Black And Proud! Take A Look At Black Composers and Musicians in Classical Music History [Part 1]

  1. John Blanke


English Royal records document the employment of John Blanke, listed as “the blacke trumpeter” and paid by the day by both Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII.  A pictorially illuminated manuscript of the Tournament of Westminster on New Year’s Day in 1511, commissioned by Henry VIII to celebrate the birth of his son (who died as an infant) to his wife Catherine of Aragon, clearly portrays Blanke as a mounted black trumpeter.

2. Ignatius Sancho


Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780) was an African composer and author whose published letters tell much about his life.  Raised as a house slave in Greenwich, England, he taught himself to read and educated himself very broadly from books owned by an aristocratic family with whom he obtained employment as a young man.  Sixty-two of his short compositions survive in four self-published volumes.

3. Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges


Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), an Afro-French composer, violinist, and conductor, won his first fame not as a musician but as France’s best fencer.  Born Joseph de Bologne, on December 25, 1745 on a plantation near Basse-Terre, on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, he was the son of a slave woman of African descent and a French plantation owner.  Educated in France, de Bologne was only 19 when his mastery of the violin and the harpsichord earned him a dedication from Antonio Lolli in 1764.  More came from François-Joseph Gossec (1766) and Carl Stamitz (1770).  By 1771, Saint-Georges was first violin of a distinguished 70-member ensemble, Le Concert des amateurs. He became one of the earliest French composers of string quartets and symphonies concertantes.  His first string quartets were performed in 1772 and published in 1773, the year in which he was appointed conductor.  He later conducted Le Concert de la Loge Olympique, with which he premiered Haydn’s “Paris Symphonies” in 1787; and finally Le Cercle de l’Harmonie.  Saint-Georges directed an important private musical theater, where some of his own songs and musicals were performed. José Mauricio

4. Nunes Garcia


Nunes Garcia (1767-1830), an Afro-Brazilian and a Roman Catholic priest, was an organist and chapel master in the Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro.  Most of his music was liturgical; about 240 works survive.  In 1817 Garcia wrote Brazil’s first opera, Le Due Gemelle (The Two Twins), which was later destroyed by fire.

5. George Bridgetower


George Bridgetower (1780-1860) was a child prodigy with an African American father and a German mother.  As a child he joined the retinue of the Prince of Wales (later George IV), who arranged music studies with established musicians.  In 1802 Bridgetower obtained permission to travel to the Continent to visit his mother.  In the Spring of 1803 he met Beethoven, who quickly wrote his “Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 47” for him.  Beethoven played the piano and Bridgetower played the violin at the highly successful premiere of the sonata in Vienna on May 24, 1803.  Before the work was published, the two men had a disagreement, causing Beethoven to replace Bridgetower’s name on the manuscript with that of Rodolphe Kreutzer.

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