Monday, April 13, 2015

Dominique-René de Lerma: Coleridge-Taylor: Two Hours Toward Revitalization, Revival, And Renewal

Dominique-René de Lerma:


            I was led by one of our major leaders, Mike Wright, to a most remarkable two hours on the internet giving focus on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.  It is the work of the Longfellow enthusiasts, headed by Charles Kaufmann, whose penetrating knowledge of the subject and its implications secured the participation of the major scholars in the field, including Jeffrey Green, William Tortolano, and Wayne Shirley, with captivating performances from Rachel Barton Pine, Rodrick Dixon, Robert Honeysucker, Angela Brown, and some superb choristers.  
            "This is a truly superb production with some very moving dialogue and some incredibly musical performances. . . . The last chapters of the film were really enlightening. The performance of ‘Keep Me from Sinking Down’ on the film drew me to tears. . . . The 1911 [Deep River] recording of Maud Powell and the superimposition of Rachel Barton-Pine’s performance was an amazing technical achievement. . . . These are my ramblings following my deep appreciation of the truly great documentary film 'Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and His Music in America, 1900–1912 '... Michael S. Wright, Chair, African to American Music Society, Shebbear, Devon, U.K."
             Because the treatment explores the related environment, the subjects do not stop with the spiritual, but include coon songs, the Marine Band, Maud Powell, and even some wisdom from the granddaughter of J. Rosamond Johnson.  The sight of documents from a century ago will have one trying to take notes or hit the pause button repeatedly -- I'll opt for replay:  But be sure to consult William Zick's alert from last week -- 

            One of my colleagues, a Native American, had originally not been impressed by CT's dedication to Hiawatha.  He did not attempt to recreate Native music but, unlike his contemporaries Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, he did not look for a vocabulary in British folk music: he had a nostalgia for what he never experienced -- Africa -- and with overt sentiment for the suppressed, found nobility in the Hiawatha story.
            When we deal with music from a different time or place, we have always had to make adjustments to our evaluation.  That acculturation pulls us closer to an understanding why Coleridge-Taylor's standing ranked along with Mendelssohn and Handel during his life, but why did he fade so soon?  That question is raised in this documentary.   I suggest the answer rests in the fact that he came in the final days of Romanticism.  What followed was a denial of as much of the nineteenth century as one could manage.  In came that non-discriminatory phase termed neo-classicism.  Stravinsky stated that music was "powerless to express anything at all," that once a structure is in good order, "everything is said."  Shock the bourgeois!  Even those Germanics, seduced by Freudian hyper-romanticism (expressionism) found their delight in palindromic tone-rows, thereby providing theory students with an abundance of dissertation topics.  Never mind the audience, who were yet to be disoriented by electronic sounds, if not complete silence from John Cage.  And, as Johnson's granddaughter observed, those up on 125th Street never heard about Coleridge-Taylor anyway.  They knew nothing about that Washington event when Coleridge-Taylor displayed Black genius in 1904 -- that was the year in which more than 10% of the Black citizens of St. Charles, Arkansas, were lynched. 

Dominique-René de Lerma

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