Dead White Men. That’s whose music we usually hear when we attend piano performances. And we love them. There’s the occasional woman, but mostly we are exposed only to those usual suspects who are overwhelmingly deceased Caucasian males. But the University of South Carolina is taking a different tact in this year’s annual piano program and focusing on composers of African descent.
In the second half of the 19th century, it became almost common practice for late-Romantic composers to incorporate into their compositions the melodies and rhythms of folk songs and traditional dances. Consider, for example, the 21 “Hungarian Dances” by the great German composer Johannes Brahms and the Bohemian melodies that inspired much of the music of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak.
Just as European composers were drawn to folk tunes in an effort to express the essential character of a particular culture so too did composers of African descent sometimes frame in classical forms the orally transmitted music of their ancestors.
Representative works by African-American and Afro-European composers will be the focus of this year’s Winter Nocturne at USC Aiken’s Etherredge Center on Jan. 21. An annual tradition at USCA, sponsored by local music aficionado and philanthropist Ben Cox, the 2016 edition will feature District of Columbia-based pianist Dana Kristina-Joi Morgan and a performance of music either by black composers or by composers inspired by the traditional African music.