Negro Rhapsody for orchestra
Henry Franklin Belknap Gilbert – Negro Rhapsody
(26 September 1868, Somerville, Massachusetts, USA – 19 May 1928, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA)
(originally titled Shout, 1912, revised 1915)
Premiere: June 5, 1913; Metropolitan House Orchestra (70 players), conducted by the composer in the Music Shed at the Norfolk Music Festival in Connecticut (USA). Dr. Carl Stoeckel (1858-1925) and his wife Ellen Battell Stoeckel (1851-1939), the founders of the Norfolk Festival in 1899 (originally called the Litchfield County Choral Union), commissioned the work. Carl was the son of Gustave Stoeckel, Yale University organist and first faculty conductor of the Yale Glee Club. Ellen was the daughter of Robbins Battell, an expert on church bells and composer who favored hymns, art song, and arrangements of Negro spirituals.
Publication: New York: H. W. Gray, 1915. Gilbert’s description of the Rhapsody is printed on a fly-leaf of the score (BG166, Yale Gilbert Archive).
Later revision: The revised edition for enlarged orchestra was premiered in December 12, 1915 by the Orchestral Society of New York (Max Jacobs, conductor) at the Harris Theater in New York City.
American Music & Slavery
An estimated 645,000 Africans were imported into the United States between 1650 and 1808 as slave labor. They came primarily from sub-Saharan Africa‘s northwestern and middle-western coastal regions and worked under harsh conditions, predominantly in the cash crop economy of the rural South. They brought musical traditions with them, since many activities, from work to worship, were steeped in song. The first slave ships carried the Ardra people from Benin, from whose foddun spiritual practice derives the core of hybrid Louisiana African-Catholic vodoun religion. The Wolof and Bambara people from the Senegal River preserved traditional melismatic singing and stringed instruments (crucial forerunners of blues and the banjo). The Spanish pillaged the Central African forest culture of Kongo, whose hand-drummed polyrhythms came to undergird dance rhythms from Havana to Harlem…
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