Monday, November 19, 2007

Edmond Dede, African American Composer Born Nov. 20, 1827

[Edmond Dede; Hot Springs Music Festival; Richard Rosenberg, Conductor; Naxos 8.559038 (2000)]

A Creole Romantic In Exile Was A Conductor in Bordeaux for 27 Years

Edmond Dede, profiled at, was a free Creole of color, born Nov. 20, 1827 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His parents had arrived from the French West Indies around 1809. Edmond's father was a bandmaster for a militia unit.

The boy first learned Clarinet, but switched to Violin, on which he was considered a prodigy. The liner notes for the Naxos CD were written by Lester Sullivan, University Archivist at Xavier University in New Orleans. Sullivan writes:

“He studied violin with Constantin Debergue, a local free black violinist and director of the local Philharmonic Society founded by free Creoles of color sometime in the late antebellum period, and with Italian-born Ludovico Gabici, director of the St. Charles Theater orchestra and one of the earliest publishers of music in the city. He studied counterpoint and harmony with Eugène Prévost, French-born winner of the 1831 Prix de Rome and conductor of the orchestra at the Théâtre d'Orléans, and with New York-born free black musician Charles Richard Lambert, father of Sidney and Lucièn Lambert, and a conductor of the Philharmonic Society, which was the first non-theatrical orchestra in the city and even included some white musicians among its one hundred instrumentalists, an extremely large aggregation for the time.”

Subsequent instruction from Ludovico Gabici ended when
White hostility against African American musicians forced him to flee to Mexico, where he continued his training. Upon his return to New Orleans Dede began working as a cigar maker. He saved his earnings to pay for further studies in Europe. Lester Sullivan adds:

In 1852 Dede's melody Mon pauvre coeur appeared. It is the oldest surviving piece of sheet music by a New Orleans Creole of color. He supplemented his income from music with what today would be characterized as his day job: he was a cigar maker, as were a number of other local musicians.”

His savings and money contributed by friends enabled him to travel first to Belgium and then on to France.
An audition in 1857 secured his admission to the Paris Conservatoire de Musique (Paris Conservatory of Music). Marcus B. Christian writes in Africana Encyclopedia:

“One of his teachers at the conservatory was the celebrated Jacques-François Halevy, who taught Charles-François Gounod. In this way, Dede later became an intimate friend of this great composer. His other instructor was noted French violinist and teacher Jean Delphin Alard.”

Upon completion of his studies,
Dede settled in Bordeaux, France. He married a French woman, Sylvie Leflet, in 1864. Their son, Eugene Arcade Dede, also composed classical music. Eugene's mazurka En chasse (4:12) was orchestrated by his father and is included on the Naxos CD.

The elder Dede served as
Orchestra Conductor at the Theatre l'Alcazar (Alcazar Theater) for 27 years. He also conducted performances of light music at the Folies Bordelaises. As a highly accomplished violinist, Dede performed his own compositions as well as those of others. He favored pieces by the French composer Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831).

An African American composer, musician and conductor named Samuel Snaer, Jr. (1835-1900) conducted the first New Orleans performance of Dede's
Quasimodo Symphony. Patrons and music critics alike regarded the concert a great success. Marcus B. Christian continues in Africana Encyclopedia:

“Dede's Quasimodo Symphony was presented at the Orleans Theater on the night of May 10, 1865, before a vast audience composed of the leading blacks of New Orleans and prominent Northern whites, with composer-conductor Samuel Snaer, Jr. leading his own orchestra in its production. All of his compositions were considered of the highest order, including his best known piece, Le Palmier Overture (1865). During a stint in Algeria he wrote Le Sermente de L'Arabe (1865).”

Dede returned to New Orleans only once, in 1893. He lost his treasured Cremona violin at sea during the voyage to the United States, but his performances on another instrument were praised by critics and audiences alike. Lester Sullivan writes:

“Dede also introduced two new songs, one of which, Patriotisme, he regarded as his farewell to New Orleans, for in it he laments his destiny to live far away because of 'implacable prejudice' at home. [The song is a setting of a poem of the same name, written by the African American historian Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes (1849-1928).]

Grateful for receiving honorary membership in the Société des Jeunes-Amis, a leading local social group composed mostly of Creoles of color of antebellum free background, but
weary of the increasing inconveniences and indignities of racial segregation, Dede returned to France and became a full member of the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers in 1894.”

Dede died in 1903 in Paris, where many of his compositions have been preserved at the Bibliotheque Nationale (National Library) . It was there in 1998 that Richard Rosenberg found the sheet music for the Naxos CD. He also found scores for works by several other Creole Romantics, including:

Eugene Arcade Dede
Charles Lucien Lambert
Lucien-Leon Guillaume Lambert
Sidney Lambert

Rosenberg is Conductor of the Hot Springs Music Festival,, which brings together 200 music students and professionals from around the world each Summer. Master classes and public performances are given in the historic resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Marcus B. Christian identifies two locations at which the early African American sheet music of New Orleans has been conserved:

“For original scores of New Orleans black music, see the Howard-Tilton Library of Tulane University and the Marcus Christian Collection of the Earl Long Library at the University of New Orleans.”

My Poor Heart [Excerpt]
When I see you Oh! my Creole love,
I think I see a halo,
Decorating your brow,
Divine one, every day I beseech you,
With passion,
To share the flame that devours,
My poor heart.

An additional recording with one track devoted to compositions of Edmond Dede is: Turn-of-the-Century Cornet Favorites; Columbia Chamber Ensemble; Gunther Schuller, conductor; Sony 94886 (2005).

No comments: