Abstracts: Race and Global Empire in Music History, 1500–1800

Casop: A Requiem for Rice

Edda Fields-Black

What is "classical" music? Who owns it? And, how can we use classical genres to tell stories of non-European people and to tell historical stories? One example is, Casop: A Requiem for Rice. It features a true marriage between West African and European classical traditions and is composed for full symphony orchestra and choir, an African and African-American inspired take on a classic requiem. Casop draws on funerary traditions among the Diola-Fogny to recount the stories of enslaved laborers building Lowcountry rice fields. The Diola are quintessential rice farmers along the Casamance River of present-day Senegal. In the event of untimely, accidental, and suspicions deaths, Diola-Fogny ritual specialists performed casop, a “ritual interrogation of the corpse” via spirit possession. During the funeral, the deceased was asked to tell his or her story about the circumstances of death. Once the truth was revealed, the dead would be buried and harmony and peace restored to the community. Casop is simultaneously a modern take on a classic European requiem—in the spirit of Verdi, Mozart, Faure, and Britten—that mourns the souls of the enslaved who died on Lowcountry rice plantations, their bodies unburied, their suffering unmourned, and their sacrifices unmarked for future generations. The lamentation turns to celebration of the critical role enslaved Africans’ ingenuity, technology, and industry played in the economy of the US South, laying to rest once and for all, the shackles of shame, blame, guilt, and denial that pervade this painful period in European, African, American, and African-American history. Casop reclaims African and African-American history and fosters reconciliation among Africans, Europeans, and Americans. The stories of Africans enslaved on Lowcountry rice plantations become a new genre, the vehicle through which oppressed and voiceless peoples can tell their stories, mourn their dead, and celebrate their contributions to the world.

An Indigenized Mozart: ‘Ave verum corpus’ in Labrador

Sarah Eyerly

Beginning in the 1770s, members of the German-Moravian church established several mission communities among the Inuit in coastal Labrador. A significant number of sacred vocal pieces performed in communities such as Nain and Makkovik were Inuktitut contrafacts of popular European operas and sacred music, including W. A. Mozart’s motet, “Ave verum corpus.” While the tradition of re-texting European-derived music into native languages originated with Moravian missionaries, archival records from Labrador also demonstrate that native musicians were adapting Mozart’s musical works to their own tastes as early as the late eighteenth century. Multi-lingual, transcultural musical creation like this involved a process of negotiation between missionaries and converts. The complexity of these negotiations is evidenced by the modern-day performance practices of Inuit Moravian musicians. Over two hundred years, Inuit singers and musicians have changed this imported repertory to favor blended sonorities, and clear, vibrato-less singing. These changes have resulted in a “Mozart” that is simultaneously European and Inuit, demonstrating the importance of considering the reception and adaptive re-use of Mozart’s music on a global scale.

Echoes of the Haitian Revolution

Bonnie Gordon

When Thomas Jefferson bought Louisiana he purchased a soundscape that resounded with echoes of the Haitian Revolution, an event which deeply threatened Jefferson’s own understanding of blacks as inherently incapable of self-governance, resistance, and music making” New Orleans marked the geography of political alternatives where freed blacks made up a substantial portion of the population and a vibrant African American music culture sounded despite prescriptions against it. New Orleans experienced a massive influx of music making brought by 9000 refugees from the Haitian Revolution. Those refugees doubled the city’s population and brought with them their own Creole language, African dances, European opera, and a musical culture in which whites, enslaved blacks, and freed blacks interacted in a way that Virginia never saw.

The paper uses the soundscapes of Jefferson’s America to hear sound and musical aesthetics in the emergence of race as a political and social category. European- and African-derived musics became thoroughly racialized as “white” and “black,” respectively, and became a part of the discourses surrounding racial hierarchies and chattel slavery. Colonial Americans embraced cultivated and Euro-folk music, in part because European culture was gradually becoming racialized as white. The need to identify these sound traditions as white related to the racialization of Afro-diasporic musics as black—and, thus, as other—in a multiracial slave society. As the settler population took on the task of nation building in the early Republic, they did so in part by marking themselves as metropolitan and cultivated, in opposition to the subordinated, enslaved, and mixed-race populations.

Between Social Stratification and Racial Containment: "Opera" Companies in Mato Grosso and Rio de Janeiro, 1780-1820s

Rogério Budasz

With the social agenda of presidents Lula and Rousseff, race became a polarizing issue in early 21st-century Brazil. Society as a whole is now engaged in a heated debate that ranges from the legality of establishing racial quotas for public servants and university students to the dangers of importing cultural models from foreign contexts. Anthropologist Roberto da Matta identifies the origins and the veiled nature of Brazilian racism in the stratified administration and socio-political organization of the Portuguese Empire. Artificially implanted in the colony, those social and professional categories determined practices of hierarchy that remain in the unacknowledged patterns of racism that still permeate Brazilian society. This paper examines two examples of social stratification in Colonial Brazil that seem to converge with efforts of racial containment. Firstly, it addresses a written narrative of a 1790 civic festival in Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, in which the descriptions of dance and “opera” performances hail individuals as subjects of a multi-racial empire, contained within distinct categories, and demarcated by professional and racial backgrounds. Secondly, it examines the trajectory of an opera company in Rio de Janeiro, from the 1780s to the 1810s, when its artists interacted with a number of recently-arrived Italian and Spanish singers and dancers, resulting in the transformation of models of professional organization but not of racial stratification.

Orlando di Lasso’s Musical Representations of Black African Slaves in Sixteenth-Century Munich

Eric Rice

Though there are few musical representations of black Africans in early modern music, Orlando di Lasso’s music for the wedding celebrations of Wilhelm V and Renata of Lorraine in 1568 include significant examples in the form of six moreschepublished in the composer’s 1581 Libro de villanelle, moresche, et altre canzoni. The relationship between the moresca and a Neapolitan dance known as Sfessaniaunderscores its kinship with the genre of commedia dell’arte: both the dance and the moresca are populated with stock caricatures of African slaves who trade insults and obscenities in a combination of Neapolitan and Kanuri, a language of central Africa.

The festivities in Munich are described in Massimo Troiano’s 1568 Dialoghi. Works in the 1581 Libro were performed as part of commedia dell’arte performances that Troiano describes, but Troiano indicates clearly that the moresche were performed for wedding guests in the bride’s chamber on a different evening.

The location of the moresche performance, together with sexual and scatological content that far exceeds that of the commedia works performed, suggests that Lasso viewed the representation of black Africans as a particularly effective vehicle for mocking the marital couple. The dialogue invited the wedding guests to imagine the pair in compromising positions, but the Kanuri language and Neapolitan were likely not well understood by the German audience. Lasso’s musical adaptations may have obscured the text, thus shielding Lasso from accusations of embarrassing the couple directly.

Finding Giovannino “il Moro”: Looking for Blackness in the Archives of Medici Florence 

Emily Wilbourne

“The Moor of the most illustrious and reverend Cardinal Giovan Carlo de’ Medici” has been known to scholars for some time, identified as a singer in operatic performances in Florence between 1657-63, and then in Venice during the 1663-64 season. “Il Moro” appears in the chronologies published by Robert Lamar and Norma Wright Weaver as early as 1978, and is regularly cited in musicological literature on the early years of Florence’s La Pergola theater. 

Recently, as part of a larger project on race and seventeenth-century Italian opera, I became intrigued by this shadowy figure, and set out to discover what could be known about “il Moro.” Who was he? Where did he come from? Where did he go? What kind of singer was he? Such questions pose a direct and pressing methodological problem: How can we trace any single singer in archival records, and what extra archival complications are posed by this particular singer’s black skin? This paper is an account of my still-ongoing archival work on Giovannino “il Moro”; a preliminary report of the traces of blackness in the historical archives of Medici Florence. 

Soundscapes of Labor in the Global Early Modern Caribbean

Molly Warsh

In this paper, I consider how scholars might revisit some familiar and less-familiar industries in the early modern Caribbean, paying attention to soundscapes of labor and learning. Taking as my starting point the early modern pearl industry, I ask how historians might look and listen for human and environmental interaction as reflected in records of aural communication. From the symphonic submarine chatter generated around rich oyster reefs to the ways in which seasonal patterns and anomalies in labor and weather announced themselves through sound, this paper considers sensory land and seascapes throughout the Antillean archipelago. Approaching the globalizing early Caribbean with an ear for sound offers a new perspective on the ways in which boundaries announced themselves in the early modern period.

Une âme? Staging Slavery in French Haiti

Pedro Memelsdorff

Focusing on the French-Caribbean colonies of the 18th century, this paper first addresses and newly considers a so-called Messe en cantiques à l’usage des nègres(mass movements to be sung by slaves), dated ante 1763. It then re-examines the inclusion of players and especially singers of color in Haitian stagings in the 1780s.

The Haitian casting of Rousseau’s Pygmalion with a non-white Galathée in Port-au-Prince in 1781 is only the first among several instances thematizing the otherness—and even doubted animation—of people of color through the issue of the shared versus non-shared common self of the artist and his/her emancipated artwork. Moreover, Nouveaux Pygmalions such as Dalayrac/Desfontaines’ comedy L’Amant statue exemplify the unavoidable thematization of racial and slavery issues in the colonial recontextualization of imported scripts.

Color-Conscious Comparisons and Color-Blind Casting in Colonial Saint-Domingue

Julia Prest

I propose to present and analyze the careers of two female actor-singers who performed in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue in the 1780s: Mme Marsan, a white European, who had enjoyed a successful career in Europe before moving to the Caribbean, and a young créole woman of mixed racial ancestry named Minette, whose career as a solo performer of colour was exceptional. An article in the local newspaper features a comparison of the two when they each performed the lead role in Dalayrac’s opéra comique, Nina -- Marsan in the town of Cap-Français, and Minette in Port-au-Prince. Other comparisons will be drawn using the information that we have about their respective performances in various different roles. While Minette did not perform any local créole repertoire featuring black characters, Marsan sometimes did and on at least one occasion appeared in blackface. It is expected that the comparison will shed light on the significance in the colonial public’s perception of these two performers of age (Minette was significantly younger than Marsan), social status and especially race. It also promises to open up questions relating to the transferal of French works overseas and the performance of local works by European and occasionally local performers.

Beyond Cultural Imperialism: Music as Local Agency in Japanese Christian Communities of the Sixteenth Century

Makoto Harris Takao

At its very conception, the pursuit of Catholicization in sixteenth-century Japan was inherently tied to the vision of Iberian imperialism. Unlike the regions of India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, however, Japan never succumbed to the assignment of European expansion. Nevertheless, the Japanese engagement with agents of empire (both mercantile and ecclesiastic alike) raises important questions about the nature of intercultural power relations and the role of music in their mediation. Indeed, the theorization of such dynamics–here lacking (about the Japanese context)–has elsewhere been continually developed in scholarship about other time periods and locales. In addressing this relationship between “culture” and the “microphysics” of power, I explore the neglected history of a syncretic genre of liturgical performance in which music was applied, localized, and newly created by Japanese Christian (Kirishitan) communities as a discursive practice, defining the sonic contours of their religious identities. To this extent, I emphasize the need for subversive reading of historical (European) texts as an essential interpretive method in deconstructing ideological biases and a critical way forward in engaging Peter Jeffrey’s task to “re-envision past musical cultures” (1992). This paper follows the critique of the “cultural imperialist” discourse, highlighting the irony of its silencing effect on the agency of indigenous voices. In so doing, I engage with insights from historical ethnomusicology to demonstrate how a “socio-musical” (Watermann, 1991) approach to my case study reveals the subversive capacity of musical syncretism.

Trans-Eurasian Resonances of Two Eighteenth-Century Music querelles

Zhuqing (Lester) Hu, University of Chicago

In 1758, a paper at the Académie des Inscriptions reignited the dispute whether Chinese writing originated from Egyptian hieroglyphs and thus holds the key for unifying the world’s peoples under one genealogy—a question that also occupied music theorists including Jean-Philippe Rameau. At odds with this grammatological paradigm of human history, however, was Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s quest for the speech-song of the first humans in Essai sur l’origine des langues (1781). Drafted in the wake of the “Querelles des Bouffons,” it developed his attack on French opera into a full-fledged history of the Fall of humankind from the passionate, melodious primitive voice into the shackles of writing and harmony.

With these two querelles as starting points, my paper seeks to reexamine in global contexts the 18th-century bifurcation of speech and writing that has become a cornerstone in concepts and critiques of modernity. To do so, I triangulate them through a question regarding the Qing Empire on the other end of Eurasia: why did the 16th-century mania for collecting and imitating folk tunes ended when the Manchus conquered China in the 17th? Adopting the speech-writing binary as a heuristic, I reveal how through the Canon of Songs, folk tunes supposedly assembled by Confucius himself, phonology replaced grammatology in Qing-era efforts to restore the ancients’ institutions and mores through their texts. Examining power struggles between Chinese literati and Manchu conquerors, migrations across colonial frontiers, and urban music print markets, I further show how the singing voice shifted from being a kernel of individual subjectivity to becoming genealogical markers of collective ethnic or geographic difference. By tracing how this shift impacted the two European querelles through global circulations of texts, I seek not only to compare the two ends of Eurasia but also to situate their dispersed renegotiations of speech and writing through songs within global processes of colonialism and empire-building that put new pressures on controlling the world’s multiplying histories.


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