The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterpieces: Choral Music initiative is designed to celebrate our national musical heritage by highlighting significant American choral composers and their works of the past 250 years. Stanton’s Sheet Music is proud to present this series highlighting the composers and their works featured in this groundbreaking project.
R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) belonged to the generation before William Dawson and perhaps because of that has been less well-known until recently, but his achievements were no less impressive. He possessed sterling academic credentials including a doctorate from Harvard University and study with Nadia Boulanger at the Paris Conservatory.
As a concert pianist, he played at Carnegie Hall and other august venues. He was hired in 1933 to conduct a 16-voice choir for Stromberg-Carlson’s weekly NBC radio broadcasts. In addition to writing prize-winning articles on “Negro music,” he edited notable collections of spirituals and folksongs. Dett also created his own distinctive arrangements of spirituals and composed several major works for chorus and orchestra.
Although he was clearly dedicated to the cause of African American music, he insisted on the right and even duty of African American musicians to avail themselves of Western European classical music forms. He believed that traditional African-American melodies and rhythms were fully amenable to being incorporated into operas, concertos, and orchestral concert music.
“Listen to the Lambs,” an anthem for eight-part mixed chorus written in 1914, is one of his best-known choral works. His collections of spirituals in his own arrangements are principally found in his publications Religious Folksongs of the Negro and the Dett Collection of Negro Spirituals. Other notable choral works include “Ave Maria” for baritone and four-part mixed chorus, and two oratorios based on spirituals, The Chariot Jubilee and The Ordering of Moses.
The Chariot Jubilee
Listen to the Lambs