Friday, October 7, 2011

Dispel All Your Sorrows

Detail of Winter Sunday in Norway, Maine (c.1860) by artist unknown

William Billings is another composer that languishes in obscurity. Given his creative vision and early presence in the American timeline of the arts, you would think he'd be given a special place of prominence within musical history classes, at least in the States. I didn't learn about him until well after I had become familiar with the standard classical repertoire.

Now, it's true that I didn't sing in a church choir, which is where most of his works are currently performed as part of the Sacred Harp tradition. However, a student of classical music gets exposed to numerous choral works from European sources fairly early on in the course of their education. Why does Billings get overlooked in favor for yet another German baroque cantata?

I'm not saying that Billings should bump Handel off the syllabus. But I do think that there is a prejudice at work here that marginalizes "colonial" expressions. This is also true for composers from the Spanish colonies, such as Juan Garcia de Zespedes or Juan Gutierrez de Padilla. So, my position is that maybe a day can be set aside to focus on the works coming out of the European colonies in the New World.

Hieroglyphic of a Christian (1850-75) by artist unknown

Well, I'll get off of my soapbox and let Billings' music defend itself. ;-)

Here are some of my favorites.

Paul Hillier and His Majestie's Clerkes


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