R. Nathaniel Dett: Piano Works
Liner Notes   Cat. No. 80367     Release Date: 1988-01-01

Denver Oldham, piano

As a black musician of his time, Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) had options for the evolution of his talent. Most readily, he could write songs for minstrel shows (as did James Bland and Ernest Hogan), ballads for the parlor (Gussie Davis), or instrumental Gebrauchsmusik (Frank Johnson). Had he participated in the idioms which evolved during his youth, he might have turned to musical theater, or created blues or ragtime pieces. With the exception, however, of After the Cakewalk, a ragtime piece, his lifework centered upon spirituals, as did that of his older contemporary Harry Burleigh (1866-1949), and the use of folkloric ideas.

Two individuals provided substantial impetus for Dett's exploration of Afro-American compositional sources during his youth: Antonin Dvořák, who had counseled Americans to look to their own roots for the basis of a native school, and the Afro-Britisher Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), whose respect for the music of both native and black Americans was manifest even before his visits to the United States.

At Oberlin, Dett studied piano with Howard Handel Carter (a former student of Theodore Presser) and George Carl Hastings (among whose students was Jessie Covington Dent, another black prodigy). His theory teacher was Arthur E. Heacox, and for composition he studied with George Whitfield Andrews, later the teacher of William Grant Still. The most influential factor, however, was a concert given at Oberlin by the Kneisel Quartet, which included a work by Dvořák (possibly the String Quartet No. 12, Opus 96, the "American"), reminding him of the spirituals his grandmother had sung for him in Ontario. "Here indeed was the concept—the use of traditional folk melodies in art music—which was to direct and control his creative efforts throughout his life," Vivian McBrier has written.

Denver Oldham

R. Nathaniel Dett: Piano Works

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Track Listing

Magnolia Suite: Part I, No. 1 Magnolias
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Magnolia Suite: Part I, No. 2 Deserted Cabin
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Magnolia Suite: Part I, No. 3 My Lady Love
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Magnolia Suite: Part II, No. 4 Mammy
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Magnolia Suite: Part II, No. 5 The Place Where the Rainbow Ends
R. Nathaniel Dett
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In the Bottoms: I. Prelude - Night
R. Nathaniel Dett
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In the Bottoms: II. His Song
R. Nathaniel Dett
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In the Bottoms: III. Honey - Humoresque
R. Nathaniel Dett
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In the Bottoms: IV. Barcarolle - Morning
R. Nathaniel Dett
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In the Bottoms: V. Dance - Juba
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Eight Bible Vignettes: I. Father Abraham
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Eight Bible Vignettes: II. Desert Interlude
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Eight Bible Vignettes: III. As His Own Soul
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Eight Bible Vignettes: IV. Barcarolle of Tears
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Eight Bible Vignettes: V. I Am The True Vine
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Eight Bible Vignettes: VI. Martha Complained
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Eight Bible Vignettes: VII. Other Sheep
R. Nathaniel Dett
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Eight Bible Vignettes: VIII. Madrigal Divine
R. Nathaniel Dett
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