German concert review of the Fisk Jubilee Singers – Part II (1878)

Newspaper: The Christian Recorder
Date: January 17, 1878

Translated by Miss FRAZELIA CAMPBELL, Teacher institute for Colored Youth. On Wednesday evening, the first concert of the so-called Jubilee Singers took place in the Singing Academy, under very favorable auspices. The Negroes in America call the year of their freedom, the year of Jubilee . Certain ones of them having organized themselves in a company under the name of Jubilee Singers have formed the brave resolution of traveling through different countries and singing their national songs, for the purpose of acquiring the necessary means to erect in that part of the country where they have been enslaved, a university, in which those of their race can acquire a liberal education. The feasibility of their undertaking, was for a long time a much debated question; they had to work against the incredulous and the indifferent once of the white race; but their success everywhere has demonstrated their ability for the enterprise; their tours in America, England and Holland have yielded them already a considerable sum for the realization of their purpose. On Wednesday, they made their first public debut in Germany.

At the appointed time with far different feelings than we have hitherto experienced, on similar occasions, we entered the Singing Academy. Our thoughts kept running upon those things upon which one is least apt to reflect in a concert room; we expected, at the most, to receive that enjoyment, that we would experience in witnessing the first, timid essay of a child when about undertaking something for its own culture; like the philanthropical side of the enterprise impressed us- that of a whole race of mankind making the attempt to procure for itself educational facilities,- this alone, seemed to us worthy of our patronage. At any rate, we were eager to know whether there were any special characteristics among the songs, in a word, we had counted not at all on any musical enjoyment, but regarded the matter from an ethnographical or philanthropical standpoint; the Singers ever from this view of the one securing our ready sympathy.

We were disappointed.- The negroes and Negresses- four gentlemen, one of them necessarily absent, and six ladies, among them a lady pianiate- interested us more than we expected. What first struck us concerning the singing, was a certain monotony not easily overlooked by one whose ear has been accustomed to the best music. Yet, the monotony by no means lacks any of those charming suggestions in which, at times, the dormant natural feeling is so rich; the uniformity and the frequent repetition of the same, short and melodious resolutions have for some time a peculiar fascination reminding is of the tranquility and symmetry of nature, in its primeval simplicity. But, considering the origin of the songs, we do not believe, they have been bred in the original abode of the Negro, i.e., Africa; the Negroes have probably first invented them, when they heard, as slaves in America, European- music. This seemed to us especially so from the fact that a species of sharps formed the groundwork of all their melodies. We think, that they have taken the melodies, which they have heard, and have transformed them in their own peculiar way. There is apparent everywhere in national songs certain characteristics. We considered in these songs, the frequent repetitions of the same short modulations, the abrupt transitions from tranquility to motion and vice versa, the rhythmical freedom, which indeed strongly marks them, but does not always come within correct musical time, lastly, the abundant appogiatmas.

Yet still, there is a music accompanying them, which is suited to the nature of their part-songs, even, here and there, covering original deficiencies and embellishing them. It appeared to us in the songs themselves, which the Negroes declaim, that there was something of a nationality, but only in the sense, that the creative national mind has the same share in its origin as their melodies. But be it as it may the singing performance of the Negroes is an entirely superior one and since we have been speaking of him we are able to relinquish our ethnographical or philanthropical standpoint from which we began and consider his ability now in the fine arts. They have beautiful well trained voices of a pure, healthy sounding timbre; entirely free from those tricks (artificialities) which we so often censure in European singers , and possessing a unity of intonation worthy of the highest admiration. Already the first piece, “Steal away to Jesus,” has surprised us in this respect, and we must confess that it would be difficult to find eight singers in Berlin, who would be able to sing in such perfect accord. The purity of their voices, flowing like Italian voices, is shown in their deep, intricate passages; here, too, the strength of their will adds to their success, their determination to triumph in this, one can detect in the long-held sounds. It is a real pleasure to observe how long and with what purity the high notes were kept. A great virtuosship have the Negroes in piano and pianissimo, the latter is rendered exquisitely and infallibly. The forcible and strong passages are excellently made, their high notes are taken with such precision and strength, and even in the portaments passages are clearly and expressively given. The audience, at first, conducted itself evilly and expectantly, but in the course of the evening it became enthusiastic and encored repeatedly.

In the solo singing, we could hear two sopranos, a tenor and a bass. The sopranos have full clear voices; the tenor also made a splendid impression, but the bass singer, Mr. Loudin, exhibited, strikingly, a voice of good material, of great compass- ranging over more than two octaves. The sonorous strength of the deep notes, the wonderful flexibility the softness and sureness of the falsetto in the high notes the good intonation, the perfect execution, indeed everything is so entirely superior that, Mr. Loudin, if he would apply himself to European, classical music would become one of our most distinguished concert singers . The only unpleasant thing of the entire evening was a single high tenor note touched in the last pieces; this intonation was the only faulty one, it occurred in but three pieces (out of seventeen) and these, have in two the same remarkable reason. There were two minor melodies of the evening, and it twas noticeable that the minor third of the singers became regularly too high, and occurring high so uniformly that it seems their intention to so express it. Does it not betray that immaturity so common with amateur singers when the minor chords are not yet clearly comprehended? We believe it is so, because we fine analogies for it in a long, personal experience.

But notwithstanding this we think it wonderful that they, in their narrow limits, have been able to accomplish much charms of beauty. We have much to learn from them; we with our old culture, with our classical achievements piled one above the other, like some palatial structure, do not see that the foundation upon which the superstructure is raised is beginning to decap, in other words, in ours study, of theory we are losing sight of the primeval simplicity so excellently delineated by these Negroes. The whole evening was one of suggestiveness and keen enjoyment to us, and we would wish that the German people would give to their black brothers the support, which they so richly deserve.