-Century African American Composers

about this group was that, in effect, their musical background and
musical education were in no real sense any different from those of
white composers. The precious aim of equality and distinction based
on merit alone had by this time slowly begun to be realized.
At the same time, realization was dawning that black American
composers brought their own special contribution to the classical her-
itage, which transformed it into a new kind of classical music that was
in many ways an advance on what had gone before. Afro-American
composers made their kind of classical music something that was spe-
cifically American and could be widely accepted as such. Hildred
Roach, in her Black American Music (1973), spelled this idea out:
Knowledge and acceptance of this music, no matter what its definition, seman-
tics and interchange, will not be affected without the benefit of concerned
Americans. This music should be promoted, learned, studied, probed and con-
sidered as being American. All should invest in the enrichment of these com-
positions through performance and listening experiences. Publishers and
recording industries must join in with the public to support the heritage of a
music which is interwoven with American tradition and whose message for all
minds speaks of freedom now!

Ulysses Kay was among the first of this talented group to be eulo-
gized by both critics and public. His works span a wide range of forms
and genres, including music for orchestra, band, and even a brass quin-
tet. He created chamber music, cantatas, and operas, along with pieces
for solo voices and solo instruments, as well as music for ballets, films
and television. His oeuvre covers more than ninety works. Originally
influenced by surrealism, he expanded into most of the current areas
of classical writing but was unwilling to reduce his creative abilities
into any kind of verbal analysis: “I am not able to write or theorize
about my music[; I am] too close to it and averse to such temperamen-
George T. Walker was a talented concert pianist before becoming
a composer, and this legacy has meant that his works have been in par-
ticular demand by later concert pianists, helping to keep him in the
classical repertory. Some of his works, such as Five Fancys for Clarinet
and Piano (1973), display a pronounced twelve-tone influence, whereas
others, like his Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra (1973), use more

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

traditional tonal resources. He was inspired by black folk song ele-

ments, as in his Spirituals for Orchestra (1973).
In 1950, Walker was taken on by National Concert Artists (NCA).
Looking back, he remembered:
There were only two major concert management agencies at the time, National
Concert Artists and Columbia, and they couldn’t embrace the idea of a Black
concert pianist playing for essentially white audiences. So often I would hear
from Columbia, “we were very impressed with your performance but we want
you to come back and play for us again.” I would come back and play another
terrific audition to get the same response. This went on for five years. Now
with National Concert Artists, I didn’t even have to play an audition. One of
my friends spoke to management about me and they accepted me. My father
had said to me some years earlier that I would not be recognized here as a
Black concert pianist and that he ought to go to Europe.

In 1996, Walker became the first Afro-American to be awarded

the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his work Lilacs for voice and orchestra;
when asked whether this had a special meaning for him, he replied:
Well, the meaning for me is essentially a kind of culmination of the aspiration
of success in this particular area, a major prize, and of course it does mean
something to me to know that I have been selected to win it, and because I am
black, and because no other blacks have won the competition, that I’m there-
fore the first.

He was, however, very dissatisfied with subsequent events:

When the Boston Symphony decided to put out a series of CDs of music that
has been broadcast by their orchestra and they don’t include Lilacs, how can
you explain this? This is a work that they commissioned and broadcasted. How
do you explain this? Years ago when Black composers organized to promote
their own music, they latched onto the philosophy of neglect. Their music has
been neglected. Well, it’s more than neglect when you have somebody who
won a prize and you aren’t willing to include one performance of that work….
It becomes a very racial thing.

Samuel Floyd, Jr., in his International Dictionary of Black Com-

posers, has commented:
While Martin Luther King advocated passive but determined resistance, and
Malcolm X called for an aggressive campaign that threatened to use any means
necessary to redress racial wrongs, Walker and his music responded to an ear-
lier and more idealistic strategy—vindication. Frequently voiced by writers
such as W.E.B. DuBois, Alain Locke, and Charles S. Johnson during the period

12. Twentieth-Century African American Composers

of the Harlem Renaissance, this strategy held that social and economic equal-
ity that would follow the path of cultural equality.

Walker’s whole career, and the status his music has achieved in
orchestral performances, vindicates the Harlem Renaissance ideals.
He was a major force in helping to break down widespread prejudices.
Yet, even more important, he brought to classical music performances
range and flavor from his black background, which has helped to make
this area of music both more popular and accessible and more essen-
tially American.
Julia Perry went abroad for much of her later training, and her
early works reflected the European tradition rather than any black
influence, but later in her career, as observed in Soul Symphony No.
10 (1972), a black influence is increasingly evident.
Hale Smith, Arthur Cunningham and Thomas J. Anderson all used
twelve-tone disciplines in their work but were not restricted to them
alone, as Smith explained: “I’m a motif kind of composer in that I
tend to work with a few key motif ideas. They can be melodic or what-
ever.” Cunningham expressed similar sentiments. The same applies
to Anderson, who has sometimes been called a serialist, though he
I have my own method of organizing music … it’s not even vaguely related to
the twelve tone system…. The works are organized around motivic sets or
small patterns of notes which function in many types of musical environmen-
tal associations. Emphasis is on the use of effects which relate directly to the
musical ideas.

When faced with the obvious question—“Is the black classical com-
poser emerging from an aesthetic background that is different from
the background of a white American classical composer?”—Anderson
maintains, “The black composer comes out of an aesthetic. Whether
he is aware of it or not is not too important.” Smith considers:
There are certain inflections … that derive from my background as a jazz
musician. For example, in Contours [1962], the use of the bass clarinet and the
flute are directly influenced by my exposure to Eric Dolphy. He showed me
certain things…. I incorporated these in my piece, in passages that by no
stretch of the imagination could be considered jazz…. Even though I have
pizzicato bass lines in there, the player is not moving as a jazz bass player
would move.

Black Classical Musicians and Composers, 1500–2000

In 1968, about thirty young black composers joined together with

more than twenty supporting performers to set up the Society of Black
Composers, located in New York. Their aim was “to provide a perma-
nent forum for the works and thoughts of black composers, to collect
and disseminate information about black composers and their activi-
ties, and to enrich the cultural life of the community at large.” In the
nature of things, the organization did not last for long, but its influence
and effects were undoubtedly beneficial. It made the general public
more aware of how widely based black classical compositions were. It
was also influential in establishing concerts and collaboration with
white groups through colloquia, conferences, television shows and
tours both in the United States and Canada, which helped increase
both awareness and the confidence of black composers themselves.
One of the group’s newsletters in 1969 maintained:
And while a common vocabulary or grammar is not even desirable among
black composers, a new and highly desirable consensus of positive and
assertive attitudes is clearly emerging. The questions of a year ago—most often
concerning which specific musical sounds and materials would be necessary to
make black music—are no longer necessary. We know that because we are
black, we are making black music. And we hear it, too!

Looking at the richly varied and diverse array of black composers’

music toward the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of
the twenty-first, it is clear that Karlheinz Stockhausen’s influence has
diminished. Frederick Tillis gives an account of his growth as a com-
poser that is largely typical of the present generation:
I consider my approach to composition to be eclectic…. [In regard to] stylistic
shifts, roughly from 1951 to 1961 was a period of twelve-tone composition,
though in a personal style. From about 1962 to 1970 was a period of free com-
position…. From about 1968 to the present, I have allowed a deliberate and
conscious stream of my natural musical instincts and heritage (which are, of
course, Afro-American) to play a very significant and vital role in my composi-
tions…. In general, my compositions utilize the standard or classical forms
established in the Afro-American tradition—jazz and blues—and/or in the
European tradition—symphonies, chamber music, songs, etc. I have also
merged some concepts of the two traditions; that is, some compositions in a
predominantly European style call for improvisation and aleatoric elements.
On the other hand, in jazz compositions I have used serial devices, tone clus-
ters, and timbral manipulations for expressive purposes.

12. Twentieth-Century African American Composers

I am less happy with what Talib Rasul Hakim (born Stephen

Chambers) has to say about composition:
Composing is my way of informing the listener as well as the participant (per-
former) that I am, in fact, engaged in a ritualistic celebration of praise and
thanks to the Divine Creator for bestowing upon me the ability to ignite this
spark of creativity. Therefore, the first and foremost thing with which I am
most concerned when composing is to be absolutely sure that the materials I
have chosen and the manner in which I choose to make use of them result in
“touching” and “moving” the inner spirit of both audience and performer.

Many composers would be unhappy about tailoring their works so that

they are accessible—touching and moving—to the inner spirit of the
audience. A composer does what he does to the best of his ability to
satisfy his own creative motives and achieve his own standards. If an
audience responds, so much the better, but there are dangers in trying
to judge what an audience will want—dangers of repetition, dangers
of clichés, dangers of conventionality, dangers of doing all too blandly
what has already been set up and established. Fortunately for the Amer-
ican classical tradition, a whole tribe of Afro-American composers
have learned to speak for themselves.

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Chapter 1
Anglo, Sydney. Great Tournament Roll of Westminster: A Collotype Reproduction of
the Manuscript. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Ashbee, Andrew. Records of English Court Music. Vol. II. London: Scolar Press, 1987.
Dumitrescu, Theodor. The Early Tudor Court and International Musical Relations.
Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2004.
Fryer, Peter. Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain. London: Pluto
Press, 1984.
Herbert, Trevor, and John D. Wallace, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Brass
Instruments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Holman, Peter. Four and Twenty Fiddlers: The Violin at the English Court, 1540–
1690. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.
Kaufmann, Miranda. Black Tudors. London: Oneworld, 2017.
“The Musical Life of King Henry VIII.”
musical-life-king-henry-viii (accessed October 14, 2017).
Olusoga, David. Black and British: A Forgotten History. London: Macmillan, 2016.
Onyeka. Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England, Their Presence, Status and Ori-
gins. London: Narrative Eye, 2013.

Chapter 2
British Library, London. Stevenson Papers: The Letters of Ignatius Sancho. Add MS
89077. This collection, previously owned by John Ralph Willis, was acquired
by the British Library in 2012. It includes 2 published volumes, 23 manuscript
items, and 1 facsimile letter. It is the only surviving collection of manuscript
letters by Ignatius Sancho. Some are draft copies of letters included in the orig-
inal published Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, while 14 are not
in the original edition. Please note that special permission is required to view
this collection, but the letters are reprinted in Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho,
an African, edited by Vincent Carretta [Peterborough, ON: Broadview Editions,
2015], which is now the standard scholarly edition.
A Collection of New Songs Composed by an African Humbly Inscribed to the Honble.


Mrs James Brudenell by Her Most Humble Devoted & Obedient Servant. The
Author, c. 1769.
Cotillions &c. humbly dedicated (with permission) to the Princes’s [sic] Royal, by
Her Royal Highness’s Most Obedient Servant Ignatius Sancho. London: Printed
for C. & S. Thompson, no. 75, St. Paul’s Church Yard, c. 1770. Oblong 12mo
(11 cm × 16 cm), engraved title followed by 44 pages of engraved music and
dance instruction, original Dutch floral wrappers. (Recently discovered and
acquired in 2016 by the Harvard University Theatre Collection.)
Ignatius Sancho, Minuets & Optional Dances (audio CD and download). Played by
the Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra conducted by Janise
White (AACMS, 2015).
Letters of Ignatius Sancho. A new edition, based on the 1803 5th edition, with an
introduction, notes and bibliography, edited by Paul Edwards and Polly Rewt.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994.
Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African. A new edition, based on the 1782
1st edition, with an introduction, notes, and contextual materials, edited by
Vincent Carretta. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Editions, 2015.
Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African: To Which Are Prefixed, Memoirs of
His Life. 1st edition., 2 vols. London: John Nichols, 1782.
Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African: To Which Are Prefixed, Memoirs of
His Life. Edited by Joseph Jekyll, Esq., M.P., a facsimile of the 5th edition, with
an introduction and notes by Paul Edwards. London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1968.
Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African: To Which Are Prefixed, Memoirs of
His Life. A facsimile of the 1st edition. New York: Cosimo Books, 2005.
Minuets, Cotillons & Country Dances for the Violin, Mandolin, German Flute, &
Harpsichord Composed by an African Most Humbly Inscribed to His Grace
Henry Duke of Buccleugh, &c, &c, &c. London. Printed for the Author, c. 1767.
Minuets &c. &c. for the Violin Mandolin German-flute and Harpsichord. Compos’d
by an African. Book 2d. Humbly Inscribed to the Right Honble. John Lord Mon-
tagu of Boughton. London: Printed for the Author and sold by Richd. Duke at
his Music Shop near Opposite Great Turn stile Holburn, where may be had
Book first, c. 1770.
Twelve Country Dances for the Year 1779. Set for the Harpsichord by Permission
Humbly Dedicated to the Right Honourable Miss North, by Her Most Obedient
Servant Ignatius Sancho. London: Printed for S. and A. Thompson, no. 75, St.
Paul’s Church Yard.
Wright, Josephine R.B. Ignatius Sancho (1729–1780): An Early African Composer
in England—the Collected Editions of His Music in Facsimile. London; New
York: Garland, 1981.

Chapter 3
Abrams, Meyer Howard. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Crit-
ical Tradition. London: Oxford University Press, 1953.
Allanbrook, Wye Jamison. Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro and Don
Giovanni. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Anderson, Emily. The Letters of Mozart and His Family. Vol. II. London: Macmillan,


Angelo, Domenico. The School of Fencing. London: Hooper, 1765.

Angelo, Henry. Angelo’s Pic-nic: or, Table Talk. London: J. Ebers, 1834.
Antoine, Michel. Louis XV. Paris: Fayard, 1989.
Aylward, J.D. The House of Angelo: A Dynasty of Swordsmen. London: Batchworth
Press, 1953.
Babeau, Albert. “Le Théâtre aux Tuileries.” Bulletins de la Société de l’histoire de
Paris XXII (1895).
Bachaumont, Louis Petit de. Memoires secrets pour servir à l’histoire de la République
des lettres en France (Secret memories to serve for the history of the republic
of letters in France). London: J. Adamson, 1777–1789.
Banat, Gabriel. “Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Man of Music and Gentleman-at-
Arms: The Life and Times of an Eighteenth-Century Prodigy.” Black Music
Research Journal 10, no. 2 (1990).
_____. The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and Bow. Hillsdale,
NY: Pendragon Press, 2006.
_____. “Saint-Georges, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de.” In The New Grove Dictionary
of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and J. Tyrell. London: Macmil-
lan, 2000.
Bardin, Pierre. Joseph de Saint George, le Chevalier Noir. Paris: Guenegaud, 2006.
Beauvoir, Roger de. Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Paris: Lévy Frères, 1840.
Bernier, Olivier. Louis the Beloved. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984.
Borrel, E. “L’Orchestre du Spirituel.” Mélanges d’histoire et d’esthétique II (1955).
Brenet, Michel. Les Concerts en France sous L’Ancien Régime. Paris: Fishbacher, 1900.
Britsch, Amédée. La Jeuness de Phillipe Egalité. Paris: Payot, 1926.
Brival, Roland. Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Paris: J.C. Latter, 1991.
Broglie, Gabriel de. Madame de Genlis. Paris: Perrin, 1985.
Brossard, Sébastian. A Musical Dictionary. Translated under the supervision of Dr.
Pepusch. London: J. Wilcox, 1740.
Burney, Charles. Dr. Burney’s Musical Tours in Europe. Vol. 2: An Eighteenth Century
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London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Capon, Gaston. Les Petit Maisons gallants de Paris au XVIIIe siècle. Paris: H.
Daragon, 1902.
Castle, Egerton. Schools and Masters of Fence. New York: G. Bell & Sons, 1893.
Chantras, Justin Girod de. Voyage d’un Suisse dans les differentes colonies d’Amem-
rique, 1781–83. Paris: Tallandier, 1980.
Charlton, David. Grétry and the Growth of Opera-Comique. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1986.
Chevalier de Saint-Georges. L’Amant Anonyme (1780). Performer’s Edition. Reprints
of historical editions produced in conjunction with the International Music
Score Library Project.
Le Code Noir, ou recueil des règlements concernant … le government des Nègres,
1685–1762 (The Black Code, or the government regulations concerning blacks,
1685–1762). Paris: Chez Prault, 1767.
Compan, Charles. Dictionnaire de danse, s.v. “Musette.”
Corrette, Michael. Le Parfait Maître à chanter (The perfect singing teacher). Paris:
Chez l’auteur, 1782.
Cronin, Vincent. Louis & Antoinette. New York: Morrow & Co., 1974.


Crotch, William A. Specimens of Various Styles of Music. London: R. Birchall, 1815.

Descaves, P. Historique du 13e Régiment de Chasseurs. Béziers: A. Bouneau, 1893.
Desfontaines, François Guillome, librettist. Ernestine, La partie de chasse (1777,
Dufort, Jean-Nicolas. Mémoires sur les règnes de Louis XV et Louis XVI et sur la rev-
olution. Paris: Plon, 1886.
Dufrane, Louis. Gossec, sa vie, ses oeuvres. Paris: Fischbacher, 1927.
Dumouriez, Charles François. Mémoires du général Dumouriez, écrites par lui même.
Hambourg: B.G. Hoffman, 1794.
Edwards, Bryan. A Historical Survey of the French Colony on the Island of St.
Domingo. London: Stockdale, 1797.
Feldenstein, Carl Joseph von. Die Kunst nach der Choreographie zu tanzen und Tänze
zu schreiben (The art of choreography to dance and dance writing). Braun-
schweig: Schröderschen Buchhandlung, 1767.
Fétis, François-Joseph. “Chevalier de Saint-Georges.” Biographie universelle des musi-
ciens. Bruxelles: Leroux, 1835.
Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette—The Journey. London: Phoenix, 2002.
Fusil, Louise. Souvenirs d’une Actrice. Paris: Charles Schmit, 1841.
Genlis, Félicité de. L’Amant Anonyme. CreateSpace Independent Publishing
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Gill, Dominic. The Book of the Violin. New York: Rizzoli, 1984.
Goxotte, Pierre. Le Siècle. Paris: Fayard, 1974.
Grimm, Diderot Raynal. Correspondance littéraire, July 1777.
Guédé, Alain. Monsieur de Saint-George, le Négre des lumières. Paris: Actes Sud,
_____. Monsieur de Saint-George: Virtuoso, Swordsman, Revolutionary; A Legendary
Life Rediscovered. Translated by Gilda M. Roberts. New York: Picador, 2003.
Guilcher, Jean-Michel. La Contredanse et les renouvellements de la danse Française.
Paris: Mouton, 1969.
Hardman, John. Louis XVI. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993.
Harmond, Jean. Mme Genlis, sa vie intime et politique. Paris: Perrin, 1912.
Hézecques, François F., comte d’. Page à cour de Louis XVI. Paris: Tallendrier, 1987.
Hiller, Johann Adam. Musikalische Nachrichten und Anmerkungen die Musik betr-
effend (Musical notes and news concerning music). 4 vols. Leipzig, 1766–1770.
Hilton, Wendy. Dance of Court and Theater: The French Noble Style, 1690–1725.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton Book Co., 1981.
Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
Holden, John. An Essay towards a Rational System of Music. Glasgow: R. Urie, 1770.
Kirnberger, Johann Philip. Anleitung zur Singcomposition (Instructions for singing
compositions). Berlin: G.I. Decker, 1782.
Koch, Heinrich Christoph. Musikalisches Lexicon. 1802.
La Boëssière, Tessier de. “Notice historique sur le Chevalier de Saint-Georges” (His-
torical note on Chevalier de Saint-Georges). Introduction to Traité de l’art des
armes à l’usage des professeurs et des amateurs, par M. La Boëssière, maître
d’armes des anciennes academies du roi et de écoles polytechniques et d’equi-
tation (Treatise on the art of weaponry for use by teachers and amateurs, by
Monsieur La Boëssère, who was the master of arms for the ancient king’s acad-
emies and polytechnic schools of horse riding). Paris: Didot, 1818.


Laclos, Pierre-Ambrose Choderlos de. Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Paris: Société des
belles lettres, 1943.
Lefébure, Pierre, de Beauvray. Le Journal d’un bourgeois de Popincourt. Paris: L.
Gougy, 1903.
Lerma, Dominque-René de. “Chevalier de Saint-Georges.” In Masters of the Violin,
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Lever, Evelyne. Phillipe Égalité. Paris: Fayard, 1996.
Little, Meredith Ellis. “The Contribution of Dance Steps to Musical Analysis and
Performance: La Bourgogne.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 28,
no. 1 (Spring 1975).
Marpurgh, Friedrich Wilhelm. Clavierstücke mit einem praktischen Unterricht für
Anfänger und Geübtere (Piano pieces with practical lessons for beginners and
the experienced). 3 vols. Berlin: Hande und Speuer, 1762.
Marquiset, Alfred. “Le Don Juan Noir.” In Nouvelle Revue. Paris: Le Noir, 1777.
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53, no. 4 (Autumn 1995).
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Le Mercure (June 1738), 1:1113.
Moreau de Saint-Méry, Médéric Louis Élie. Description … de la partie française de
l’île de St. Domingue. Paris: Duont, 1797–1798.
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Macmillan Press, 1980.
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Perrault, Giles. Le Secret du Roi. 3 vols. Paris: Fayard, 1992–1996.
Pesselier, Charles E. État et tableau de Paris. Paris: Didot, 1760.
Petit, Emilien. Traité sur le gouvernement des esclaves. Paris: Chez Knapen, 1777.
Pleyel, Ignaz. Méthode pour la piano forte. Paris: Pleyel, 1799.
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Paris: Paragon, 2004.

Chapter 4
Buckingham, James Silk. Autobiography of James Silk Buckingham: Including His
Voyages, Travels, Adventures, Speculations, Successes and Failures, Faithfully


and Frankly Narrated; Interspersed with Characteristic Sketches of Public Men

with Whom He Has Had Intercourse, during a Period of More Than Fifty Years.
London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1855.
Emidy, Marjorie Ann. The Emidy Family: Joseph Antonio Emidy and Jane (Jenefer)
Hutchins of Cornwall, England, and Some Descendants. Viroqua, WI: M.A.
Emidy, 2000.
King-Dorset, Rodreguez. Black Dance in London, 1730–1850: Innovation, Tradition
and Resistance. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.
McGrady, Richard. Music and Musicians in Early Nineteenth-Century Cornwall:
The World of Joseph Emidy—Slave, Violinist and Composer. Exeter: University
of Exeter Press, 1991.
Rastall, Richard. The Heaven Singing: Music in Early English Religious Drama. Cam-
bridge: D. S. Brewer, 1996.
Woodhouse, Harry. Face the Music: Church and Chapel Bands in Cornwall. St.
Austell, Cornwall: Cornish Hillside Publications, 1997.

Chapter 5
Abdul, Raoul. “The African Prince.” In Blacks in Classical Music, 175–178. New York:
Dodd, Mead, 1977.
Banat, Gabriel. “Saint-Georges, Chevalier de.” In International Dictionary of Black
Composers, Vol. 2, edited by Samuel A. Floyd Jr., 983–989. Chicago: Fitzroy
Dearborn, 1999.
Campbell, Margaret. The Great Violinists. London: Robson Books, 2003.
Cheke, D.J. “Feron, Elizabeth.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians,
Vol. 2, edited by Stanley Sadie, 160. London: Macmillan, 1997.
Edwards, F.G. “George P. Bridgetower and the Kreutzer Sonata.” Musical Times 49
(1908): 302–308.
F. & L. Mazzara. Istoriche incidenze. Rome, 1864.
Forbes, Elliot, ed. Thayer’s Life of Beethoven. 2nd edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1967.
Girdham, Jane. “Black Musicians in England.” In Ignatius Sancho: An African Man
of Letters, by Reyahn King et al. London: National Portrait Gallery, 1997.
Grove, George. “Bridgetower, George Polgreen.” In The New Grove Dictionary of
Music and Musicians, Vol. 3, edited by Stanley Sadie, 281–282. London:
Macmillan, 1980.
Hare, Maud Cuney. “George Polgreen Bridgetower.” Crisis 34 (1927): 122, 137–
King, Reyahn, et al. Ignatius Sancho: An African Man of Letters. London: National
Portrait Gallery, 1997.
Kuhn, Dieter. Beethoven und der schwarze Geiger. Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1990.
Lerma, Dominique-René de. “Beethoven as a Black Composer.” Black Music Research
Journal 10, no. 2 (Fall 1990): 118–122. Reprinted from Black Music Research
Newsletter 8, no. 1 (Fall 1985): 3–5.
_____. “Bridgetower: Beethoven’s Black Violinist.” Your Musical Cue 5, no. 3 (1968–
1969): 7–9.
_____. “George Bridgetower.” In Sonorities in Black Music: A Concert Series (first
concert, December 12, 1978). Baltimore: Morgan State University, 1978.


Marek, George R. Beethoven: Biography of a Genius. New York: Funk & Wagnalls,
Matthews, Betty. “George Polgreen Bridgetower.” Music Review 29 (1968): 22–26.
Nettl, Paul. Beethoven Encyclopedia. New York: Philosophical Library, 1956.
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poser of Color in Late 18th-Century Europe. Foreword by Maria Luisa Rodriguez
Lee. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005.
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lotte: Being the Journals of Mrs. Papendiek. London: Bentley & Son, 1887.
Riemann, Hugo. Opern-Handbuch: Ein notwendiges Supplement zu jedem Musik-
lexikon. Leipzig: Koch, 1887.
Rogers, Joel Augustus. 100 Amazing Facts about the Negro. New York: J.A. Rogers,
Scherman, Thomas K., and Louis Biancolli, eds. The Beethoven Companion. Garden
City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.
Schindler, Anton Felix. Beethoven as I Knew Him (1860). Edited by Donald W. Mac-
Ardle, translated by Constance S. Jolly. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 1966.
Scobie, Edward. Black Britannia. Chicago: Johnson Publications, 1972.
Shyllon, Folarin. Black People in Britain, 1555–1833. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, for the Institute of Race Relations, 1977.
Slonimsky, Nicolas. “Bridgetower, George Augustus Polgreen.” In Baker’s Biograph-
ical Dictionary of Musicians, 6th edition, 232–233. New York: Schirmer Books,
Southern, Eileen. “Bridgetower, George Polgreen.” In Biographical Dictionary of
Afro-American and African Musicians, 47–48. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,
_____. The Music of Black Americans: A History. 3rd edition. New York: W. W. Nor-
ton, 1997.
Spector, Irwin. “The Kreutzer Sonata.” Dissonance 2, no. 2 (Winter 1970): 1–8.
St. Laurent, Philip. “The Negro in World History: George A. P. Bridgetower.” Tuesday
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Thraliana: The Diary of Mrs. Hester Lynch Thrale (later Mrs. Piozzi), 1776–1809.
Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951.
The Times, October 23, 1832.
Wesley, Samuel. A Short Account of George Bridgetower, in the Hand of Samuel Wes-
ley, ca. 1836. British Library, Add. 27593.
Wright, Josephine R.B. “George Polgreen Bridgetower: An African Prodigy in
England.” Musical Quarterly 67, no. 1 (1980): 65–82.

Chapter 6
Berwick Sayers, W.C. Samuel Coleridge- Taylor, Musician: His Life and Letters.
Chicago: Afro-Am Press, 1969.
Braithwaite, Coleridge Alexander. “The Achievements and Contributions to the His-
tory of Music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Colored English Musician.” Honors
thesis, Harvard University, 1939.


Brooks, Tim. Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry. New York:
W.W. Norton, 2004.
Clapham, John. “The National Origins of Dvořák’s Art.” Proceedings of the Royal
Musical Association, 89th session (1962–1963): 75–88.
Coleridge-Taylor, Avril. The Heritage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Edited by Percy
M. Young. London: Dennis Dobson, 1979.
Coleridge-Taylor, Jessie. Genius and Musician: A Memory Sketch or Personal Rem-
iniscences of My Husband. London: Bobby and Co., 1912.
Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel. Concerto in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 80
(posthumous). London: Metzler and Co., 1912.
Dvořák, Antonín. Concerto in A Minor for Violin and Orchestra. London: Ernst
Eulenburg, 1946.
Elford, Charles. Black Mahler: The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Story. Surrey: Grosvenor
House, 2008.
Elgar, Edward. Letters to Nimrod: Edward Elgar to August Jaeger, 1897–1908. Edited
by Percy Young. London: Dennis Dobson, 1965.
Ellsworth, Janifer. “Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in Washington.” Phylon 28, no. 2 (Sum-
mer 1967): 195–96.
Green, Jeffrey. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical Life. London: Pickering & Chatto,
Petrocelli, Paolo. The Resonance of a Small Voice: William Walton and the Violin
Concerto in England between 1900 and 1940. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK: Cam-
bridge Scholars Publishing, 2010.
Self, Geoffrey. The Hiawatha Man: The Life and Work of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
Aldershot, UK: Scolar Press, 1995.
“A Tribute from Sir Hubert Parry.” Musical Times (October 1, 1912).

Chapter 7
Butisingh, Randall. “Conductor Rudolph Dunbar of Guyana.” Randall Butisingh’s
Weblog, October 25, 2008.
Cambridge, Vibert C. “Rudolph Dunbar.” Stabroek News, August 22, 2004.
“Debut in the Bowl.” Time, September 2, 1946.
Dunbar, Rudolph. “Trumpet Player Briggs Freed After Four Years in Nazi Camp
Near Paris.” Chicago Defender, September 23, 1944.
“The Pantheon of West Indian Heroes Framed.” Black Britain, July 8, 2006.
“Rhythm in Berlin.” Time, September 10, 1945.
“Rudolph Dunbar.” Musical Times 129, no. 1749 (November 1988): 619.
“Settling Scores: German Music, Denazification, and the Americans, 1945–1953, by
David Monod.” NewMusicBox, October 24, 2006.
Thurman, Kira. “A History of Black Musicians in Germany and Austria, 1870–
1961: Race, Performance, and Reception.” PhD diss., University of Rochester,
“W. Rudolph Dunbar: Pioneering Orchestra Conductor.” The Black Perspective in
Music 9, no. 2 (Autumn 1981): 193–225.


Chapter 8
Benson, Kathleen, and James Haskins. Scott Joplin. Garden City, NY: Doubleday,
Berlin, Edward A. King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era. New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 2016.
Charters, Ann B. Danberg. The Ragtime Songbook; Songs of the Ragtime Era by Scott
Joplin, Hughie Cannon, Ben Harney, Will Marion Cook, Alex Rogers, and Others,
Compiled and Ed. with Historical Notes Concerning the Songs and Times. New
York: Oak Publications, 1965.
Curtis, Susan. Dancing to a Black Man’s Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin. Columbia: Uni-
versity of Missouri Press, 1994.
Davis, Francis. The History of the Blues: The Roots, the Music, the People. New York:
Hyperion Press, 1995.
Evans, Mark. Scott Joplin and the Ragtime Years. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1976.
Gammond, Peter. Scott Joplin and the Ragtime Era. Foreword by Eubie Blake. New
York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975.
Jasen, David A., and Gene Jones. That American Rag: The Story of Ragtime from
Coast to Coast. New York: Schirmer Books, 2000.
Ping-Robbins, Nancy R. Scott Joplin: A Guide to Research. New York: Garland,
Southern, Eileen. “Joplin, Scott.” In Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and
African Musicians. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.
Tawa, Nicholas E. The Way to Tin Pan Alley: American Popular Song, 1866–1920.
New York: Schirmer Books, 1990.

Chapter 9
Douglass, Frederick. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York:
Dover, 1995.
Du Bois, W.E.B. “The Talented Tenth.” In The Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by
Representative American Negroes of Today, by Booker T. Washington et al. New
York: J. Pott, 1903.
Florence Beatrice Price to Serge Koussevitzky, July 5, 1943. Koussevitzky Collection,
Library of Congress, Music Division.
Floyd, Samuel A., Jr. The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa
to the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Graham, Shirley. “Spirituals to Symphonies.” Etude (1936): 691.
Green, Mildred Denby. Black Women Composers: A Genesis. Boston: Twayne, 1983.
Jackson, Barbara Garvey. “Florence Price, Composer.” The Black Perspective in Music
5, no. 1 (1977): 30–43.
Locke, Alain. The New Negro. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1925.
Peters, Penelope. “Deep Rivers: Selected Songs of Florence Price and Margaret
Bonds.” Canadian University Music Review 16, no. 1 (1995).
Price, Florence. Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3. Edited by Rae Linda Brown and Wayne
Shirley. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2008.
Robin, William. “Great Divide at the Concert Hall: Black Composers Discuss the
Role of Race.” New York Times, August 8, 2014. Accessed April 11, 2017.


Southern, Eileen, and Josephine Wright. Images: Iconography of Music in African

American Culture, 1770s–1920s. New York: Garland, 2000.
Walker-Hill, Helen. From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Com-
posers and Their Music. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Work, John W., III. American Negro Songs: 230 Folk Songs and Spirituals, Religious
and Secular. New York: Dover, 1998.

Chapter 10
Hughes, Langston. The Big Sea (1940). New York: Persea Books, 1986.
Murchison, Gayle. “Nationalism in William Grant Still and Aaron Copland between
the Wars: Style and Ideology.” PhD diss., Yale University, 1998.
Oja, Carol J. “‘New Music’ and the ‘New Negro’: The Background of William Grant
Still’s ‘Afro-American Symphony.’” Black Music Research Journal 12, no. 2 (1992):
Southern, Eileen. “Conversation with William Grant Still.” The Black Perspective in
Music 3, no. 2 (1975).
Southern, Eileen, and W.C. Handy. “Letters from Handy to Still.” The Black Perspec-
tive in Music 7, no. 2 (Autumn 1979).
Still, William Grant. “American Art and Culture: The Negro’s Contribution … Sym-
posium” (University of California, Irvine, October 24, 1966). In Still and Arvey,
Collected Speeches & Lectures.
_____. “American Music and the Well-timed Sneer.” Opera and Concert XIII, no. 5
(May 1948).
_____. “The History and Future of Black-American Music Studies: Practices and
Potentials” (speech, Indiana University Seminar on Black Music, June 21, 1969).
In Still and Arvey, Collected Speeches & Lectures.
_____. “Negro Music” (lecture, Afro-American Studies Workshop, University of Cali-
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Still, William Grant, and Verna Arvey. Collected Speeches & Lectures. Edited by
Judith Anne Still and Lisa M. Headlee. Flagstaff, AZ: Master-Player Library,

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Bonds, Margaret. Interview by James V. Hatch. December 28, 1971, Los Angeles,
California. Taped Interviews of Musicians, spoken-word CD (1971–1974). Sound
Tape Reels: Analog, 3 3/4 ips, Mono; 5, in James V. Hatch and Camille Billops
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_____. “A Reminiscence.” In The Negro in Music and Art in the International Library
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Co., 1967.
“Carpenter Present.” American, June 16, 1933. Margaret Bonds, Series 4, Box 5,
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Columbia College Chicago, Chicago.
George, Maude Roberts. “Noted Tenor and Miss Margaret Bonds Star with Sym-


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2/2, Scrapbook, ca. 1931–1935, Emily Boettcher Bogue (1907–1992) Papers
Gunn, Glenn Dillard. “Margaret Bonds Review.” Chicago Herald Examiner, June 16,
“Margaret Bonds Richardson.” Alumni News, January 29, 1967. Margaret Allison
Bonds Folder, Alumni Biographical Files.
Moore, Edward. “Negro in Music Given Place in Concert of Century of Progress
Series.” Chicago Tribune, June 16, 1933.
Walker-Hill, Helen. From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Com-
posers and Their Music. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.

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Banfield, William. Musical Landscapes in Color: Conversations with Black American
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ton F. Summy Co., 1913.
Dvořák, Antonín. “Real Value of Negro Melodies.” New York Herald, May 21, 1893.
Floyd, Samuel A., Jr., ed. Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance: A Collection of
Essays. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.
_____, ed. International Dictionary of Black Composers. 2 vols. Chicago: Fitzroy
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Roach, Hildred. Black American Music: Past and Present. 2nd edition. Malabar, FL:
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Seaton, Douglass. Ideas and Styles in the Western Musical Tradition. Mountain View,
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Simpson, Anne Key. Follow Me: The Life and Music of R. Nathaniel Dett. Metuchen,
NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1993.
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_____. A Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians. West-
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_____. Music of Black Americans: A History. 2nd edition. New York: W.W. Norton,
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White, Evelyn Davidson. Choral Music by Afro-American Composers: A Selected
Annotated Bibliography. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1987.

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Numbers in bold italics indicate pages with illustrations

abolition of slavery 14, 39, 45; and Saint- Austria 170–171

Georges 48–49, 56, 57, 58, 65, 66, 68 avant-garde music 152–153, 154, 155, 156,
Abyssinian throne, claims to 101 158
African music, influences of 107–108, 110, Avoglio, Giovanni 51
157; Coleridge-Taylor 113–114; Emidy 81; awards and prizes 20, 57, 134, 141, 145,
Joplin 132–134; Price 141, 142, 144–145; 168, 174
twentieth-century USA 170; see also Azurara, Gomes Eannes de 12
African Times and Orient Review 114 Bach, J.S. 45, 67, 120
Afro-American Symphony (Still) 120–121, Bachaumont, Louis Petit de 52, 63
154–155, 157–158 Baker, Josephine 152
Ahasuerus 120 Baldwin, John 26
Ailey, Alvin 161 ballet 127, 130–131, 134, 157, 161, 162, 163
Alexander, Freddie 131 Barber, Cedric 75
“Alexander's Ragtime Band” 132, 136 Barber, Francis 10–11, 75
American Conservatory of Music, Barbirolli, Sir John 148
Chicago 146 Bardac, Emma (Debussy's widow) 117
American Musician and Art Journal 132 Barnett, Claude 118
American Society of Composers, Authors baroque influences 45, 46–47
and Publishers (ASCAP) 143 Barrère, Georges 158
Anacreon 44 Barthé, Richmond 157
Anderson, Marian 143, 164 Barton-Pine, Rachel 110
Anderson, Thomas J. 172, 175 Bassano family 28
Andreas-Fischer, Ruth 119–120 Bathurst, Col. Richard 75
Angola, Republic of 72 BBC 75, 110–111, 121–123, 124, 125
architecture 88 Beatty, Talley 163
Armstrong, Louis 21 Beckford, William Thomas 73–74
Arne, Thomas 44 Beethoven, Ludwig van 40, 46, 62, 91–93,
Arnould, Sophie 53, 64–65 98, 102
arts, visual 101–102, 157 Béghin-Say, Nantes 14
assimilation of early black populations, Berlin, Irving 127–128, 132, 136, 137
UK 10–11, 22, 75 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra 119–120,
Associated Negro Press of Chicago 118–119 124, 126
Astaire, Fred 86 Berlioz, Hector 156
“Atlantic triangle” of slave trade 13, 14 Bernstein, Leonard 168
Attwood, Thomas 90 Bickerstaffe, Isaac 42
Augustus II, King of Poland 40 Black and British: A Forgotten History
Austen, Jane 74, 91, 100 (BBC 2 series) 75


“Black Balls” 42–43 Catá, Alfonso 134

Black British Classical Foundation (BBCF) cavalry trumpeters 22–23
94, 97–98 cello players 39, 100–101, 102, 151
“the black Mozart” 17, 53, 57 Celtic music 81–82, 83
Blake, Eubie 127, 133; Shuffle Along (musi- Le Cercle d'Harmonie (orchestra) 68
cal) 152, 153, 154 ceremonial music 22, 23, 25, 27–29, 31–
Blanke, John 12, 21–34, 22 32, 33
blues 143, 152, 154, 157–158, 162 Chadwick, George Whitefield 152, 153
Boase, G.C. 69–70 Chambers, Stephen 177
Boatner, Edward 172 Chaney, Roger 166
Bonaparte, Napoleon see Napoleon Charles II, King of England 15
Bonaparte Chelsea Pensioners Reading the News of the
Bonds, Estella 146 Battle of Waterloo (Wilkie) 15
Bonds, Margaret Allison 19, 141, 160–168, Chesterfield, Earl of 39
161 Chicago Black Renaissance 144–146
Bontemps, Arna 166 Chicago Defender (newspaper) 119
Boss, Marc 57–68 Chicago Music Association (CMA) 146
Boston Symphony Orchestra 143, 174 Chicago Symphony Orchestra 141, 143,
Boughton House 44 147, 162
Boulanger, Nadia 146, 163–164 Chineke! Orchestra, London 111
Brahms, Johannes 107 Chinnery, George 85
Brazil 72, 81, 82 church music 80–81, 83, 139, 143, 144, 157
Bridgetower, Frederick 100–101 Churchill, Lord Randolph 129
Bridgetower, George Augustus Polgreen Cincinatti May Festival 171–172
18, 42, 84–103, 85, 106; Diatonica cinema 85–86
Armonica 93, 98, 102; father 86–87, 88– civil rights movement 167
89, 101 civil wars: American 18–19; English 13;
Bridgetower, Mary Ann 87–88 Saint-Domingue 56; Wars of the Roses
Bridgetower String Quartet 103 23; see also French Revolution
Briggs, Arthur 119 clarinet music 116–117; Treatise on the
Brighton, UK 89 Clarinet (Boehm system) (Dunbar) 117,
brothels 128–129 126
Brown, Mather 49 class issues 16; Joplin 128–129; Saint-
Brummel, Beau 56 Georges 50–51, 63, 66; Sancho 39–40,
Buckingham, James Silk 70, 71, 72–73, 74– 45–46
75, 77 classical era 45–46
Bundy, Grace 151 Claude Villars, Anne 57
Burchell, David 111 Code Noir (France, 1685) 48
Burleigh, Harry T. 108, 145, 156, 170 Cold War 160
Burns, Reynard 111 Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel 18, 104–115, 105,
Bygott, David 11, 12 123, 150, 156; Hiawatha trilogy 105, 106,
108, 111; Twenty-Four Negro Melodies
cadenzas 47; see also improvisation 107, 113, 114, 170
Cambridge, Dr. Vibert C. 124 colonialism 123
Cambridge University 90–91, 93, 102 The coloured opera troupe at the Oxford
Campbell, Topher, A Mulatto Song (film) Street Gallery, London 2
103 composers, status of 39–40
Caribbean: Guadeloupe 48–49, 57; Haiti Concert de la Loge Olympique (orchestra)
(formerly Saint-Domingue) 56; St. Kitts 53
94–95, 97; slave trade 13–14, 15–16, 133 Concert des Amateurs (orchestra) 51–52,
Carpenter, John Alden 143, 166–167 53, 60, 63


concert pianists 162, 166–167, 173–174 Dumas, Alexandre 56, 93

concerts, early development of 45–46, 53 Dumouriez, Charles François 56
conducting: Coleridge-Taylor 106, 108, Dunbar, Paul Laurence 113, 157
109; Dunbar 18, 116, 117, 118, 119–124; Dunbar, Rudolph 18, 116–126, 117
King-Dorset 70; Saint-Georges 55, 63, Duncan, John 172
65; Still 19; Stock 141–142, 147 Dunham, Katherine 163
Cook, Will Marion 170 Dvořak, Antonín 107, 113, 135, 145, 170
Copland, Aaron 128, 135, 154, 158 Dworkin, Aaron 110
copyright issues 106, 130, 131, 137 Dyett, Neota L. McCurdy 146
cornet playing 130
Cornish, William 26 early black populations, UK 10–11, 15–18,
Cornwall 70–71, 73–77, 78–79, 80–81 21–22, 75
cotton trade 14 education: Bonds 162–163; Bridgetower
country dancing 43 93, 102; Coleridge-Taylor 105, 112; Dun-
Cramer, Johann 90 bar 116; Joplin 129, 130; late twentieth-
Crawford, Ruth 154 century composers 172–173; modern
Cullen, Countee 166 music curriculums 67–68; Osborne 94–
Cunningham, Arthur 172, 175 95; Price 140; Saint-Georges 49–50, 58,
60; and slave trade 15, 36, 86; Still 150,
Daley, Richard J. 168 151, 152–153
dance: ballet 127, 130–131, 134, 157, 161, Elgar, Edward 106
162, 163; Black Dance in London, 1730– Elizabeth of York 23
1850 (King-Dorset) 75; in Henry VIII's Ellington, Duke 127
court 25, 27, 32; on HMS Indefatigable Eltis, David 15–16
72–73, 83; Mingo (servant under Emidy, Joseph Antonio 17, 69–83, 70
Charles II) 15; Price's Symphony in E Emidy, Marjorie 71
Minor 141; ragtime 130–131, 133; San- engagement with black classical music
cho's choreography and music 42–43, today 67–68, 75, 94, 96–98, 110–111
44, 45–46, 47; in upper classes 40, 74, Evans, George 105
Dawson, William 172 Fallows, David 26
Debussy, Claude 117, 135 Falmouth, Cornwall 73–76, 79, 80
Dett, R. Nathaniel 156, 170–173; The fashion: black servants for 16, 35, 72;
Ordering of Moses 171–172 Henry VIII's 23; male dandyism 56
Dibdin, Charles 42 Fax, Mark 172
Dickerson, Malone 166 feminism 147–149, 162
Dingsdale, Ann 36 fencing 50, 59–60, 63
discrimination see gender issues, racism Field of the Cloth of Gold, France 25, 28
and responses to fight-music traditions 82
dissonance 156; see also avant-garde firsts by black classical musicians: Bonds
music 19, 162, 166; Dunbar 18, 117, 118, 120, 123,
Dixon, Rodrick 111 126; Kay 173; Osborne 94, 96; Price 19,
Dolphy, Eric 175 140, 142, 147, 166; Royal Artillery Band
Dominic Justinian, royal trumpeter 23–24 41; Sancho (father) 16, 38; Sancho (son)
Douglass, Frederick 142 38; Still 19, 154; Walker 20, 174
Dover, Cedric 12 flatted thirds and sevenths 143
drums 27, 28, 29–30, 40–42, 83, 133, 141, Fleming, Becher 15
142 Floyd, Samuel, Jr. 174–175
Du Bois, Shirley Graham 148 folk music 8, 18, 80, 107, 142, 157, 170, 171,
Du Bois, W.E.B. 106, 108, 109, 166, 174–175 172, 174; see also spirituals
Dudley, Edward R. 167 Fontainebleu Conservatory, France 146


Forbes, Lydia 111 Hall, Frederick 172

Fox, Charles James 38 Handel, G.F. 16, 44
France: Field of the Cloth of Gold 25, 28; Handy, W.C. 152
Fontainebleu Conservatory 146; French Hanson, Howard 154
Revolution 56, 65–66, 87, 90; Napoleon Harlem Renaissance 139, 144–146, 153–
14, 24, 38, 56, 68, 91, 100; Saint-Georges 154, 156–157, 160, 165, 175
17, 48–68; slave trade 14 Harmonic Society of Falmouth 76
Francis I, King of France 25 Hawkins, John 13, 43
Freeman, Paul 44–47 Hayden, Belle 131
French horn 76 Hayden, Scott 130
French Revolution 56, 65–66, 87, 90 Haydn, Joseph 39, 41, 47, 53, 62, 63, 65,
Frost, Robert 166 77, 87, 91
Henry VII, King of England 12, 23
Gainsborough, Thomas 35, 36 Henry VIII, King of England 12, 22–25,
Galician music 83 26, 28, 30–31
Gammond, Peter 127 “He's Got the Whole World in His Hands”
Garrick, David 37, 44 (Bonds) 164
gender issues 43, 143–144, 146, 147–149, Hiawatha trilogy (Coleridge-Taylor) 105,
162 106, 108, 111
George, Maude Roberts 146 Higdon, Robert 130
George I, King of England 16 Hill, George Roy 134
George IV, Prince Regent 39, 87–88, 89–90, Hilliard d'Auberteuil, M.-R. 49
98–99 Hilyer, Mrs M. E. 108
German romantic tradition 152–153 Hogan, Prof. Lawrence 118
Germany 62, 87–88, 91, 119–121, 124, 134 Holland 86
Gershwin, George 128, 155, 158 Hollywood 160
Gerzina, Gretchen Holbrook 14 Holst, Gustav 105, 106, 107, 112
Giannini, Vittorio 146 Holstein, Casper 145–146
Giardini, Felice 16 Holt, Nora Douglas 145
Gilbert and Sullivan operettas 128 Hôtel Particulier (French theater) 54–55
glove of John Blanke 23, 25, 29, 33–34 “hue and cry” advertisements 16
Gluck, Christoph Willibald 52 Hughes, Daniel Peter 104–105
Goossens, Eugene 158 Hughes, Langston 153, 158, 165–166; “The
Gordon Riots 16 Negro Speaks of Rivers” 163, 172
Gossec, François-Joseph 50, 51, 60, 63 Hurlstone, William Yeats 112–113
Graffin, Philippe 110 Hutchins, Jenifer 74–75
Graham, Martha 161 L'Impetueux (captured French ship) 73
Great Depression 154 improvisation 27, 28–29, 30, 47, 93, 176
Grieg, Edvard Hagerup 107 HMS Indefatigable (British Royal Navy
Grimm, Friedrich Melchior, baron von 53 frigate) 72–73
grocery shops 37–38
Guadeloupe, Caribbean 48–49, 57 International Composers' Guild 158
Guédé, Alain 51–52 interracial marriage 74–75, 107
Guinea, West Africa 71 Italy 111
Guttmann, Allen 31 Ives, Charles 134–135
Guyana, S. America 116, 123, 124–125
James, Willis Laurence 172
Hague, Dr. Charles 90–91 Janifer, Ellsworth 108
Haiti (formerly Saint-Domingue) 56 janissary bands 40–42
Hakim, Talib Rasul 177 Jarboro, Caterina 152
Hakluyt, Richard 13 Jarnovik, Ivan Mane 61


jazz music 120, 153, 154; Bonds 162, 165; bar 117; early black population 10, 11, 15–
Dunbar 117, 121; H. Smith 175; Joplin 18; Emidy 77–78; Sancho 35–47
127–128; Tillis 176 London Philharmonic Orchestra 18, 77,
Jews 120, 121 118, 120
Johnson, Charles S. 174–175 London Symphonies (Haydn) 77
Johnson, Hall 172 Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth 106, 114
Johnson, J. Rosamond 170 Longfellow Chorus and Orchestra 111
Johnson, Dr. Samuel 10, 75 lost music: Bridgetower 102; Emidy 78,
Johnson, Sargent 157 79; Holt 145; Joplin 131, 132; Saint-
Joplin, Scott 19, 127–138, 128; Treemonisha Georges 67; Sancho 42; Still 155
132, 134 Louis XIV, King of France 48
journalism 118–120 Lully, Jean-Baptiste 60
Juba dance 141
Juilliard School, Manhattan 120, 146, Macleod, Donald 111
163 MacMillan, Kenneth, Elite Syncopations
127, 134
Kaufman, Charles 111 The Magic Flute (Mozart) 54
Kay, Ulysses 172, 173 Magnetic Rag (Joplin) 132, 136
Kent, Dr. Alan M. 78–83 Mahler, Gustav 127
Kerr, Thomas 172 Malcolm X 174
kettledrums 27, 28, 29–30 Maple Leaf Rag (Joplin) 130
King, Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. 167, 174 Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France 52–
King-Dorset, Rodreguez, Black Dance in 53, 63
London, 1730–1850 75 Marshall, Arthur 130
Kirke, Colonel 16 Marshall, Wayne 111
Marwood, Antony 110
La Boëssière's Academy of Fencing, May, Marjorie 166
France 59 McGrady, Richard 70–71, 75
language skills 86 McKay, Claude 158
Latimer, John 15 Mehta, Zubin 165
Lawrence, Thomas 88 Le Mercure de France (journal) 52, 85
Leclair, Jean-Marie 50, 60 Methodists 78, 79, 81, 83
legal disputes 130, 131, 132 Milhaud, Darius 128, 135
Legge sisters 36 military bands 41, 116
Legion Saint-Georges 56, 66 Millay, Edna St. Vincent 166
Legros, Joseph 53 Mills, Florence 152, 155
LeMon, Lillian 146 modernism 152–153, 155, 158–159
letters: Earl of Chesterfield 39; Sancho Montagu, John, Second Duke of 36–37,
38–39, 40 42, 44
Levasseur, Rosalie 53, 64–65 Montalembert, Marquis and Marquise de
Levee Land (Still) 155 54–55, 63–64
Lichnowsky, Prince 91 Moore, Undine Smith 172
lip structures 21 “Moors” 11, 12, 23
Lisbon Opera, Portugal 82–83 Moreland, Barry 134
Liszt, Franz 127 Morton, Jelly Roll 127
literature 43–44; see also poetry Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus 47; and
Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra 123 Saint-Georges 17, 53–54, 57, 62
Locke, Alain 121, 145 A Mulatto Song 127
Lok, John 12 Mungo 42
London: architecture 88; Bridgetower 90– Murray, Tai 111
91, 101–102; Coleridge-Taylor 105; Dun- “A Musical Club, Truro 1808” 70


The Musical Times (journal) 109, 123–124 Chineke! London 111; Le Cercle d'Har-
The Musical World (journal) 92 monie 68; Concert de la Loge Olympique
musicals: Bonds 168; Joplin 132, 136; Shuf- 53; Concert des Amateurs 51–52, 53, 60,
fle Along (Blake) 152, 153, 154 63; Liverpool Philharmonic 123; Lon-
don Philharmonic 18, 77, 118, 120;
Nantes, France 14 Longfellow Chorus and Orchestra 111;
Napoleon Bonaparte 14, 24, 38, 56, 68, 91, Truro Philhamonic 70
100 ornamentation 45, 46–47
Nash, John 88 Osborne, Anne 37, 38, 39
National Association for the Advancement Osborne, Vincent E.M. 94–103
of Colored People (NAACP) 147
National Association of Negro Musicians Pan-African Conference, London, 1900
(NANM) 146, 147, 168 113
National Concert Artists (NCA) 174 Paris 160; Bridgetower 85, 87–88; Dunbar
Native Americans 147 116–117, 118–119; Saint-Georges 49–50,
NBC TV network 171–172 52–54, 57–60, 62–65
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (Langston) Paris Opera 53, 64–65
163, 172 Paris Symphonies (Haydn) 63, 65
The Netherlands 86 Parliament (UK) closes early for theater
New England Conservatory, Boston 152 100
New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musi- Parry, Sir Hubert 109–110
cians 126 Peckham, London 101–102
New World Symphony (Dvořak) 145 Pellew, Sir Edward 72–73, 79–80
New York 160; Bonds 161, 162, 163, 165, Pepys, Samuel 15
166, 167–168; Juilliard School, Manhat- percussion instruments: African drums
tan 120, 146, 163; Society of Black Com- 133, 141, 142; Celtic drums 83; janissary
posers 176 bands 40–42; kettledrums 27, 28, 29–30
New Zealand 111 Perry, Julia 172, 175
Nicholas V, Pope 12 Petit, Emilien, Traité sur le gouvernement
Nickerson, Camille L. 146 des esclaves 48–49
Nightingale, Capt. 15 Petite Suite de Concert (Coleridge-Taylor)
Northwestern University, Illinois 168 111, 114
Novello, Vincent 93, 102, 106 Philippe-Égalité, Duke of Orléans 56, 65,
Nwanoku, Chi-chi 111 66
physical prowess: Henry VII 24–25;
O'Brian, Patrick 73, 74 Henry VIII 30; Saint-Georges 50, 52, 54,
Ohajuru, Michael 30–34 59–60, 63
Olusoga, David 75 piano music: Bonds 161–162, 166–167;
opera: BBCF 97–98; Dett 171; Dibdin and Joplin 127, 128–129, 130; Swanson 172
Bickerstaffe 42; and HMS Indefatigable Picard, Alexandre 59–60
72–73; Joplin 19, 128–129, 131–132, 134, Picture Post (newspaper) 118
135, 137; Kay 173; Křenek 8; Lisbon Piozzi, Gabriel Mario 88
Opera 17, 71–73, 82–83; Mozart 40, 54; plantations, Caribbean 13, 14
Paris Opera 53, 64–65; Saint-Georges poetry: Bonds 162, 163, 165–166; P.L. Dun-
17, 62, 64–65; Still 150, 152; Voice of bar 151; Saint-Georges 64; Sancho 37
Black Opera competition 94 Poland 86–87
Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life 145– politeness, lack of in England 96
146 politics 38
orchestras: Berlin Philharmonic 119–120, popular music 10, 19
124, 126; Boston Symphony 143, 174; Portugal: Emidy 69, 71–72, 81, 82–83;
Chicago Symphony 141, 143, 147, 162; slave traders 12


Price, Florence Beatrice 19, 139–149, 140, VIII's court 22–25, 26, 27–28, 29, 30–33,
166, 172; and Bonds 162, 163, 164; Sym- 34; Marie-Antoinette 52–53, 63
phony No. 1 in E minor 147 Russia 99, 125
Price, Leontyne 143, 164 Ryder, Noah 172
Prince Regent (George IV) 39, 87–88, 89–
90, 98–99 Saint-Georges, George de Bologne (father)
“privilege slaves” 14–15 48, 49–50, 57–59, 60
prizes and awards 20, 57, 134, 141, 145, Saint-Georges, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier
168, 174 de (son) 17, 48–68, 49, 90
Prod'homme, Jacques-Gabriel 52 St. Kitts, Caribbean 94–95, 97
Pulitzer prizes 134, 174 St. Paul's Cathedral, London 137
Salomon, Johann Peter 70, 77
racism and responses to 96, 174; Salzburg Cathedral, Austria 170–171
Coleridge-Taylor 107, 110, 113, 114, 115; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society 111
Dett 170–172; Dunbar 119, 121–123, 124, Sancho, Ignatius 16, 35–47, 36; A Theory
125; Emidy 77; Price 140, 143–144; Saint- of Music 16, 40, 46
Georges 53, 64–65; Still 158–159; see also Sancho, William 38
segregation Savage, Augusta, Gamin 157
ragtime 127–128, 130, 131–134, 154, 162; Say, Louis 14
School of Ragtime (Joplin) 132, 133 Schmidt, Harvey 168
Rameau, Jean-Philippe 46 School of Ragtime (Joplin) 132, 133
Rastall, Richard 80 Schwartz, Sergiu 110
Rawdon, F.A. 93 sculpture 157
Razumovsky, Count 92 segregation 108–109, 153, 155–156, 162–163
Reign of Terror, France 66 Seminary Music (publisher) 132
religious music 78, 79, 80–81, 83, 139, 177; service, domestic: fashionable black ser-
see also spirituals vants 16, 72, 75; Sancho 37
Reynolds, Sir Joshua 75 Shakespeare, William 43–44, 137
rhythm, African influences on 133–134, Shannon, Peter 111
141, 142 ship captains: on Indefatigable 72–73, 79–
rich and poor, extremes of 54 80; “privilege slaves” of 14–16, 35
Rifkin, Joshua 127 Shuffle Along musical (Blake) 152, 153, 154
Roach, Hildred 173 Sibelius, Julius 111
Roberts, Stella 146 Sierra Leone 13
Robeson, Paul 85–86, 152 slavery: ban on drums 141; British traders
Rogers, Ginger 86 12–15, 16; French traders 14; new music
Romans in Britain 11, 21–22 develops 142, 171; Portuguese traders 12,
Romantic era 45, 47 71–72, 82; and Saint-Georges 48–49, 56,
Roosevelt, Theodore 131 57, 58, 65, 66, 68; and Sancho 35–36, 38;
Rossini, Gioachino 156 Spanish traders 12, 13–14; in US 19, 107–
Rostand, Edmund, Cyrano de Bergerac 108, 129, 133
55–56, 57 Smith, Adam, Wealth of Nations 39
Royal African Company 13 Smith, Hale 172, 175
Royal Artillery Band 41 Smith, Irene Britton 146
Royal College of Music, London 105–107, Society of Black Composers 176
110, 112 Spanish slave trade 12, 13–14
Royal Cornwall Gazette 74, 76 Sphinx Organisation, USA 110
royal servants, black 12 spirituals 8, 119; Bonds 162, 164–165; Price
royal trumpeter (Blanke) 12, 22–34 139, 140, 142–143, 145, 148; Still 152, 154,
royalty and music: George IV, Prince 157
Regent 39, 87–88, 89–90, 98–99; Henry Stabroek News 124


Stanford, Sir Charles Villiers 107 twelve-tone music 4, 7, 173, 175, 176
Stark, John 130, 131 Twenty-Four Negro Melodies (Coleridge-
status of composers 39–40 Taylor) 107, 113, 114, 170
Sterne, Laurence 37
Still, William Grant 19, 150–159, 151, 163, USA: Coleridge-Taylor 107–109, 111, 113;
172; Afro-American Symphony 120–121, Dunbar 116; Harlem Renaissance 139;
154–155, 157–158 Joplin 127–138; postwar ascendancy
The Sting (film) 127, 134 160–161; Price 139–149; Thirteenth
Stock, Frederick 141, 147, 166 Amendment 19
Stockhausen, Karlheinz 156, 176
Stokes, Lottie 132 Van Vechten, Carl 155, 158, 161
Stokowski, Leopold 158 Varèse, Edgard 152–153, 154, 155, 156, 158
Stowell, Kent 134 Vaughan Williams, Ralph 105, 106, 107,
Stravinsky, Igor 128, 135 112
sugar trade 13, 14, 38, 39 Vestris, Gaetano 100
Sullivan, Sir Arthur 128 Vienna 91
Summers, William 25–30 violin music: Bridgetower 85, 87, 89, 91–
“superior servant” (Sancho) 35, 40 92; Coleridge-Taylor 112; Emidy 69–83;
surrealism 173 Saint-Georges 50–51, 60–62, 64; Sancho
Swanson, Howard 172 47; Still 151
syncopation 127, 133, 143, 164 Viotti, Giovanni Battista 90
syphilis 129, 135–136, 138 virtuosos: Bridgetower 87, 88–89, 91–92,
94, 98, 102; Emidy 17, 71, 74, 76; Saint-
Talleyrand 24 Georges 48, 50–54, 60–61
tap dancing 86 vocal works: Bonds 162, 164, 165, 166, 168;
Taylor, Vivan 164 Burleigh 145; Coleridge-Taylor 105, 106,
Tchaikovsky, Pyotr 96, 120, 121, 127, 157 107, 108, 111, 114; Joplin 132, 136; late
tea trade 38, 39 twentieth-century 170–171, 173, 174;
Ted Snyder Music (publisher) 132 medieval music 26; musicals 132, 136,
Thacker, Dr. Toby 121 152, 153, 154, 168; Price 140, 141, 142;
theater 170; and Bonds 165, 166; Hôtel Saint-Georges 62; Sancho 39, 40, 42,
Particulier 54–55; Parliament closes 43–44; Still 155; Sullivan 128; see also
early 100; and Sancho 37, 44; and V. opera; spirituals
Osborne 95 voting rights 38
Thirlwell, J.W. 92
Thrale, Mrs 88–89 wages, Tudor England 22, 23–24
Tillis, Frederick 176 Wagner, Richard 129, 137
The Times (newspaper) 90, 93 Walker, George T. 20, 172, 173–175; Lilacs
tobacco trade 13, 38, 39 174
Tomalin, Clare 15 Walters, Col. Herbert A. 105, 112
Toscanini, Arturo 155 Wanamaker, Rodman 146–147
Treatise on the Clarinet (Boehm system) Wanamaker Music Contest 146–147
(Dunbar) 117, 126 Ward, William 49
trumpeters 21, 22–34, 119 Warren Beckwith, Margaret 12
trumpets, medieval 21, 22–24, 26–34 Washington, Booker T. 108–109, 114, 131
Truro, Cornwall 70, 76, 79 Weber, Carl Maria von 120, 121
Truro Philhamonic Orchestra 70 Weill, Kurt 168
Tuck, William 74 Weiss, Julius 129
Tudor, Antony 127 Wesley, Samuel 91
Tudor England 12, 22–25 West Briton (newspaper) 76
Turkish influences 12, 40–42 Westminster 37, 38, 45


Westminster Tournament Roll 22–23, 22, Work, John W., III 143, 172
31, 33–34 World War I 151
White, Clarence Cameron 156, 170 World War II 118–119, 148, 160
White, John 16 World's Fair, Chicago, 1933 147
Wilberforce College, Idaho 150 Wyndham, H. A., The Atlantic and Slavery
Wilder, Philip van 28 15
Wilkie, David 15
Wilson, Mathew 111 Young, Col. Charles 158
Woodhouse, Harry 80
Work, John W., Jr. 143 Die Zauberflöte (Mozart) 54