About this Recording
8.559038 - DEDE: Mon pauvre coeur / Francoise et Tirtillard / Mefisto masque

Edmond Dede (1827-1901)

Edmond Dede (1827-1901)

Eugene Arcade Dede


Edmond Dede was born free in New Orleans on 20 November 1827. His parents were free Creoles of color who had immigrated to New Orleans around 1809 from the French West Indies. His father became chef de musique of a local militia unit and was the boy's first professor. Dede's first instrument, as befitted the son of a bandmaster, was the clarinet, but he soon developed into a violin prodigy. He studied violin with Constant in Oebergue, a local free black violinist and director of the local Philharmonic Society founded by free Creoles of color sometime in the late antebellum period, and with lta1ian-born Ludovico Gabici, director of the St Charles Theater orchestra and one of the earliest publishers of music in the city. He studied counterpoint and harmony' with Eugene Prevost, French-born winner of the 1831 Prix de Rome and conductor of the orchestras at the Theatre d'Orleans and the French Opera of New Orleans, and with New York-born free black musician Charles Richard Lambert, father of Sidney and Lucien Lambert, and a conductor of the Philharmonic Society, which was the first non-theatrical orchestra in the city and even included some white musicians among its one hundred instrumentalists, an extremely large aggregation for the time.


In 1852 Dede's melodie Mon pauvre cœur appeared. It is the oldest surviving piece of sheet music by a New Orleans Creole of color. He supplemented his income from music with what today would be characterized as his day job: he was a cigar maker, as were a number of other local musicians. By 1857 he had saved enough money to book a passage to Europe.


Dede arrived in Paris with an introduction to Adolphe Adam, who in turn recommended him to Jacques-Francois Fromenta1 Halevy. He studied with Halevy and Jean-Oelphin Alard, both of the Paris Conservatoire. Some contemporaries report that he was befriended by Charles Gounod. About 1860 he went to Bordeaux, where he first worked as conductor of the orchestra at the prestigious old Grand Theatre. New Orleans and Bordeaux were once closely related, and trade and other connections were still strong between the two at the time Dede went there. Quite a few Louisiana Creoles of color, including musicians and litterateurs, had settled there in the 1850s and 1860s in order to escape first the growing sentiment at home against free black people and later the Civil War and its aftermath. Photographs of Dede clearly show that his African, ancestry was more pronounced than that of many Creoles of color of New Orleans, where racial mixing was a way of life. When, in 1864, he married a Frenchwoman, Sylvie Leflat, and the marriage was announced in black-interest newspapers in the United States, much was made of his African appearance. Eugene Dede, their son, also became a composer. His mazurka, En chasse, was orchestrated by his father in 1891.


After leaving the Grand Theatre and except for brief stints in Algiers and Marseilles and his last years in Paris, Dede spent most of his career in Bordeaux as a theater orchestra conductor at the Theatre de I' Alcazar and the Folies Bordelaises, where the light music of the cafe-concert held sway. During his Bordeaux period he wrote around 150 dances, 95 songs and six string quartets, as well as ballets, ballets-divertissements, operettas, operas-comiques, overtures and an unpublished cantata, Battez aux champs (1865). This variety and volume of output contrasts sharply with the production of the New Orleans black composers who remained at home, where piano dances and piano-accompanied songs prevailed. By the mid-1880s Dede had a Paris publisher and membership in the French Society of Authors, Composers and Editors of Music. In 1886 the anonymous critic of the Bordeaux magazine L'Artisle could state that 'there is not a resident of Bordeaux who does not know Dodo and has not heard and applauded him. Several generations have hummed his gayest refrains!'


Dodo returned to the United States only once, in 1893, when he was in his mid-sixties. He was on his way home to visit relatives in New Orleans when, during a rough crossing, the ship on which he was traveling was disabled. In the confusion his Cremona violin was lost. The passengers were taken aboard a Texas steamer to Galveston, where the parents of pioneering black music historian Maude Cuney-Hare were among those who entertained Dede during the two months' layover. For several months after arriving in New Orleans, Dede concertized widely as a violinist.


Among his accompanists on piano was W. J. Nickerson, the teacher of Jelly Roll Morton. Dede also introduced two new songs, one of which, Patriotisme, he regarded as his farewell to New Orleans, for in it he laments his destiny to live far away because of 'implacable prejudice' at home. Grateful for receiving honorary membership in the societe des Jeunes-Arnis, a leading local social group composed mostly of Creoles of color of antebellum free background, but weary of the increasing inconveniences and indignities of racial segregation, Dede returned to France and became a full member of the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers in 1894. He died in Paris in 1901.


Lester Sullivan,

University Archivist, Xavier University



In 1993 Lester Sullivan introduced me to the music of several 'free black' composers who left their native New Orleans in the late 1850s to study and work in Paris. They achieved great success in France (and a few of them subsequently in South America and Portugal), but remained virtually unknown in the United States. In 1998 I spent a week at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, where I found a wealth of printed music by Edmond and Eugene Dede, Lucien Lambert (father and son), Sidney Lambert and several of their colleagues. What I found had never been heard outside of France, and had not been performed at all for at least ninety years. I reconstructed the orchestral music (which existed only in poorly edited, nearly illegible sheet music) into performance editions, and thirty-eight orchestral, chamber, vocal and piano works of the 'Creole Romantics' were given their modem premiere at the 1999 Hot Springs Music Festival. This represents merely a sample of these composers' output, and I hope that it will spur other musicians to research and perform more of these delightful pieces.


Mon Sous Off!cier surfaces twice: initially as a chansonnette called Mon Sous Off! - the refrain of which became the core of the quadrille for orchestra, Mon Sous Off!cer. It consists of popular Dede selections from his Saynete Comique, Francoise et Tortillard, some of his other songs, and a work by E. Duhem {who also provided Dede with lyrics to many of his songs). Dedicated to his Chicago cousin, Samuel L. Armstrong, Dede’s Chicago, Valse a l’Americaine was composed for solo piano and was orchestrated in 1891. Similarly, Mephisto Masque (1899) also exists in both solo piano and orchestral versions. This polka, in addition to its buzzing ensemble of ‘mirlitons’ of kazoos (also used in Mirliton fin de siecle), bears unusual features including a lyrical solo for ophicleide (predecessor of the modern tuba) vocal interpolations b the musicians, and its dedication ‘aux Bigotopgonistes’ (bigots, also kazooists).


Richard Rosenberg




Close the window