Origins and Characteristics:
Classical music is one of the oldest musical genres. Its origins date all the way back to medieval times. However, black people weren’t really included in the genre until the time of enslavement in American. Even then, they were barely recognized for their involvement in the genre. Classical music is one of the most technical and precise genres as it incorporates many European techniques.
Only a small group of Black composers flourished during the period before emancipation (1760-1862). Newport Gardner has been considered to be the first black composer. Gardener was a slave and with the help of his master’s wife he was able to briefly study music. He gained enough knowledge to be able to teach others. In 1791, he was able to purchase his freedom and he opened a school where he taught white and black students.\
During the antebellum period, the period before the civil war, when slavery was still the law of the land, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the capital of culture for Black America. Despite racism, black musicians with talent where presented the opportunity to flourish in the city. In Philadelphia, Black composers were able to compete with white musicians for public patronage.
It was popular in this time for slave masters to have their slave perform classical music for them. Whereas, some free slaves were becoming coming composers, traveling, and constructing bands.
The emancipation proclamation created hope for many in the black community. Blacks had hope that one day they would be assimilated into the greater American society. Their optimism was shown in the creative and performing arts with musical knowledge being present in the black community.
Many musicians born during the Post-Emancipation period went on to receive advance education at reputable colleges, universities, and conservatories of music. The academic training prepared the generation for roles in the cultural uplift of the black community.
During this period, black musicians were incorporating the use of black musical idioms into classical art forms.Only a small number of blacks focused on writing large-scale forms such as opera, concerto, and sonata. Most composed choral music intended for the student singers at the black colleges and universities. Composers such as Harry T. Burleigh, were skilled in arranging negro spirituals and folk songs into art songs.
Modern and Post- Modern:
During this time period, dramatic social and political changes occurred resulting in some new legislations protecting the civil rights of blacks. Composers born in this period reaped the benefits of these transitions. They had opportunities for easier access to higher education, to travel and perform their compositions around the world, and biggest of all they were able to get their pieces recorded and published(commodification).
Future Influence of Classical Music:
Classical music went on to assist in the creation of “ Third Stream” music, a style that combines jazz improvisation with instrumentation and compositional forms associated with classical music. Also, the black folkloristic elements added to classical music by composers born after emancipation, went to create black national style of music. Classical music has also gave birth to a post-nationalist style of black concert music.
Some Important Composers of Classical Music:
- Thomas Green Wiggins Bethune ( “Blind Tom”)
- J. Rosemond Johnson
- Newport Gardner
Classical music is not a genre that I enjoy at all. However, I believe that black involvement in the genre should be noted because black people are rarely ever recognized in history as composers.