Obscure Music Monday: Burleigh's One Year: 1914 - 1915
Henry Thacker "Harry" Burleigh (Dec. 2, 1866 - Sept. 12, 1949) was an African-American composer, arranger, and baritone born in Erie, Pennsylvania. Burleigh is well known for introducing spirituals and folk songs to classically trained singers, in more classically arranged versions for them. He grew up hearing spirituals and slave songs from his grandfather, who suffered the deep injustice of slavery himself (he was eventually granted freedom, by buying his, and his mother's way out of slavery).
Burleigh was taught spirituals and slave songs from his grandfather, and would go on to become am accomplished singer in the Erie area, singing at churches and synagogues. At the age of 26, he was accepted in to the National Conservatory of Music in New York, and eventually played the double bass in the conservatory orchestra. While in school, he did some janitorial services at the conservatory, and liked to sing while working. In doing so, he caught the attention of none other than Antonin Dvořák, who asked him to sing for him often. Dvořák would go on to incorporate these melodies in his compositions. Burleigh graduated in 1896, and later on became faculty at the conservatory.
Burleigh's work for voice and piano, One Year: 1914 - 1915 is about the cost of war. It's a thoughtful and passionate piece, with the piano creating various atmospheres and punctuating the awfulness of war. The text is from a poem by Margaret M. Harlan.
Dark pines 'gainst the blue
Clean winds, a wide view
Two arms and a kiss,
One moment of bliss;
"'Tis a thing to remember for years, To remember with tears"
Battle birds, in the sky
Shreik of gun as they die
Crash and roar, bloody drench
Black death in the trench;
What a thing forever to miss,
My God! her and this!
We can't find a recording of this work, but we hope that changes soon!