Sunday, December 30, 2007

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

[Cancion Sin Palabras; La bella Cubana; Martha Marchena, piano; MSR 1054 (2002)]

José Silvestre White, aka José Silvestre White y Lafitte, was an Afro-Cuban composer, violinist and professor at 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.

Professor Wright tells us José White studied violin with Jean-Delphin Alard, a prominent figure in the violin world, and also studied music with Henri Reber and Ferdinand Tate.
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. It relates that José interrupted his education to return to Cuba when his father fell ill in 1858. He returned to school in 1860, and gave four triumphant performances in 1861, as evidenced by newspapers of the day.

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 Dominique-René de Lerma, Professor of Music at Lawrence University. 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, 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:

José+White" rel="tag">José White
Afro-Cuban+Composer" rel="tag">Afro-Cuban Composer
Afro-Cuban+Violinist" rel="tag">Afro-Cuban Violinist
classical+music" rel="tag">classical music
Black+History" rel="tag">Black History
African+American" rel="tag">African American

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