Thursday, December 31, 2009

José Silvestre White, Afro-Cuban Composer & Violinist, Born Dec. 31, 1835

[José Silvestre White (1835-1918); photo from ]

José Silvestre White, or José Silvestre White y Lafitte, was an Afro-Cuban violinist who became a composer and professor after graduating from the Paris Conservatory. He is profiled in His mother was Afro-Cuban and his father Spanish. Josephine Wright, Professor of Music at the College of Wooster, in Wooster, Ohio has published an article Violinist José White in Paris, 1855-1875, in Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, Fall 1990. She explains that White's earliest training in music came from Don Carlos White, his father, who was an amateur violinist. She adds that his subsequent teachers were José Miguel Roman and Pedro Lecerff, and his first concert took place in Matanzas on March 21, 1854. Prof. Wright notes that White's accompanist was the prominent New Orleans composer and pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), and that he raised the travel expenses for the young man's trip to Paris.

The article tells of José White's success at the Paris Conservatory, as evidenced by his First Grand Prize in Violin on July 29, 1856. White joined the faculty of the Paris Conservatory, and later toured the Americas from 1875-1877. We learn from Prof. Wright that he appeared with the New York Philharmonic twice during the 1875-1876 season, and also performed in Boston, Washington and Philadelphia. Prof. Wright tells us José White served as director of the Imperial Conservatory in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 1877 to 1889, when she reports he returned to live in Paris until his death in 1918. Gordon Root gives an overview of White's surviving sheet music in Africana Encyclopedia: “Many of his works still survive today, including a concerto, a string quartet, a collection of studies for violin, and several nationalistic pieces such as
Marcha cubana, and perhaps his most famous composition, the habanera (a Cuban dance in slow duple time) La Bella cubana.”

A full catalogue of José White's surviving compositions has been compiled by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, Professor of Music at Lawrence University Conservatory. It is found in the same issue of Black Music Research Journal as Prof. Wright's article. One recording of the music of José White is Violin Concertos By Black Composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries, Cedille 90000 035 (1997), which includes his Violin Concerto in F-sharp Minor (21:34) performed by Rachel Barton Pine, violin and the Encore Chamber Orchestra led by Daniel Hege, Conductor. Another CD is Cancion Sin Palabras, MSR 1054 (2002). José White is represented by La Bella Cubana, performed on piano by Martha Marchena. The website of the IberoAmerica Ensemble features audio and video versions of La Bella Cubana:

Comment by email
Violin Concerto in F-sharp Minor is a wonderful piece. Did José White compose a violin sonata or another piece for an ensemble smaller than the 42-piece Encore Chamber Orchestra? John Malveaux


John Malveaux said...

Violin Concerto in F-sharp Minor is a wonderful piece. Did Jose White compose a violin sonata or another piece for aensemble smaller than the 42 piece Encore Chamber Orchestra.

John Malveaux

Hilary Burrage said...

I wonder if he was related to the Silvestre luthiers (P, and then HC) who lived in Paris at that time? Seems very possible..?