Saturday, October 11, 2014

R. Nathaniel Dett, Composer, Pianist & Choral Director, Was Born October 11, 1882; 'The Ordering of Moses' Performed at Carnegie Hall & Streamed on Internet

The Collected Piano Works of R. Nathaniel Dett
Summy-Birchard (1973)

This year's birthday tribute to R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), composer, pianist and choral director, begins with a mention of some of the notable performances of his works in 2014:

The Boston Globe published an article entitled "Dett finds the roots of an American classical style," by Matthew Guerrieri, Globe Correspondent, on August 9, 2014:  "On Wednesday [August 13, 2014], the Boston Landmarks Orchestra resurrects R. Nathaniel Dett’s compact but ambitiously innovative 1919 oratorio The Chariot Jubilee."  The performance was conducted by Christopher Wilkins, Music Director.

John Malveaux, President of MusicUNTOLD, announced that R. Nathaniel Dett's Cinnamon Grove, Suite for Piano, would be performed during an event entitled Los Angeles Hosts Korean & American Piano Music, on August 12 and 14, 2014. The pianists were "Hye-Young Suh, Professor of Piano at SungKyul University, 
South Korea" and "Phoenix Park-Kim, Associate Professor of Piano at Indiana Wesleyan University, USA."

Dominique-René de Lerma wrote in AfriClassical on July 21, 2014: "Bill McGlaughlin,, recently dedicated a week to composers who had studied with Nadia Boulanger.  The following, who were not featured, were also her students"  [R. Nathaniel Dett was one of 14 composers of African descent who were named]
On May 7, 2014 AfriClassical wrote of a live performance which was streamed online: "NPR Music & WQXR: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra & May Festival Chorus in R. Nathaniel Dett's 'The Ordering of Moses,' Carnegie Hall Friday 7:30 PM ET Online"

New York Classical Review wrote of a May 9, 2014 performance of R. Nathaniel Dett's oratorio The Ordering of Moses on May 10, 2014: "The Cincinnati Symphony and soloists gave a fine account of this work. Rodrick Dixon brought a clarion tenor to Moses, the soprano Latonia Moore rang over above the formidable May Festival Chorus as Miriam, and both Donnie Ray Albert and Ronnita Nicole Miller as the voice of Israel sang well. Principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn played sensitively in several solo passages."

AfriClassical wrote on May 8, 2014: "Charleston Symphony Orchestra Spiritual Ensemble at 2014 Piccolo Spoleto: R. Nathaniel Dett ['Chariot Jubilee'] to Moses G. Hogan • Saturday, May 31, 2014."  "The CSO Spiritual Ensemble, a 30-member vocal group focusing on traditional African-American spirituals, joins Piccolo Spoleto on Saturday, May 31, 2014 with a performance entitled "Spiritual Masterworks: From Robert Nathaniel Dett to Moses G. Hogan."

"This choral performance will chronicle the musical legacies of Robert Nathaniel Dett, Hall Johnson, Jester Hairston and Moses G. Hogan, with a Charleston début performance of Dett’s Chariot Jubilee. Known for his intricate choral arrangements Dett’s Ordering of Moses Oratorio and Chariot Jubilee are noted around the world as extremely challenging to perform, such that few professional or community choirs perform them.

"A giant in the black classical world, Dett gained attention during his tenure at historic Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. His orchestral and organ works are rarely performed in the United States but are celebrated staples in Canada and Europe." 
The program was an especially fine showcase for the strengths of the May Festival Chorus and its 150 members who brought intense precision to both The Ordering of Moses and the opening work, John Adams’s Harmonium.

On February 12, 2014 AfriClassical posted: "R. Nathaniel Dett Club of Music and Allied Arts 'Annual Black History Concert' 4 PM Sun., Feb. 23, 2014, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 3801 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago." 

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.      

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