· By ArkivMusic

Of Fathers & Freedoms: An Explore Classical Music Partner Post

Each year, U.S. residents observe Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day in 1865 when the last enslaved Americans learned of their emancipation. Unbeknownst to many today, some already-free Black Americans took in news of the Civil War from abroad, having sought creative and economic freedom far from segregated shores. Among them: members of musical dynasties, waltz (and polka, and operetta) kings whose popularity made them rivals of the Strauss family.

Acclaimed writer and podcaster Elizabeth de Brito has educated the public on hundreds of composers whose brilliance went unremembered for too long, including the expatriate "Creole Romantics:" Edmond Dédé, Charles Lucièn Lambert, and their respective sons. Continuing our celebration of Black Music Month, we at ArkivMusic are proud to share this article, originally commissioned by our partners at Explore Classical Music. All words © Elizabeth de Brito.



The Creole Romantics


Creole Romanticism was a style of classical music in the 19th century, borne of two transatlantic musical dynasties. Its early inspiration and genesis came from the melting pot of New Orleans, developed through Brazil and Mexico to its maturity in the café concerts of Paris. Creole Romantic music was the work of the Lamberts and the Dédés, three generations of musicians, composers, conductors, and educators. These two families influenced the music scenes on three continents, blazed trails for people of color on both sides of the Atlantic and wrote a large body of incredible music between them.


Edmond Dédé and Charles Lucièn Lambert

Creole Romantic Style


Creole Romanticism is defined by its cross pollination of styles from around the world, European Romanticism and western concert music combined with Latin rhythms, creole folk songs, West Indian dances, and other popular music forms. Much of Creole Romantic music is based around a folk theme, with the European flamboyant pianism and rich ornamentation wrapped around it. This is music truly without borders, without divisions, representing the creative power and beauty of diversity. 


The story of Creole Romanticism begins in early 19th century New Orleans, a city known for its multiculturalism. Originally founded as a French colony, it went on to become part of the Spanish Empire, and was later included in the Louisiana Purchase. New Orleans was a sanctuary to thousands of Haitian refugees, home to innumerable slaves and free people of colour. Throughout the early 19th century all these diverse peoples were bringing new sounds to the city, one could hear French songs and Italian opera in the theatre, then Cuban habaneras and contradanzas on the street.


The Initial Spark

The initial spark of inspiration for the Creole Romantics was provided by Charles-Richard Lambert, the patriarch of the Lambert clan. A free man of color originally from New York, Charles-Richard relocated to New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century. There he conducted the Philharmonic Society, the first concert orchestra in the city. Charles-Richard was an important musical figure in New Orleans, at the cutting edge of musical developments. With his orchestra Charles-Richard Lambert influenced the sounds of the city and set the trends. Whilst not a composer he played an important role in the establishment of the Creole Romanticism as the first music teacher to his sons and to Edmond Dédé.


Creole Romantic music began in earnest with the brothers Charles Lucièn Lambert and Sidney Lambert as well as their compatriot Edmond Dédé. Charles Lucièn and Edmond were born just one year apart, both influenced by the various sounds of New Orleans, learning Western classical music from their father. In addition, music from France, the West Indies, Spain, black American spirituals and more played a part in their musical education.


Edmond Dédé was the first one to publish and the only to publish in their native city. His song “Mon Pauvre Coeur” is the oldest surviving sheet music by a free man of color in New Orleans. Sung in French, the song is a lament to a Creole blonde, the speaker begging him to notice her from her balcony. From this the defining characteristics of Creole Romanticism taking shape, the basis of European Romantic piano music is present but with the much broader theatricality of the American parlor song.



Development in Brazil

Creole Romanticism took on a distinctly Latin feel with Charles Lucièn Lambert’s emigration to Brazil in the late 1860’s, after a decade spent in Paris. A prominent composer in Brazil, Charles Lucièn Lambert opened a music store and became the first professional teacher of now well-known Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth. Charles Lucièn Lambert was honored with membership to the Brazilian National Institute of Music, the most prestigious musical institution in the country.


Charles Lucièn Lambert embraced the Brazilian styles of music and wrote several pieces inspired by his new home. In one of these pieces: Bresiliana, polka brilliant pour la piano, Charles Lucièn Lambert quotes the Brazilian folk song “Cai-Cai-Balão,” effectively Brazilianising a European form of music, in this case the polka, a dance of Czech origin. Another piece by Charles Lucièn Lambert: L’Amazone, Caprice-mazurka is directly inspired by the modinha de salão, a Brazilian ballroom dance. The modinha de salão went on to become choro music, which eventually became samba.



An American in Paris

Edmond Dédé emigrated to Paris in the 1850’s, studying at the Paris Conservatoire. Whilst there, his social circle included Adolphe Adam, composer of [the ballet] Giselle, and Charles Gounod, composer of [the opera] Faust. Dédé lived the rest of his life in France, first working as an assistant conductor at the Bordeaux Grand Theatre, then as conductor at the Theatre de I' Alcazar and the Folies Bordelaises, extremely popular café concerts at the time. Great success and fame found Edmond Dédé in Bordeaux, his pieces were published in Paris, he achieved membership to the French Society of Authors, Composers and Editors of Music and his name and music were known throughout the city.


With Dédé in France, Brazilian rhythms were introduced to eager audiences and Creole Romantic music takes on the light orchestral style of the French café concert, with comic operas like Francoise et Tortillard as well as songs like “Cora de Bordelaise (Cora of Bordeaux).” His Mephisto Masqué is perhaps the most classic example of Creole Romanticism with its delicate syncopation, Latin rhythmic patterns and melodies reminiscent of West Indian folk songs.



Creole Romanticism Goes Symphonic

Creole Romanticism found maturity in Paris at the hands of Charles Lucièn Lambert’s son, Lucien-Léon Guillaume Lambert. Born in Paris, Lambert Junior spent much of his childhood in Brazil, returning to Paris in the 1870’s to study at the famed Paris Conservatoire under the tutelage of Jules Massenet. Lambert Junior would later win the prestigious Prix Rossini in 1885 for his work Prométhée Enchaîné (Prometheus Bound). Lucien-Léon Lambert also gained greater prestige in 1905 when he made recordings, the first known classical composer of African descent to do so.


With Lambert Junior the Creole Romantic genre expanded from virtuoso piano music to full blown orchestral works, this broadened the scope and capabilities of the style. The blending of dreamy French Romanticism with Latin cross rhythms becoming even more sophisticated.


We can see this in Ouverture de Brocéliande, the piece begins with a snappy Cuban-esque horn theme which returns throughout the ouverture. Ouverture de Brocéliande is full of the lush orchestration and soaring melodies typical of French trends at the time, but also features constant cross-rhythms reminiscent of Afro-Brazilian music and later jazz.


It's also an interesting coincidence that the horn theme from Brocéliande bears a striking resemblance to the beginning of George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, written forty years later in 1932, the main theme of which was based on the Cuban song “Echale Salsita” by Ignacio Pineiro, written in 1930.



The Next Generation & Legacy

We finally see Creole Romanticism fully assimilated into French chansons with Eugène Dédé, son of Edmond Dédé. Like his father, Eugène Dédé also became a composer and conductor, his song “Ils n'passeront pas (They won’t pass)” was a popular French World War I song. Little else is known about him however his output was prolific, writing at least 562 compositions and over 200 of his pieces are held in the Bibliotheque National de France. His Mazurka En Chasse was orchestrated by his father in 1891 and included on a Naxos American Classics portrait album of Edmond Dédé’s music.


The Creole Romantics' influence is far reaching, spreading across three continents. From Charles Lucièn Lambert’s instruction of Ernesto Nazareth we can trace their musical lineage through Brazilian music into choro and then into samba. In New Orleans the music of Creole Romantics was part of the mix of sounds that provided us with ragtime and then jazz. And in France Brazilian and Latin rhythms became common in the 1890’s, becoming fully integrated with the early 20th century popular songs and in the sounds of classical composers such as Darius Milhaud. There are also other musical coincidences worth exploring, the music of the Harlem Renaissance and Florence Price for instance uses similar ideas to Creole Romanticism. The idea of Western Romanticism around a basis of Black spirituals is similar to French Romanticism around the basis of Brazilian folk songs.

Creole Romantics on Record

The music of the Creole Romantics can be found on two Naxos American Classics releases. Chamber music of both Charles Lucièn Lambert and Lucien-Léon Guillaume Lambert was recorded by Richard Rosenberg and the Hot Springs Music Festival Orchestra, whilst Edmond Dédé’s orchestral music was released on a portrait album, also by Richard Rosenberg and the Hot Springs Music Festival Orchestra. The album also includes the Mazurka En Chasse, written by his son Eugène Dédé and orchestrated by his father. Both recordings offer a rounded introduction to Creole Romantic music.




Elizabeth de Brito is a broadcaster, writer, musicologist and diverse repertoire consultant. She is the founder and executive producer of the trailblazing podcast The Daffodil Perspective, the first ever gender balanced, racially equitable and inclusive radio show/podcast in the world, creating space for everyone to belong. Founded in 2018, the popular fortnightly podcast has featured over 400 underrepresented composers.


Elizabeth de Brito is an internationally renowned speaker & panelist on equality, diversity and inclusion in the classical music industry. Her previous engagements include: Association of British Orchestras annual conference, International Alliance of Women in Music, University of York, Royal College of Music, Pride Bands Alliance, An Evening of Unnecessary Detail, Association of British Choral Directors & Trinity Laban Conservatoire.


An in-demand writer, Elizabeth has written articles for Naxos of America, I Care If You Listen, Clarinet & Saxophone Magazine and Making Music UK. She has also written program notes for the Barbican, in addition to blogs for Illuminate Women’s Music, Cross Eyed Pianist & Price Fest. Elizabeth de Brito has also made guest appearances on podcasts including: Opera Box Score, Z List Dead List, The Why Music podcast, Beyond The Chameleon, Music Works podcast, I’m Curious with Katie Crim, Donne Talks, Music HERStory & Podium Time.


Find music by the Dédé and Lambert families and other African-American composers on ArkivMusic year-round! Our Black Music Month celebration runs until July 6, 2022, but Black Excellence knows no season.