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Paper Session
Nov 20, 2021 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211120T1200 20211120T1250 America/Chicago Resistance and Reception of Black European Composers AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org
Antislavery Music Before Abolitionism, or: Ignatius Sancho’s Musical Hints
Individual Paper 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 18:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 18:50:00 UTC

The letters and music of Ignatius Sancho (ca. 1728-1780) have inspired antislavery interpretation since his lifetime. Sancho was a Black British man whose varied life experiences included the Middle Passage, slavery, and freedom. Many eighteenth-century Britons saw Sancho as a key early representative of the abolitionist movement, which developed around 1787. In the twentieth century, Sancho's reputation for antislavery activism was neglected in favor of later radical Black writers like Equiano and Cugoano, although recent scholars have refocused our attention onto Sancho's antislavery beliefs. Throughout his letters, Sancho commented on the problems of slavery and anti-Black racism, often using the distinctive writing style for which he was famous, with lots of meaningful dashes to show--or hide--his true feelings--on the subject! 

In this paper, I argue that Sancho's subtle style of antislavery critique is also present in his five published volumes of music. Reading a newly discovered book of Sancho's dance pieces called _Cotillions, &c._ (ca. 1776) alongside his better-known volume of _Twelve Country Dances for the Year 1779_, I analyze possible antislavery meanings in three pieces: "Mungo's Delight," "The Runaway," and "The Feathers." The first two pieces make clear references to slavery. Mungo was the name of the enslaved Black servant in Charles Dibdin's popular afterpiece, _The Padlock_ (1768). The runaway slave, moreover, was an important symbol of antislavery resistance in the 1770s, when highly publicized legal battles involving self-emancipated Black people were changing the way Britons thought about slavery in their country. The title of "The Feathers," on the other hand, makes a subtle reference to antislavery writings by Laurence Sterne, the famous novelist who was also Sancho's friend and correspondent. In contrast to the direct criticism of slavery that can be found in the lyrics of songs by white composers from the years after Sancho's death, Sancho's untexted compositions seem to tell us little about the composer's opposition to slavery. Yet, I argue, the titles he chose for his pieces act like the meaningful dashes of his letters, partially obscuring his intentions while inviting us to interrogate possible hidden meanings.

Presenters
JH
Julia Hamilton
Columbia University
Lusitano Was Black -- Now What? A Serious Attempt at Anti-Racist Musicology
Individual Paper 12:00 Noon - 12:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 18:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 18:50:00 UTC

In this moment of cultural reckoning, musicologists are nobly seeking out musicians of color for recognition in their research and classrooms. In this context, Vicente Lusitano -- hailed by Stevenson as "the first Black published composer" -- is having a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. Lusitano presents a complex historical identity: son of an enslaved mother and Portuguese father, participant in a famous musical debate at the Vatican in 1551, and Protestant convert fleeing persecution in 1561. The past two years have witnessed performances and editions of his music, his inclusion in databases of musicians of color, and commentary about his life and works in journalism and social media. 


This paper outlines several strands of overt and covert racism within Lusitano's reception, both past and present. First, I consider the whitewashing of Lusitano's identity, in which scholars and commentators have downplayed or omitted Lusitano's ethnicity. (I acknowledge being guilty of this in my previous writings.) Second, I present a pattern of misrepresenting Lusitano's writings in order to contrive theoretical contradictions. Third, I present a recent trend in which Lusitano's works are distorted in order to highlight his Black identity.


Lusitano's motet "Heu me domine" offers a microcosm of this racist reception. The motet appears in a treatise as a demonstration of the chromatic genus, which Lusitano calls "difficult" and "unsingable." Through an analysis of the treatise, I argue that the motet should not be presented as a composition "by" Lusitano, just as examples of poor practice in textbooks should not be used to represent their authors. Decontextualized attention to this motet in recent years has created a perverse historical twist: Lusitano -- the once-victorious defender of traditional diatonic music -- has become a token for the chromatic avant-garde. For these reasons, Lusitano's writings and other compositions, including a book of motets published in 1551, urgently require further study to highlight the problematic mapping of chromatic exoticism onto composers of color.

Presenters
SB
Samuel Brannon
Randolph-Macon College
Columbia University
Randolph-Macon College
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