Thursday, October 11, 2012

First Birthday of R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) Since Premiere Recording of 'Cinnamon Grove' (15:20) by Phoenix Park-Kim & Merwin Siu

R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943)

[Deep River: Music for Violin and Piano by Composers of African Descent; Phoenix Park-Kim, piano; Merwin Siu, violin; MSR MS 1372 (2011)]

[Merwin Siu, violin; Phoenix Park-Kim, piano]

October 11, 2012 is the first birth anniversary of R. Nathaniel Dett following the 2011 release of the first recording of his 1928 composition for solo piano, Cinnamon Grove - Suite for piano (15:20).  This late-Romantic piece sounds absolutely delightful on the recording by pianist Phoenix Park-Kim and violinist Merwin Siu, Deep River: Music for Violin and Piano by Composers of African Descent; MSR MS 1372 (2011).  Prof. Phoenix Park-Kim spent years researching neglected works of composers of African descent.  Cinnamon Grove is the longest work on the CD and our favorite.  The artists have made a significant contribution to the musical legacy of R. Nathaniel Dett.

R. Nathaniel Dett was an African American composer and pianist whose tenure as Choral Director at Hampton Institute was legendary. He was born in Drummondville, now part of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, http://www.CasaMusicaledeLerma.comhas kindly made his research file on R. Nathaniel Dett available to At age five, Dett was playing pieces by ear. He then began piano lessons. Dett and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1893, settling in Niagara Falls, New York, where they ran a tourist home.

In 1903 Dett began his studies at Oberlin Conservatory of Music. We learn from Prof. De Lerma that Dett majored in both piano and composition. It was at Oberlin that he first heard Dvorak's use of Bohemian folk song in classical music. Dr. De Lerma writes: “From this time, he was resolved to participate in the preservation of the spirituals although he had originally looked on them, as did others, as reminders of slavery times.”

“When Dett completed his five-year course at Oberlin in 1908, he became the first African American to earn a B.A. in Music there with a major in composition and piano.” “He immediately began teaching, first at Lane College (Jackson, Tennessee) until 1911, when he moved to Lincoln Institute (now University) in Jefferson City, Missouri, and then in 1913 to Hampton Institute (now University) as director of the music program. Dett died in Battle Creek, Michigan while touring with a Women's Army Corps chorus as a member of the U.S.O. As a composer, Dett is remembered chiefly for the choral works he based on African American spirituals, and for the works for solo piano he composed in the Romantic style, such as Cinnamon Grove. 

Comment by email:
Dear Bill, Thank you so much for these updates and posting of our recording.  Hope you are enjoying the autumn in Ann Arbor.  Phoenix  [Phoenix Park-Kim]

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