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Volume 64 / Humanities

MUSIC: CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN


ALFRED E. LEMMON, Director, Williams Research Center, The Historic New Orleans Collection

RESEARCH ON MUSIC of the Caribbean, Cuba, and Central America remains strong as indicated by this biennium's selection. Scholarship continues to reach new heights. New scholars are emerging. The educational and professional backgrounds of the authors reflect the multifaceted music of the region.

Among developing trends are greater attention to the colonial music of the region, particularly Cuba and the Caribbean. It is especially gratifying to see institutions from diverse parts of the world, such as the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles to the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Music in New Zealand focusing on the region's 18th-century musical contribution. Equally important is the resulting performance of this music. The music of Chevalier de Saint-George was featured in concert during the series "Les derniers feux de Versailles sous le règne de Louis XVI," part of the festivities celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles (Versailles, Autumn 2007), and during the exhibition "Common Routes: St. Domingue—Louisiana" (New Orleans, Spring 2006). The Association "Le Concert de Monsieur de Saint-George," through its newsletters, activities, and concerts continues to draw attention to Saint-George in Paris. In Havana, the Festival Música Antigua gathers international performers and scholars of baroque music who work with Cuban colleagues to present performances and conferences of the region's music. The ongoing work and dedication of Teresa Paz, Miriam Escudero, and the Ars Longa Chamber Ensemble to promote this festival are significant.

Efforts to document the region's early European music history through scholarship are critical. However, the preparation of actual musical scores and performances (including resulting sound recordings) is essential for the music to become better appreciated by a larger audience. While known to scholars, the contributions of Samuel Felsted (1743–1802) and Michel Paul Guy de Chabanon (1730–92) are examples of the need to more widely promote early Caribbean musical figures.

Felsted was the composer of the first oratorio written in the New World (published ca. 1773–74) and six voluntaries for organ or harpsichord (published ca. 1793). In 1987, Howard F. Smither, the leading authority on the oratorio, commented upon its importance in his masterful three-volume A History of the Oratorio (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977). The printed edition provides additional information of the cultural milieu of Jamaica during the period. The illustration of Jonah for the oratorio's cover was prepared by Benjamin West (1738–1820), one of the first American artists to receive major recognition in Europe. Michel Paul Guy de Chabanon is representative of the impact of the Caribbean on Europe. A violinist and composer born in Saint-Domingue, he was the first professional musician admitted to the Académie Française. The publication of his Observations sur la musique (1779) and De la musique considéré en elle-même (1784) assured his position of prominence in the development of music esthetics.

As the scholarship continues to develop at a rapid pace, it is critical that the results be more widely known and readily available no matter what the topic or time period. Likewise, as the publications reveal such a tremendously varied wealth of riches, it is imperative that the results be shared with the broadest possible audience. It is hoped that such action will result in a greater appreciation of the region's unique cultural contributions.


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