Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Saturday, October 12

Columbus Day music

Synopsis

Today’s date marks the original Columbus Day, honoring the Spanish explorer who for decades was unquestioningly described as the man who “discovered America.” In recent years Native American leaders have pointed out that indigenous peoples had been living on the continent for thousands of years, and Columbus didn’t “discover” anything — in fact, he didn’t even know where he was, which is why he called the people he found here “Indians.” Some historians now think that Viking explorers from Scandinavia arrived in America long before Columbus – and others suggest the Chinese arrived before those Europeans.

Even so, it’s Columbus who has a national holiday (now always observed on the closest Monday in October), and concert music written to celebrate it. For example, there’s a “Columbus Suite” by Victor Herbert, originally commissioned for the 1893 Chicago World Fair to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Columbus voyage, but not actually premiered until 1903.

A much more recent “Columbus-inspired” work, and much more elegiac in tone, is by the Native American composer James DeMars. It’s titled: “Premonitions of Christopher Columbus” and is scored for Native American flute, African drum, and chamber orchestra. In this work, DeMars blends sounds of the various ethnic traditions that would come to make up modern America.

Music Played in Today's Program

Victor Herbert (1859-1924) Columbus Suite Slovak Radio Symphony; Keith Brion, cond. Naxos 8.559027

James DeMars (b. 1952) Premonitions of Christopher Columbus Tos Ensemble with R. Carlos Nakai, Native American flute Canyon 7014

Additional Information

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