Friday, January 2, 2009

Myrtle Hart Society: 'The Violin in Black Music History' by Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma

[Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799)] 

Myrtle Hart Society eNewsletter January 2009
Rashida N. Black, Founder/Executive Director
Pop culture can be a fog that obscures a heritage in favor of economic advantage. There are those, for example, who are astonished to learn that Black composers have been making contributions to so-called "European" classical music at least since the mid-1500s, that opera flourishes in Nigeria and, since the end of apartheid, now in South Africa. When I was a guest, along with William Dawson, at the College of the Virgin Islands in the 1970s, the students unhesitatingly rejected Dawson's symphony because there were violins in the orchestra.

The violin had been popular in France well before it was accepted as a legitimate instrument elsewhere, mainly because it had been used for dance music. Within that tradition arose the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), born in Guadeloupe, child of a French father and a slave. His father took the liaison seriously and made arrangements for the little boy to study the violin so that he would prove an acceptable dilettante within social circles when the family moved to Paris. The unexpected happened, and the child proved himself equal, if not superior, to all violinists in Europe. He was director of two major Parisian orchestras, with which he performed his exceptionally virtuosic concertos. He was sought after by Mozart when, as a young man, the Austrian visited France seeking employment, and it was Saint-Georges who led the six "Paris" symphonies by Haydn, and arranged for their publication. Read more: [Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) and William Levi Dawson (1899-1990) are profiled at]

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