“The Souls of Black Folk and the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music”
Written and produced by Joseph Horowitz
Visual presentation by Peter Bogdanoff
Film three in the six-film Naxos series:
“Dvorak’s Prophecy: A New Narrative for American Classical Music”
If George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess – the highest creative achievement in American classical music – embodies a glorious (and controversial) fulfillment of Dvořák’s prophecy, there also exists a buried lineage of exceptional compositions by Black composers following in Dvořák’s wake. Coming first was his assistant Harry Burleigh, whose seminal settings of “Deep River” are – as our film illustrates – as much compositions as transcriptions. Burleigh’s initiative was sealed by singers like Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. But William Levi Dawson’s oracular Negro Folk Symphony, though triumphantly premiered by Leopold Stokowski and his Philadelphia Orchestra in 1934, gathered dust – and Dawson was never to create the symphonic catalogue he seemed destined to undertake. Commentators include George Shirley, the most legendary name in present-day Black classical music, also Kevin Deas, music historians Gwynne Kuhner Brown and Michael Cooper, and conductor Michael Morgan. This film includes performances by pianist Benjamin Pasternack, The Fort Smith Symphony conducted by John Jeter, The Vienna Radio Symphony conducted by Arthur Fagen and Kevin Deas recorded in live performance.
“The disconnection between the rich history of Black American music and the classical music we typically hear has proved impoverishing. Because of our current conversation about race we now observe a seemingly desperate effort to make up for lost time, to present Black faces in the concert hall. I think that's only fair. But if it's going to become a permanent new way of thinking, there has to be new understanding. Dvořák's Prophecy is on time, it's a bull's-eye. We have been left unprepared for the current cultural moment. Joe Horowitz's book explains how we got there. . . . Dvořák's Prophecy proposes a bigger world of American classical music than what we have known before. It is more diverse and more equitable. And it is more truthful.” –from George Shirley's Foreword to Dvořák's Prophecy