7 to 8:30 pm ET

Americas Society
680 Park Avenue
New York

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Sonya Headlam and Rebecca Cypess

Sonya Headlam and Rebecca Cypess. (Image via Raritan Players video)

NEW DATE! Sonya Headlam and Rebecca Cypess: Transatlantic Musical Heritage

The musicians explore the music and times of Black classical composers Ignatius Sancho, Francis Johnson, and Joseph Bologne. 

7 to 8:30 pm ET

Americas Society
680 Park Avenue
New York

Share

Sonya Headlam and Rebecca Cypess

Sonya Headlam and Rebecca Cypess. (Image via Raritan Players video)

Overview

DUE TO THE EXPECTED STORM, THIS CONCERT HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED FOR FEBRUARY 14 AT 7 PM

Registration for this concert is now CLOSED, but walk-ins are welcome as seats will still be available. 

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                                                    Program

                                  Sonya Headlam, Soprano

                              Rebecca Cypess, Square Piano

 

The Feathers

 

Ignatius Sancho (ca. 1729-1780)

Songs by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–1799)

 

Bientôt je vais

 

Text by Charles de Lusse

Ariette d'Iphigénie en Tauride

Text by Alphonse Ducongé Dubreuil

Pour jamais à ma Thémire

Text by M. le Duc de Nivernois

Le baiser de Cloris

Text by by Claude-Sixte Sautreau de Marsy 

 

Hornpipe

 

Ignatius Sancho

Poem by Olaudah Equiano (?–1797)

 

Miscellaneous Verses, or, Reflections on the State of my Mind during my First Convictions

 

Music by John Travers 
(fl. 18th century)

 

Songs and Instrumental Dances by Ignatius Sancho (ca. 1729–1780)

 

The Friendly Visit

 

The Complaint

  Text by William Shakespeare

Sweetest Bard
 

Text by David Garrick

The Royal Bishop

 

Anacreon Ode [XXIII]

Text by Anacreon

Thou Soft Flowing Avon

 

Text by David Garrick

Shandy Hall

 

Friendship Source of Joy
 

Text by “A Lady”

Poem by Phillis Wheatley (1753–1784)

 

On Imagination

Accompanied by Minuet No. 11

 

 

Music by Ignatius Sancho

 

Mungo’s Delight

Ignatius Sancho

 

Songs by Francis Johnson (1792–1844)

 

The Grave of the Slave

Text by Sarah Louisa Forten
 

If Sleeping Now, Fair Maid of Love 

 

Text by “A Gentleman" 

 

 

This concert is part of GEMAS, a project of Americas Society and Gotham Early Music Scene devoted to early music of the Americas, curated by Nell Snaidas and Sebastian Zubieta. 

Program Notes

About the Program 

In the eighteenth century, Europe, Britain, and the Americas were home to countless musicians of African origin. While many of these musicians engaged in musical performance, participatory music-making, and other ephemeral forms of “musicking,” a number also became composers who notated or published their music. This evening’s program explores the work of three such composers as well as two Black poets. 

Little is known about the early life of Ignatius Sancho. A short biographical essay written after Sancho’s death and included in his posthumously published Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African (1782) states that he was born on a slave ship crossing the Middle Passage in 1729 and was orphaned as a baby. While these points cannot be verified, he is known to have been in London by the time he was young, perhaps a toddler, and held in captivity by three unmarried sisters. He soon gained the attention of the Duke and Duchess of Montagu, who supported his education, and whose household he joined as a domestic servant. In the Montagu home, he also gained an education, including in music. While Sancho is best known today as the author of the posthumous Letters, the books that he prepared for publication himself were his five books of music—one book of songs and four of instrumental dance music. Sancho’s vocal music was published in his Collection of New Songs, published in or after 1769. The texts that he draws upon include poems by William Shakespeare, David Garrick (one of Sancho’s friends), and the ancient Greek poet Anacreon, whose works had been recently translated into English.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was a violinist and composer born in Guadeloupe to Georges Bologne de Saint-Georges and a woman whom he enslaved on his plantation. Joseph was taken to France at the age of seven, where he gained an education that included musical performance and composition, as well as courtly arts like literature and fencing. He conducted and performed in multiple orchestras in Paris, including the Concert des amateurs and the Paris Opéra. Bologne composed substantial and technically difficult works for violin and keyboard, small string chamber groups, and violin with orchestra. In addition, he composed dozens of songs in a style that was accessible to amateur musicians. These songs, many in the genre known as the romance, which evoked pastoral themes, encompass a limited range and technically accessible accompaniments that would have been suitable for either keyboard or harp. Three of the songs on this evening’s program set texts found in anthologies of French poetry. The text of the “Ariette d’Iphigénie en Tauride” is drawn from an opera libretto, Iphigénie en Tauride, which was set in full by Niccolò Piccinni.

The two poets on this evening’s program are Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley. Equiano’s story is recorded in his autobiography, published in 1789 as the Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. During his extensive travels around the world—first as an enslaved person, then as a sailor on a merchant ship and a member of the British military—he witnessed many types of musical performance and learned how to play the French horn, an instrument especially associated with Black musicians of the eighteenth century. The poem “Miscellaneous Verses, or, Reflections on the State of my Mind during my First Convictions” appears in Equiano’s autobiography at the moment when he decides to convert to Christianity. The poem is in the style and meter of a hymn, and we have set it to a hymn tune included in the Whole Book of Psalms assembled in the first half of the eighteenth century by John Travers.

Phillis Wheatley had been kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery to a family in Boston at the age of seven. She quickly learned to read and write, and she became the first Black woman poet whose work was published. “On Imagination” appeared in her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773). In contrast to Equiano’s “Miscellaneous Verses,” the meters of Wheatley’s poems do not suggest that they would have been sung. Our program therefore includes a reading of Wheatley’s poem, set against the musical backdrop of a sentimental minuet by Sancho. In fact, Sancho knew Wheatley’s poems and commented on them in his correspondence: “Phyllis’s poems do credit to nature—and put art—merely as art—to the blush. It reflects nothing either to the glory of her master—if she is still his slave—except he glories in low vanity of having in his wanton power a mind animated by Heaven—a genius superior to himself.”

Francis Johnson was the first Black composer whose works were published in North America. He lived in Philadelphia and performed on both the violin and the keyed bugle. His compositions included instrumental dances, dances with choral accompaniment, songs, operatic-style arias, and more, though not all of these survive. Our program concludes with two of Johnson’s songs. The first, “Grave of a Slave,” uses the language of sentimental ballads to inspire sympathy for enslaved people and encourage the growing calls for abolition; its text was first published in 1831 in The Liberator, an antislavery newspaper that circulated widely in the antebellum period. The other, “If Sleeping Now, Fair Maid of Love,” is another sentimental song on the universal theme of love, with words attributed only to “a gentleman.”

Notes by Rebecca Cypess

About the Artists

Soprano Sonya Headlam performs music across centuries, from the Baroque era to the present. Recent solo debuts include with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Handel’s Messiah and at Severance Hall in Cleveland, Ohio, alongside conductor Jeannette Sorrell and Apollo’s Fire. She’s collaborated with other esteemed ensembles, including the North Carolina Symphony, the New World Symphony, and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. This season, she makes her solo debuts with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Sonya’s repertoire includes ensemble, chamber, concert works, opera, and art songs. She’s passionate about collaborating with living composers and amplifying voices historically overlooked in classical music. This season, she presents several solo recitals, including at the 2024 Music Teachers National Association Conference. In 2023, Sonya became the Rohde Family Artist-in-Residence at the Chelsea Music Festival, engaging in collaborations and premiering new works. Other contributions to innovative contemporary projects include Yaz Lancaster’s ouroboros and performances of Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer. Sonya is featured on the Raritan Players’ recording In the Salon of Madame Brillon, and she is presently working with them on an album featuring Ignatius Sancho’s music and new compositions by Trevor Weston.

Historical keyboardist Rebecca Cypess is Professor of Music and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. She is the founding director of the Raritan Players, a period-instrument ensemble dedicated to exploring untold stories and lost performance practices from the musical past. The group’s three recordings—In Sara Levy’s Salon (2017), Sisters, Face to Face: the Bach Legacy in Women’s Hands (2019), and In the Salon of Madame Brillon: Music and Friendship in Benjamin Franklin’s Paris (2021)—have been praised as “simply mesmerizing” (Early Music America), “enchanting” (Classics Today), “an unexpected treasure” (American Record Guide), and “as ravishing as it is fascinating” (Classical Music). As a musicologist, Cypess’s publications include Curious and Modern Inventions: Instrumental Music as Discovery in Galileo’s Italy (2016) and Women and Musical Salons in the Enlightenment (2022). She has been the recipient of two national awards from the American Musicological Society: the Ruth A. Solie Award for a collection of musicological essays of exceptional merit for Music and Jewish Culture in Early Modern Italy: New Perspectives (2022) and the Noah Greenberg Award for contributions to historical performance.

The square piano used on this program is on generous loan from Leslie Martin, with thanks to Willard Martin. The instrument was built by Johannes Zumpe in London in 1780 and restored in 1993 by Tim Hamilton.

Texts and Translations

Bientôt je vais cesser de vivre

Bientôt je vais cesser de vivre,

Soon I will cease living,

Sans cesser de vous adorer, Without ceasing to love you,
Content si ma mort vous délivre Content if my death delivers you
Des maux qu’on vous fait endurer. From evils that you have been made to endure.
Elle n’a rien qui m’épouvante : It has nothing that scares me:
Sans vous, la vie est sans attraits.  Without you, life is without attraction.

Un regret pourtant me tourmente ;

Just one regret torments me:
Quoi ! je ne vous verrai jamais ! What! That I will never see you again. 
   

Text by Charles de Lusse, from 

Recueil de romances (1767)

 

Ariette d’Iphigénie en Tauride

Oreste ! au nom de l’amitié, Oreste! In the name of friendship,
Au nom de ta sœur et des Dieux, In the name of your sister and the gods,
Écoute un ami qui te prie, Listen to a friend who implores you,
Quand il veut t’immoler sa vie, When he wishes to sacrifice his life,
Ne résiste point à ses vœux. Do not resist his wishes.
   
Vas porter au sein de la Grèce, Go, carry within Greece,
Loin de ces funestes climats, Far from this lethal country
Le souvenir de ma tendresse, The memory of my tenderness
Et l’heureux fruit de mon trépas. And the happy fruit of my death. 
   
Oreste ! au nom de l’amitié, Oreste! In the name of friendship,
Au nom de ta sœur et des Dieux, In the name of your sister and the gods,
Écoute un ami qui te prie, Listen to a friend who implores you,
Quand il veut t’immoler sa vie, When he wishes to sacrifice his life,
Ne résiste point à ses vœux. Do not resist his wishes.
   

Text by Alphonse Ducongé Dubreuil, from 

Iphigénie en Tauride (1783)

 

Pour jamais à ma Thémire

Pour jamais à ma Thémire Forever, to my Thémire,
J’ai donné mon cœur, Have I given my heart,
C’est pour moi qu’elle soupire ;  It is for me that she sighs,
Je suis son vainqueur. I am her victor.
Tous nos bergers veulent vivre All the shepherds want to live,
Pour suivre To follow,
Sa loi : Her law:
C’est à moi, c’est à moi It is to me, it is to me, 
Qu’elle a donné sa foi. That she has given her fidelity. 
   
L’autre jour sur la fougère The other day under the gazebo
Le beau Licidas The handsome Licidas
Vint parler à ma bergere Came to speak to my shepherdess,
Qui n’écouta pas. Who did not listen.
Elle méprise en son âme She despises in her soul
La flamme The flame
D’un Roi. Of a king.
C’est à moi, c’est à moi It is to me, it is to me,
Qu’elle a donné sa foi. That she has given her fidelity.
   

Text by the Duc de Nivernois, from

Correspondance secrète, politique, et littéraire 2 (1787)

 

Le baiser de Cloris

Que ne suis-je encore un enfant ! Why am I no longer a child!
Je n’avois troupeau ni houlette ; I had neither flock nor crook;
Je n’allois aux champs seulement, I used to go to the fields
Que pour cueillir la violette. Only for picking violets.
   
Je vis Cloris, bientôt j’aimai ; I saw Cloris, soon I knew love;
Dieux ! que mon âme fut ravie ! Gods! How my soul was ravished!
Le premier vœu que je formai, The first vow that I took
Fut de l’aimer toute ma vie. Was to love her all my life.
 

Text by Claude-Sixte Sautreau de Marsy, from 

Le petit chansonnier françois 1 (1778)

 

Translations by Rebecca Cypess

Funders

The MetLife Foundation Music of the Americas concert series is made possible by the generous support of Presenting Sponsor MetLife Foundation. 

The Spring 2024 Music program is also supported, in part, by the Howard Gilman Foundation, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, and by The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, by the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, and by the Mex-Am Cultural Foundation.