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The African American Composers and Performers of Art Song: The 18th and 19th Century - Stage 3 Foundation



  • 1720 - 1865 -  African American Spiritual  The Folk Tradition  The Period of Creation of the Traditional Spiritual, the Field Holler, and the Work Song A body of empowering, communal songs is developed in the United States, affirming the elements of the Black Aesthetic and forming a musical voice for the African Diaspora's cultural memory.  The songs are first preserved and then transformed into Art Songs by African American composers. 
  • 1820s  The free black community begins to develop a concert life, presenting programs at the emerging churches (e.g. The First African Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, St. Philips Episcopal Church of New York, First Presbyterian Church of New York; Belknap Baptist Church of Boston).  Many performance venues throughout the country legally prohibit African Americans from performing because of their segregation policies.  The concert presentation role of the African American church eventually becomes essential to the development of the careers of African American singers, remaining so throughout the twentieth century. 
  • The Folk Song of New Orleans  A special repertoire emerges that has been adapted to the contemporary concert stage. 
  • The European Art Song (strophic, da capo and through-composed songs often identified as Lieder, composed first for singer and piano and subsequently for singer and orchestra) evolves in Germany, Austria, France, and Spain, most notably with the compositions of Beethoven, Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Faur, Mahler, Strauss and others.  These nineteenth century songs are noted for their artistic combination of music and poetry (utilizing the major poets of the day, e.g. Goethe and Heine).  Examples include:
    1814 : Schubert composes Gretchen am Spinnrade
    1815 : Schubert composes Der Erlknig
    1823 : Schubert composes the song cycle Die schne Mllerin
    1827 : Schubert composes the song cycle Winterreise

The songs often become celebrations of national identity.  The compositions of the above 19th century composers become integral to the performance repertoire of 20th century African American art song singers.  These Lieder also become models for many of the 20th century works of African American composers.

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