Saturday, March 07, 2020

The 'negro' who attempted to become a serious musician




Recent Overgrown Path posts revealed the story of how the career of Guyanese musician Rudolph Dunbar, the first black conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, was sabotaged by racism within the BBC. My posts drew on source material I had tracked down, and I thought it beneficial to make two of the documents available online. (Clicking on the images enlarges them.) Above is the interview with Dunbar in the March 1986 City Limits Magazine, and below is a 1942 programme for a concert he conducted with the Bournemouth Philharmonic Orchestra*. This concert had a subliminal message about the contribution of musicians of colour as it included a work by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor - sometimes called 'the black Dvořák - and Dvořák's Symphony 'From the New World' which incorporates what the composer called 'negro melodies'. The latter work has a poignant relevance as the magazine interview explains:
Back in Britain [Rudolph Dunbar] conducted again at the Albert Hall but his reception was muted. He set up other work, but his professional world began to disintegrate. Concerts were postpponed, offers withdrawn, tours cancelled. He discovered that the BBC who had once welcomed him, had written to a potential employer saying he was no longer acceptable to them in 1957 as a conductor. "It is possible", the writer noted sarcastically, "that interest has been aroused in him as a negro (sic) who has attempted to become a serious musician".


* Bournemouth Philharmonic was another name used by Wessex Philharmonic Orchestra. This was a freelance ensemble formed by Reginald Goodall after the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra - later renamed Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra - was cut to 20 players in 1940. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

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