Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ludovic Lamothe (1882-1953), Haitian Composer of Liberation Anthem "Nibo" in 1934

[A Vision of Ludovic Lamothe; Evocation (5:46); Charles P. Phillips, piano; IFA Music Records (2001). Lamothe is at left.]

Ludovic Lamothe is one of Haiti's most renowned classical composers. He was born in Port-au-Prince, his country's capital, on May 12, 1882. The Ludovic Lamothe page at AfriClassical.com is based primarily on research generously provided by Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma, specialist in Black composers for four decades and Professor of Music at Lawrence University, and on Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music And Cultural Nationalism, by Michael Largey, published by The University of Chicago Press (2006). Ludovic's father Tacite Lamothe and grandfather Joseph Lamothe were both pianists as well. His mother was Virginie Sampeur, an accomplished poet.

Lamothe studied piano and clarinet in Port-au-Prince, showing early talent as a pianist and composer. In 1910, German merchants in Haiti raised a scholarship to send him to the Paris Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Louis Diemer. Upon his return to Haiti the following year, Lamothe made a living by giving piano lessons and presenting private salon concerts on Sunday afternoons. His favorite composer was Chopin, and a commemorative Chopin concert he gave at the Rex Theatre is said to have led to his nickname “Black Chopin”.

His compositions drew inspiration from Vodou ceremonial music, and his méringues ranged from the most elite to the most popular. La Dangereuse is the most famous example of his elite méringues. He won a Port-au-Prince City Council contest in 1934 for the best méringue de Carnaval with Nibo. Largey writes: “While the musical structure of “Nibo” is unremarkable, its social and political meanings for Haitian audiences are noteworthy. The occupation of Haiti by U.S. Military forces was scheduled to end on 21 August 1934, approximately six months after the 1934 carnival.” The author adds: “In this context, 'Nibo' was understood as an anticipatory anthem for the celebration to come in August 1934.”

Pianist Charles P. Phillips recorded A Vision of Ludovic Lamothe on IFA Music Records in 2001. Its liner notes tell us: “In his later years Lamothe was made Chief of Music of the Republic of Haiti. He died on April 4, 1953. Although during his lifetime only a handful of his works were published, in 1955 his family gathered his manuscripts and published them privately in Port-au-Prince.” The book is Musique de Ludovic Lamothe. Suzanne Flandreau, Head Librarian and Archivist at the Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College Chicago, tells us it is available at numerous libraries via an online search tool

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