African-American Masterpieces: Symphonic Spirituals
William L. Dawson | Negro Folk Symphony
William Grant Still | And They Lynched Him on a Tree
Nathaniel Dett | The Ordering of Moses
Coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Bach Festival Society and Bethune Cookman University Concert Chorale present a program of provocative and passionate works by three of the 20th century’s most important African-American composers-William L. Dawson, William Grant Still, and R. Nathaniel Dett. These composers fought for their own ability to create lasting works that recorded their experiences and those of their fellow African Americans.
This program will feature the Bach Festival Choir and Orchestra, the Bethune Cookman Concert Chorale, soprano Othalie Graham, mezzo soprano Krysty Swann, tenor Samuel McKelton and bass-baritone Kevin Deas, under the direction of conductor, Dr. John Sinclair.
ON THE PROGRAM
William L. Dawson (1886-1970) Negro Folk Symphony
Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony was completed in 1932 and premiered by Leopold Stokowski in Philadelphia in November 1934. This marvelous and neglected symphony was later revised in 1952 after a visit by the composer to West Africa. The symphony has three striking movements.
Dawson was a composer, performer, and music educator who used the rich vitality of his musical heritage as a basis for all types of music, including arrangements of folk songs and original compositions. Starting his education at Tuskegee Institute at age 13, he went on to receive his master of music degree from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. He became the director of music at Tuskegee Institute, and among his other accomplishments, under the sponsorship of the President of the United States and the State Department, the Tuskegee Choir made a concert tour of international and interracial good will to the British Isles, Europe, and the former U.S.S.R. Leading critics in America and abroad praised the choir highly.
William Grant Still (1895-1978) And They Lynched Him on a Tree
Still’s And They Lynched Him on a Tree (1940), an oratorio for male speaker, mezzo-soprano soloist, chorus, and orchestra – was premiered by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Artur Rodzinski at Lewisohn Stadium in New York. The performance was attended by an array of important people, including a Supreme Court justice, one of New York’s senators, the Secretary of the Interior, Eleanor Roosevelt, and other dignitaries. The piece was then conducted by Leopold Stokowski with the NBC Symphony.
Still was the first African-American composer with a major career, the first to have an opera performed by a major company, the first to have a work performed by a major orchestra, and the first African-American to conduct a major orchestra.
Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) The Ordering of Moses
Dett’s The Ordering of Moses was commissioned by the May Festival Chorus in 1937 and premiered by the Chorus and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra that same year. The premiere was broadcast live on NBC, but the network cut the program short. Although no official reason was given, it’s alleged that the network caved to complaints about airing Black music. During his lifetime, he was a leading Black composer, known for his use of African-American folk songs and spirituals as the basis for choral and piano compositions in the 19th century Romantic style of classical music. He was among the first Black composers during the early years of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Dett used African-American spirituals and folk music in his composition. He took Dvořák’s admonition that a composer should look to their own culture for inspiration to heart.