Friday, September 26, 2014

William Levi Dawson, Composer and Professor Born September 26, 1899, Composed 'Negro Folk Symphony'; New York Times calls him one of the 'pioneers'

The Spirituals of William L. Dawson; 
The St. Olaf Choir; 
Anton Armstrong, conductor; 
Marvis Martin, soprano; 
St. Olaf Records 2159 (1997)

William Levi Dawson: Negro Folk Symphony (1934)

A YouTube posting has made Dawson's only symphony available in its entirety online.  The Negro Folk Symphony (35:44) was posted on YouTube May 23, 2012.

William Levi Dawson (1899-1990) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, The Dawson page discusses the recording by Leopold Stokowski:

Leopold Stokowski conducted the first performance of Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony in 1934. He also recorded the work for Decca Records in 1963. The LP recording has since been  reissued on CD by Deutsche Grammophon as DG 477 6502 (2007). Alan Newcombe says in the liner notes that the work was important to the evolution of the American symphony:  
“His Negro Folk Symphony was first performed by Leopold Stokowski with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1934. After making a study of indigenous African music, in 1952 Dawson revised his work to give it a more 'African' rhythmic underpinning. While recalling the idiom of Dvorak's 'New World' Symphony and the cyclic principles of the César Franck school, not to mention Bruckner's Fourth at the opening of the last movement, the work's individuality of texture and rhythmic energy make it a significant, albeit largely unacknowledged, contribution to the development of the American symphony.”

On August 9, 2014, AfriClassical posted:

The article by William Robin on August 8, 2014 says, in part:

"There was a time in classical music when black composers seemed on the cusp of the mainstream. In the 1930s, pioneers like Still and William Dawson wrote symphonies inflected by folk tunes and the blues that were given their premieres by prominent American orchestras."

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