Classical music originated in Europe and there are different divisions of classical music beginning in the 11th century stretching up until the 20th century. In the United States, few African Americans were trained classically during the time before the Civil War but they flourished during the time. Those trained before the Civil War got their training from locals or they were self-taught. After slavery ended, there were more opportunities for African Americans to be classically trained and become composers.
Classical music compositions were created in European styles which consisted of overtures, ballads, hymns, anthems, marches, and glees. African Americans later incorporated folk elements to create a black style of classical music. Black composers also incorporated African and African American idioms into their compositions as a way to include their heritage.
After Emancipation and the Civil War African Americans were able to advance their musical training at colleges, universities, or conservatories. Due to this training, African Americans were able to advance their careers as classically trained composers even though America was experiencing racial segregation. Classical composers such as Harry T. Burleigh also influenced musicians of the Harlem Renaissance
Important composers in the classical genre are Harry T. Burleigh, Clarence White, and Florence Price. Burleigh was one of the first African American composers to gain national attention for his compositions. Throughout his career he wrote more than 300. He even composed solo versions of Negro Spirituals. White was a composer during the Harlem Renaissance era who was best known for his compositions for the violin. Price was the first African American female composer to gain international attention. Price’s Symphony No. 1 in E Minor is a very soft, light, and calming yet there are some moments of intensity throughout the piece.
Although racism was very prevalent in the United States, Whites in America had no problem paying African Americans composers for their performances even in then slave states. African Americans received credit for their classical compositions and some were even recognized internationally for their achievements which of course came with some financial compensation.
Influences of Future Genres:
Classical music has had an impact on many of the modern genres such as Rock and Roll, popular music, etc. Almost every modern genre has been influenced by classical music which is shown in the use of the chorus in many songs today. Many mainstream artists in various genres today copy and incorporate classical compositions into their songs.
In my opinion, the classical genre is very interesting because it did not originate within Black culture but Black people flourished within the genre. Once African Americans were able to learn classical music their talent was undeniable, even by racists whites in America. I also really appreciate the Black classical composers who chose to add components of black culture into a historically European genre.