Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sergio A. Mims: Joseph Emidy: From slave fiddler to classical violinist [The remarkable life of a former slave who became a pioneer of classical music]

Joseph Emidy led the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra 
(Royal Cornwall Museum)

The 'boss' dedicated to Joseph Emidy will remain in Truro Cathedral

A plaque to mark the life of Joseph Emidy was installed in Falmouth in 2005

Sergio A. Mims:

  • 21 June 2015

The "genius" violinist Joseph Emidy, from West Africa, was enslaved for two long periods of his eventful life.

But having finally gained his freedom in 1799, Emidy became "Britain's first composer of the African diaspora".

His achievements were marked at Truro Cathedral on Sunday with the erection of a 'boss' - a painted wooden carving featuring a violin and a map of Africa.
On his death in 1835, The West Briton newspaper reported in Emidy's obituary: "As an orchestral composer, his sinfonias may be mentioned as evincing not only deep musical research, but also those flights of genius."
Emidy is thought to have been born in 1775 and was sold into slavery at the age of 12.

What is known of Emidy's life comes largely from the autobiography of one of his students, the anti-slavery politician James Silk Buckingham.

Emidy was first taken to work on plantations in Brazil before he was brought to Lisbon in Portugal by his "owner or master".

Silk Buckingham wrote: "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."

But Emidy's freedom to perform the music he loved was curtailed by the English naval commander, Sir Edward Pellew.

Sir Edward and his crew frequented the Lisbon Opera House while their ship, the Indefatigable, was undergoing repairs in 1795.

They were so impressed by Emidy's talents a press gang was sent to kidnap him to "furnish music for the sailors' dancing".

The Indefatigable set sail the next day and Emidy spent the next four years entertaining his shipmates with "hornpipes, jigs, and reels".

Emidy was finally discharged four years later in the port of Falmouth on 28 February 1799.

By Nathaniel Dett Chorale (@ndettchorale

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