International Dictionary of Black Composers

Published in April 1999 by Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, the 2-volume International Dictionary of Black Composers (IDBC) provides information about a cross-section of 186 composers of African heritage who reside in locations around the world, including North and South America, Europe, Africa, and the islands adjacent to and between any of these continents, including, for example, the islands of the Caribbean. The IDBC contains biographical sketches, works-lists bibliographies with discographical information, lists of publications by and about the composers, and critical essays about the composers and some of their most important works, giving users both facts and interpretive perspectives from scholars in the field. The IDBC embraces not only composers of music for the concert hall but also composers of popular and vernacular musical forms and styles.

The IDBC is available used and new from a variety of sellers, including Amazon Books and You may also have access through your local public library, or your educational institution. 

Winner of the following awards:

“No other work seems to have the depth and breadth of coverage or possesses the same imprimatur and stamp of authority as IDBC does.… While this reviewer would ordinarily refrain from recommending the purchase of any book by all libraries, regardless of type, clientele, or size, I unhesitatingly and enthusiastically recommend IDBC to all those which can afford it. It is that important.”

—Robert O. Johnson

“This exceptional work provides information on composers of African heritage from around the world during the last 300 years.… This is a truly outstanding source that libraries will not want to do without.”

—American Libraries


Sample entries are available in the sections below.

Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho

Born near Guinea, West Africa, 1729; died in London, England, December 14, 1780.

Education: Educated by his patron, John, Second Duke of Montagu, a former governor of Jamaica; after John’s death, granted a stipend by the Montagu family and then a position as a servant, 1749; remained in their employ until 1773; London, worked as a grocery and oil supplier, 1773 until his death.

Composing and Performing Career: Attempted to pursue a career as an actor, ca. 1759; published a Theory of Music (lost), one collection of songs, ca. 1769, and three collections of dances for various instrumentations, ca. 1767, ca. 1769, 1779; his collected letters were published in 1782.

Music List

  • Instrumental Solos
    • Harpsichord
      • Twelve Country Dances for the Year 1779, Set for the Harpsichord. London: A. & B. Thompson, 1779. Contents: Lady Mary Montagu’s Reel; Culford Heath Camp; Ruffs and Rhees; Bushy Park; Lord Dalkeith’s Reel; Lindrindod Lasses; Trip to Dilington; Strawberrys and Cream; All of One Mind; The Royal Bishop; Dutchess of Devonshire’s Reel; Mungos Delight.
  • Small Instrumental Ensemble
    • Menuets, Cotillions and Other Country Dances for the Violin, Mandolin, German-flute and Harpsichord. ca. 1769. London: Richard Duke, 1770. Contents: Minuet 1st; Minuet 2nd; Minuet 3rd; Minuet 4th; Minuet 5th; Minuet 6th; Minuet 7th; Minuet 8th; Minuet 9th; Minuet 10th; Minuet 11th; Minuet 12th; Minuet 13th; Air; Gavotta; Sir Harry Flutter; Richmond Hill; Marianne’s Reel; Who’d a Thought It; Hornpipe.
    • Menuets, Cotillions and Other Country Dances for the Violin, Mandolin, German-flute, and Harpsichord Composed by an African. ca. 1767. London: Richard Duke, ca. 1770. Contents: Minuetto 1; Minuetto 2–Rondo; Minuet 3; Minuet 4; Minuet 5; Minuet 6; Le jour de May; The Merry Wives of Westminster; Les Contes des Fees; Christmas Eve; Le douze de Decembre; Nothing At All; Kew Gardens; La Loge de Richmont; The Carravan; L’Homme et La Femme; Les Nains; The Friendly Visit; Just So in the North; Les Matadors; Le Vieux Garcon; La Maison de la Reine; The Sword Knott; L’Etourderie de Catos. Recorded: Opus One, n.n.
  • Solo Voice
    • A Collection of New Songs Composed by an African. n.p.: The Author, ca. 1769. Contents: The Complaint; Sweetest Bard; Anacreon Ode XIII; Thou Soft Flowing Avon; Kate of Aberdeen; Friendship Source of Joy.


  • About Sancho
    • Books and Monographs
      • Adams, Francis D. Three Black Writers in Eighteenth Century England. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing, 1971.
      • Ahuma, Samuel Richard Brew Attoh. Memoirs of West African Celebrities, with Special Reference to the Gold Coast. Liverpool: D. Marples, 1905.
      • Edwards, Paul Geoffrey. Unreconciled Strivings and Ironic Strategies: Three Afro-British Authors of the Georgian Era; Ignatius Sancho, Olau dah Equiano, Robert Wedderburn. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, Centre of African Studies, 1992.
      • Edwards, Paul, and Polly Rewt. The Letters of Ignatius Sancho. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994.
      • Fleming, Beatrice J. Distinguished Negroes Abroad. Washington D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1946.
      • Jekyll, Joseph. Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African: To Which Are Prefixed Memoirs of His Life. London: Dawsons, 1783.
      • Ogude, S. E. Genius in Bondage: A Study of the Origins of African Literature in English. Ile-Ife, Nigeria: University of Ife Press, 1983.
    • Articles
      • Child, Lydia M. 1968. “Ignatius Sancho.” In The Freedman’s Book. Reprint New York: Arno Press: 1–12.
      • Wright, Josephine. “Early African Musicians in Britain.” In Under the Imperial Carpet: Essays in Black History 1780–1950, edited by Rainer Lotz and Ian Pegg, 14–24. Crawley, England,: Rabbit Press, 1986.
      • —. “Ignatius Sancho (1729–1780): African Composer in England.” Black Perspective in Music 7, no. 2 (1979): 133–167.
  • By Sancho
    • Ignatius Sancho (1729–1780), An Early African Composer in England: The Collected Editions of His Music in Facsimile, edited by Josephine R. B. Wright. Critical Studies on Black Life and Culture, vol. 3. New York: Garland Publishing, 1981.
    • New Light on the Life of Ignatius Sancho: Some Unpublished Letters. Princeton, N.J.: Photographic Services, Princeton University Library, 1989.

Composer Essay

Ignatius Sancho belonged to the very small group of blacks who composed and published music in Europe during the second half of the 18th century, music that is among the earliest evidence of black participation in European music. Unlike some other members of the group, however, most notably the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Sancho was not a professional composer but an amateur, a trained and gifted musician who nonetheless seems to have made music primarily at home or in other private settings. It is thus especially fortunate that Josephine R. B. Wright uncovered Sancho’s works and made them available for study. All too often, amateur musicians left no record of their activities, and the case of Sancho provides an unprecedented opportunity to observe an 18th-century black composer not on the public stage but in the private world of English middle- and upper-class social life.

Sancho’s musical experience probably began in the house of the Montagus, the family that educated him after he was brought to England from Guinea, West Africa, in the 1730s and then supported and employed him until 1773. All of his musical publications are dedicated to members of the family, and the works contained in them may originally have been written for performance in their circle. However, his correspondence shows his acquaintance with many other members of aristocratic and intellectual society, suggesting that he would also have had opportunities outside the Montagu home to perform or hear his own works and others like them. The letters also show that Sancho, like all well-educated amateurs, had many interests in addition to music. Among the most important were literature (he corresponded with Laurence Sterne) and especially theater, his love for which is evidenced not only by his foray into acting in the late 1750s but also by his choice of song texts from Shakespeare and the famous 18th-century actor and stage producer David Garrick, whom Sancho knew.

Sancho’s musical works are in many ways typical for an 18th-century amateur. Those that have been recovered are relatively few in number: six songs and 56 dances divided among three books. This suggests that he was writing for his own pleasure or that of his immediate circle; a professional composer’s works in this period would more typically have numbered in the hundreds or even thousands. His chosen genres likewise point toward the world of domestic entertainment. Songs, especially simple, vocally unchallenging examples, were standard fare in musical salons and similar venues. Dances were the traditional proving grounds for beginning composers and also provided accompaniment for actual social dancing. Sancho’s first (ca. 1767) and third (1779) collections both include instructions for dancing, and all three books are devoted mainly to the most popular dances of the era, most importantly minuets (in the first two books) and contradances (in the third). Stylistically, his works make use of the common musical language of the mid-18th century, characterized by well-articulated two- and four-measure phrases, an emphasis on tonic and dominant harmonies, and the use of characteristic dance rhythms, not only in the dances but also in many of the songs. To that extent, they resemble many other songs and dances by other 18th-century amateur composers.

In the end, however, Sancho cannot merely be considered a “typical” gifted amateur, nor would he have been seen as such in his own time. His musical and other accomplishments were all but unprecedented for a black man during this era in Europe, a fact that was not lost on Sancho and his contemporaries. Three of his four publications carry the legend “composed by an African,” a description that would have made it impossible simply to lump his compositions together with the thousands of others produced by white amateur musicians; and the fourth publication concludes with a dance entitled after a slave character from a contemporary play. Wright suggests that this was Sancho’s way of having “the last word.” By referring to his own origins as an orphaned slave, Sancho may have wanted to remind his audiences just how remarkable it was that he had become an accomplished composer and how distant his experience was from theirs.

A Collection of New Songs (ca. 1769)

The thousands of songs composed in 18th-century England vary widely in style and scope from brief, folk-like “ballads,” often on anonymous pastoral texts, to lengthy, operatic settings of Shakespeare and other authors by leading composers such as Thomas Arne and William Boyce. The six songs in Sancho’s collection fall somewhere between these two extremes. His texts include a passage from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and two excerpts from an ode to Shakespeare by Garrick (which Arne had also set), choices that suggest relatively high artistic ambitions while also reflecting Sancho’s love for the theater.

At the same time, the remaining texts—as well as the length, form, and style of the songs themselves—are for the most part typical of the unpretentious ballad tradition. That is especially true of the last five songs in the set. They are all strophic (the same music is used for multiple stanzas of text) and musically almost naive in their simplicity. Each word or syllable is set to only one or a few notes so that there is no embellishment or ornamentation, and the melodies are typically centered around the notes of the tonic triad. Like most contemporary ballads, moreover, the melodies are generally divided into two halves, the first consisting of one or more phrases that cadence on the dominant harmony, the second, of additional phrases that return to the home (tonic) key. The two halves are generally separated by a brief interlude for the accompanying keyboard, and the melodies in their entirety are framed by an instrumental prelude and postlude. Taken together, these procedures all serve to offer the clearest possible articulation of the text, as the words are clearly audible and presented in short, well-articulated phrases that correspond with the grammar and rhyme patterns of the stanzas.

Rather than emphasize individual words in the texts, Sancho maintains an appropriate mood throughout each song, a mood that is generally established with the help of a characteristic dance rhythm. Thus “Sweetest Bard,” a joyful paean to Shakespeare taken from Garrick’s ode, is set to a sprightly jig, while “Thou Soft Flowing Avon,” Garrick’s description of the river Avon as an idyllic retreat, is treated as a calm, pastoral minuet. Within the vocal melodies, Sancho takes care to provide a singable contour and is especially effective in his treatment of melodic high points, generally reserved to provide climaxes near the end of each song. In “Kate of Aberdeen,” for instance, based on a typical anonymous ballad text in which a shepherd sings of love, the melody reaches its high point at the end of each stanza, where the shepherd sings Kate’s name. A similar example is found in the setting of a text by Anacreon, a Greek poet whose celebrations of wine and the good life were very popular among 18th-century English song composers. In the ode set by Sancho, each of the three stanzas builds to a climactic image which is in turn neatly articulated by the final, highest phrase of the melody.

The first of the six songs, on the Shakespeare text, “Take, oh take those lips away,” was originally a song-within-a-play, a reminiscence of lost love that is sung to a jilted lover at the beginning of Act IV of Measure for Measure. The setting is Sancho’s most ambitious. The text consists of only a single stanza and extends over roughly twice as much music as is devoted to the individual stanzas of the other songs. While the melody is still based on a two-part form, the phrasing and harmonic structure are more flexible and sophisticated than in the other songs. There is also greater activity in the accompanying keyboard part. In the other five songs, the right hand of the keyboard is given an independent melodic line only when the instrument plays alone (the right hand would otherwise have doubled the vocal line and/or filled in chords). Here, however, it plays as the voice is singing, creating a kind of dialogue from which the song derives considerable charm, especially in its opening phrases. As the voice sings a slow, halting line on the words “Take . . . those lips away/That so sweetly . . . were forsworn,” the keyboard adds a delicate counterpoint in quick, nearly continuous arpeggios or broken chords. As a result, the instrument sounds almost as if it were leading the voice through the text, coaxing the sad, reluctant singer to continue the story. After an interlude of arpeggios that articulates a cadence in the dominant, the character of the song changes. The voice first returns toward the tonic in a rising line that “paints” the words “and those eyes the break of day.” The progression toward the tonic is interrupted, however, by a surprising, dissonant phrase that forecasts the renewed melancholy of the final lines, “but my kisses bring again/Seals of love but seal’d in vain.” These are sung twice, the voice soaring up to its highest note on the repetition and then descending to reach a final, definitive cadence. A postlude of keyboard arpeggios serves to conclude the song by recalling its opening mood.

Second Book of Minuets and Other Dances (ca. 1769)

Sancho’s second book of dances is much like his first (ca. 1767) insofar as it is comprised of a mixture of minuets and contradances and scored for harpsichord, violin, flute, mandolin, and, in some of the minuets, two French horns. Yet the second book is somewhat more ambitious than either its predecessor or Sancho’s later collection of contradances (1779): the minuets include his lengthiest and most complex efforts in the genre, and the remaining pieces include a gavotte, an air, and a quite remarkable hornpipe, none of which appear in either of the other books.

The pieces observe many of the familiar conventions of 18th-century dances. All fall into two halves, each of which is generally eight or 16 measures long. Each half is repeated, creating a binary form; and in some of the longer works the opening of the dance is recalled at the end of the second half, resulting in a “rounded” binary. The first half closes on the dominant or tonic, the second half on the tonic; and within each half, the phrases are invariably four or eight measures long. The textures are correspondingly straightforward. With the exception of the horns, the instruments are not given separate parts but rather play from two-stave keyboard notation. This means that the flute, violin, and mandolin would in all likelihood simply have doubled the melody, perhaps taking turns in order to provide variety. The horns also double the melody, sometimes harmonizing it in thirds or sixths or providing a background drone to support the harmony.

Perhaps the most interesting of the dances are two of the longer examples, the fifth minuet and the hornpipe. The minuet begins with an echo effect, in which a repeated, one-measure figure is marked alternately forte and piano. Then, after the repeat sign, a new figure enters in the relative minor. The minor mode is extremely rare in Sancho’s dances and is always used for special expressive purposes; this passage is marked dolce, and a minor passage elsewhere in this collection, “plaintive.” In this instance, a four-measure phrase in minor is first repeated and then transposed back to the tonic major, with a corresponding brightening of tonal color. There remain, however, several further gestures toward minor before the dance finally returns to the tonic major and a repetition of the opening measures.

The hornpipe is similar insofar as the music after the repeat sign first moves to the relative minor and then returns to the tonic for a repetition of the opening phrase. The most remarkable feature of this dance, however, is that it begins on the subdominant or fourth scale degree. On first hearing, this raises some question as to what the tonic is; while on the repeats, it continues to generate a subtle and attractive rhythmic ambiguity by making it difficult to know whether the “strong” downbeat coincides with the beginning of the first measure or with the arrival of the tonic harmony in the second. It is in details such as this that one can see Sancho’s mastery not only of the syntax but also of the wit and grace of mid–18th-century European musical style.


  • Sancho, Ignatius. Ignatius Sancho (1729–1780), An Early African Composer in England: The Collected Editions of His Music in Facsimile, edited by Josephine R. B. Wright. Critical Studies on Black Life and Culture, vol. 3. New York: Garland Publishing, 1981.
  • Wright, Josephine R. B. “Ignatius Sancho (1729–1780). African Composer in England.” Black Perspective in Music 7, no. 2 (1979):133–167.

—Richard Will

William Foster McDaniel

Born in Columbus, Ohio, December 26, 1940.

Education: Began studying piano with Mrs. Zelda Pfeiffer; Garfield Elementary, Columbus, 1950; East High School, Columbus, 1957; Dublin High School, Dublin, Ohio, 1958; Conservatory of Music, Capital University, Columbus, preparatory division, studied with Richard Lehman, age ten, undergraduate piano studies with Loy Kohler, music theory and counterpoint with William Bailey, B.Mus., 1963; Boston University, Mass., studied piano with Lawrence Leighton-Smith and Béla Böszörményi-Nagy, composition and orchestration with Gardner Read, M.Mus., 1966; Paris, studied piano with Jacques Février, 1966–67.

Composing and Performing Career: Musical director and conductor for The Fantasticks, 1970–76, Bubblin’ Brown Sugar, 1976, Timbuktu, 1978, Ain’t Misbehavin’, 1979, Sophisticated Ladies, 1990–91, Fiddler on the Roof, 1991, House of Flowers, 1992, Once on This Island, 1993; pianist in solo recitals and chamber concerts with the New Symphony of New York and the Yonkers Philharmonic.

Memberships: American Federation of Musicians; ASCAP.

Honors/Awards: National Association of Negro Musicians, first prize, national piano competition, 1965; Fulbright Scholarship, 1966–67.

Mailing Address: 150 West 82nd Street, Apt. # 4A, New York, NY 10024-7305.

Music List

  • Instrumental Solos
    • Cello
      • Cello Sonata. Unpublished manuscript.
    • Flute
      • Flute Sonata. Unpublished manuscript.
    • Clarinet
      • Clarinet Sonata. Unpublished manuscript.
    • Saxophone
      • Alto Saxophone Sonata. Unpublished manuscript.
    • Piano
      • Five Easy Pieces. Unpublished manuscript.
      • Four Preludes. Unpublished manuscript.
      • Sonata. Unpublished manuscript.
      • Toccata. Unpublished manuscript.
  • Small Instrumental Ensemble
    • Strings
      • String Quartet. Unpublished manuscript.
    • Woodwinds
      • Flute Septet. Unpublished manuscript.
      • Saxophone Quartet. Unpublished manuscript.
      • Woodwind Quintet. Unpublished manuscript. Premiere, 1975.
    • Brass
      • Brass Quintet. Unpublished manuscript.
    • Combinations
      • Sextet for Piano and Woodwind Quintet. Unpublished manuscript. Premiere, 1993.
      • Quintet for String Quartet and Piano. Unpublished manuscript.
      • Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano. Unpublished manuscript.
  • String Orchestra
    • Overture for String Orchestra or String Overture. 1995. Unpublished manuscript. Premiere, 1995.
  • Full Orchestra
    • Elegy. Unpublished manuscript.
  • Orchestra (Chamber or Full) with Soloists
    • Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra. Unpublished manuscript. Premiere, 1974.
    • Concerto for Flute and Orchestra. Unpublished manuscript. Premiere, 1983.
    • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, no. 1. Unpublished manuscript. Premiere, 1975.
    • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, no. 2. Unpublished manuscript.
    • Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra. Unpublished manuscript. Premiere, 1975.
    • Concerto for Two Flutes and String Orchestra. Unpublished manuscript. Premiere, 1985.
  • Solo Voice
    • Five Songs with Debra. Unpublished manuscript.
    • Four Love Songs. 1976. Unpublished manuscript. Contents: Gramercy Park; Coney Island; Union Square; Central Park at Dusk. Also arranged for soprano and chamber orchestra.
    • “Soul” (medium voice, piano, optional bass). Cincinnati, Ohio: Stimuli, 1971.
  • Voice with Instrumental Ensemble
    • Seven Songs for Soprano and Nonet. Unpublished manuscript.

Composer Essay

William Foster McDaniel’s varied output of concert music includes six concertos, five sonatas, three art song collections, and several works for chamber ensembles. His compositions often reflect his extensive training as a professional pianist as well as composer.

McDaniel’s musical training began at the age of five and a half, with private piano lessons in Columbus, Ohio. At age ten, he entered the preparatory division of the Conservatory of Music at Capital University, Columbus, where he received a bachelor of music degree in 1963. He studied piano with Richard Lehman and Loy Kohler and theory and counterpoint with William Bailey. McDaniel won first prize, in 1965, in a national piano competition sponsored by the National Association of Negro Musicians. In 1966, he received a master’s degree in music from Boston University, where he studied piano with Lawrence Leighton-Smith and Béla Böszörményi-Nagy, and composition with Gardner Read. McDaniel pursued his piano training with Jacques Février, in Paris, through a Fulbright scholarship in 1966–67.

McDaniel’s composing career has focused on adapting traditional art music genres and instrumental combinations to a modernist musical vocabulary. His output includes numerous large-scale orchestral works such as the Overture for String Orchestra (1995). He is perhaps best known for his concertos for piano, flute, and alto saxophone, which have received many performances. McDaniel has written three concertos for the piano, including the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, no. 1, the Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra (both premiered 1975), and the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, no. 2. His Concerto for Flute and Orchestra was premiered in 1983 by the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra and has since been performed by the Housing Authority Orchestra, the Mozart Society Orchestra at Harvard University, the Philharmonia of Greensboro (N.C.), and the Savannah Symphony Orchestra (Ga.). Other concertos include the Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (premiered 1974) and the Concerto for Two Flutes and String Orchestra (premiered 1985).

McDaniel’s solo sonatas include works for cello, flute, clarinet, and alto saxophone with piano accompaniment, as well as a solo piano sonata. His chamber works encompass quartets (String Quartet, Saxophone Quartet), quintets (Woodwind Quintet, Brass Quintet), one sextet (Sextet for Piano and Woodwind Quintet), one septet (Flute Septet), and the Seven Songs for Soprano and Nonet.

In addition to his composing career, McDaniel is active as a pianist, conductor, arranger, and musical director for both concert repertoire and popular musics. He has conducted many on- and off-Broadway musicals, acted as guest conductor on several television shows, and arranged and directed nightclub acts for Nell Carter, Eartha Kitt, and Melvin Van Peebles, among others. He has been soloist with the New Symphony of New York and the Yonkers Philharmonic in his own composition, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, no. 1.

Four Love Songs (1976)

In Four Love Songs, McDaniel set four poems by the American poet Sara Teasdale (1884–1933) for soprano voice with piano accompaniment. The poems, originally written around 1914, were published posthumously in 1937 in Teasdale’s Collected Poems. Each paints a portrait of New York City lovers in various locations and circumstances. The four New York poems set by McDaniel reveal a cycle of romantic entanglements from the intense passion of “Gramercy Park,” to the disappointment and rejection of “Coney Island” and “Union Square,” to the optimism of the concluding “Central Park at Dusk.”

Teasdale’s works are a product of a transitional period in American poetry. Although using the conventional form and style of 19th-century romantic poetry, Teasdale’s narratives describe the transition from Victorian femininity to modern womanhood. Her poetry deftly combines contemporary urban imagery within traditionally pastoral frameworks. McDaniel’s atmospheric settings provide an ideal complement to Teasdale’s poetry. In each song, stylistic juxtapositions portray the ambiance of the location, the mood of the text, and the interactions of the characters.

McDaniel emphasizes the musical contrasts of Four Love Songs in two ways: vivid text painting and modernistic musical techniques. McDaniel’s text illustrations (usually in the piano accompaniment) portray one overriding poetic image at the heart of the literary conflict and physical location. For example, in “Gramercy Park,” the poem describes a couple circling around a small park in Greenwich Village that is locked (“But every iron gate was locked/Lest if we entered peace would go/We circled it a dozen times”). The iron gates that bar the couple are represented by a two-chord ostinato in the piano part that serves as a structure, appearing at the opening and at the close of the piece.

In “Coney Island,” the romantic conflict escalates and is reflected in the location: the famous amusement park, deserted in a winter storm (“The winter sea winds blow/There is no shelter here”) mirrors the lovers’ unhappy relationship (“There cannot be for us a second spring”). McDaniel evokes this tense scene by building the work around a trill in the high piano register that alternates with and eventually succumbs to cascading, primarily whole-tone 32nd-note figures. The undulating tremolo-like accompaniment effectively combines angry emotions with the imagery of a fierce winter storm, and even the motion and excitement of a roller-coaster ride.

By comparison, “Union Square” is the most conventional setting. The text describes the rush-hour bustle of a central business area, as observed through the eyes of separating lovers (“With the man I love who loves me not/I walked in the streetlamp’s flares/We watched the world go home that night/In a flood through Union Square”). McDaniel sets this text to a relaxed waltz in C minor, contrasting the hurried “flood” of people with the casual but pained observations of the narrator. The choice of a tonal waltz may symbolize the nostalgia and romance of a bygone era, musically echoing the protagonist’s sense of loss.

McDaniel uses a clash of conventional tonal language and genres with modernistic techniques, often in conjunction with the pictorial representations described above. “Coney Island” uses descending bitonal clusters in the piano accompaniment (each of which is based around a whole-tone axis) against the angular chromatic sequences of the vocal part (“The sea creeps up”). The experimental compositional language of “Coney Island” contrasts remarkably with the conventional setting of the following “Union Square.” The stylistic juxtaposition reflects Teasdale’s own poetic multiplicity.

Both “Gramercy Park” and “Central Park at Dusk” use similar pentatonic structures (i.e., chords built on fifths). In “Gramercy Park,” each chord in the piano ostinato is structured around successive fifths (d–a–e–b–f♯ and e♭e–b♭–f–c–g), possibly representing both the dense structure of the locked iron gates as well as the couple’s circling motion around the park. Teasdale’s poetic conflict of urban lovers banned from a pastoral Eden is portrayed harmonically by McDaniel’s sympathetic setting.

Similar pentatonic clusters are used in the concluding song, “Central Park at Dusk,” which completes the romantic and musical cycle. The main image is of the park asleep under buildings that “loom high as castles” before the spring, impressions that are linked to the hope of future romance (“Silent as women wait for love/The world is waiting for the spring”). McDaniel uses a variety of modernistic effects to paint the scene. Most notable are the dense cluster chords portraying the weight of the skyscrapers looming over the park. The first cluster chords present pentatonic scales (e–f♯–a–b–c♯ and e–f♯–g♯–b–c♯, respectively). The registral and harmonic density of this opening passage is constructed with the higher range, sparse rhythm, and melody of the closing section, particularly the description of the park itself (“There is no sign of leaf or bud”). In this contrast, McDaniel again underlines the separation of urban and rural scenes characteristic of the poem.

In its use of modernistic language and evocative writing, Four Love Songs demands virtuoso performances by pianist and vocalist alike. As such, McDaniel’s settings present a distinctive and responsive realization of Teasdale’s New York portraits.

—Gayle Sherwood