Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The six piano suites of Nathaniel Dett
by Erickson, Clipper, D.M.A., Temple University, 2014, 205; 3623149
Abstract (Summary)

The six piano suites of R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) constitute a substantial body of piano music that illustrates the musical development of an important, but historically neglected American musician. Dett was a seminal figure in the preservation and study of spirituals, both as a writer and choral leader, and as a great teacher and inspirer of African-American musicians in the generations that followed him. Educated at Oberlin and Eastman, he was lauded as the first American composer to fuse Negro folk music with European art music tradition.

The writing of a series of like-genre works over a composer's lifetime, reflecting stylistic changes and a deepening world view, is a special event in the history of keyboard music. Unfortunately, Dett's piano music is rarely performed except for the second of the suites, In the Bottoms. Although his importance to African-American musical history is generally acknowledged by musicologists, his works for piano have remained largely unexplored by performers.

Dett's eclectic pursuits included poetry, the Rosicrucian Society, and religion. This study explores the connections between the suites and other musical styles and traditions, Dett's many extra-musical interests, and his performing life. It also offers some possible explanations for the relative lack of attention received by his piano music.

This study incorporates research from readily-available sources, as well as the Nathaniel Dett archives at the Niagara Falls New York Public Library and Hampton University. The first three chapters give an overview of Dett's style and influences, as well as a description of how his musical language developed from his first suite, Magnolia (1912), to his last, Eight Bible Vignettes (1941-43), written at the end of his life. Each suite is examined individually in detail in the following six chapters. It is hoped that this work will stimulate appreciation of Dett's piano music and lead to more frequent performances. Its goal is to give to the reader the same sense of admiration and joy that the author's exploration of these works has given him.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lindorff, Joyce
Commitee: Abramovic, Charles, Dilworth, Rollo, Folio, Cynthia
School: Temple University
Department: Music Performance
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 75/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: African American Studies, Music
Keywords: African-American, Composers, Dett, Nathaniel, Piano, Suites
Publication Number: 3623149
ISBN: 9781303954610
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