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The Negro Speaks of Rivers - Howard Swanson

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Published on Dec 22, 2015

The Harlem Renaissance, a movement spanning from the 1920s into the mid 1940s, saw the explosion of cultural, social, and artistic expression among African-American people. Well-regarded writer and poet Alain Locke renamed it the “New Negro Movement” because its ideas spread not only to The Americas but also to Europe and throughout Africa. This movement launched the philosophy of poets like Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Each song in this compiled set is written by an African-American composer and contains verse from one of these three poets of the New-Negro Movement. The poetry personifies Black thought during a time of fierce oppression and brutal prejudice. Each poet celebrates and concentrates on the appreciation of the black man’s African heritage while championing against daily subjugation and iniquitousness. In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” the character reminisces and contemplates what he has experienced throughout time and what significance it has on his place in the world. Howard Swanson is not shy to use crunching dissonances in a propelling accompaniment that take listeners on a journey through time. “I, too,” from Margaret Bonds’ “Dream Variations” takes Langston Hughes poem (of the same name) and adds the color of proudness through thumping chords and a “matter-of-fact” melodic and rhythmic line. Charles Brown’s “The Barrier” highlights the complexity of complexion and the barrier that separated Black people from genuine human emotion. “Compensation” and “Song without Words” appreciate the God-given talent of song and singing that sustains and sustained African (American) people for centuries. Finally, Dorothy Rudd-Moore’s fun but serious interpretation of Hughes’ “Weary Blues” utilizes the jazzy, foot-stomping qualities of black music to bring the poem’s character to life. All these composers, though rarely performed, contribute greatly to the classical repertoire and are important in the ongoing campaign for equality among races.

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