Basile Barès: Los Campanillas


Los Campanillas


Basile Barès (composer)


Music of Basile Barès (Centaur 2835)

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Basile Barès (composer),

Peter Collins (piano)


Recorded: Chicago, October 8-9, 2004


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

"Los Campanillas" is the only unpublished piece by the black New Orleans composer Basile Barès (1845-1902) to survive in manuscript—and what an intriguing work it is. Even those few scholars who have written about Barès don't seem to comprehend the significance of this score. The habanera rhythm employed here is the same that Scott Joplin would later rely on for "Solace," Jelly Roll Morton for "The Crave," and W.C. Handy for "St. Louis Blues." Indeed, the dark and brooding second theme of this composition is strongly reminiscent of the minor key section in Handy's path-breaking song published 12 years after Barès's death. "Los Campanillas" is all the more surprising given the fact that Barès's published works steer clear of minor tonalities, and reveal a marked preference for grandiloquent and derivative waltzes in a style reminiscent of Johann Strauss. This composition, in contrast, reflects a deeper, more personal, more futuristic musical conception that leaves the listener wishing for more.

I also wish we knew more about the personal history of this composer, who was apparently born into slavery in 1845. A piece of sheet music published in New Orleans in 1860 is credited to a "Basile"—no last name. If, as is commonly assumed, the composer was Basile Barès, it is remarkable both as a work created by a slave and published while he was still a slave, but equally for the fact that the copyright is assigned to the composer. Three days before the end of the Civil War, a Mr. "Bazile" gives a concert in New Orleans. Is this our same mysterious composer? By 1867 there can be little doubt about our musical sage's whereabouts: he plays for four months at the Paris International Exposition. Photos of the pianist in France are in the archives of Xavier University (where the manuscript of "Los Campanillas" also resides).

The role of New Orleans in the development of American music is substantial, and well out of proportion to the size of its population or economy. Yet the survival of an intriguing composition such as "Los Campanillas" reminds us that behind all the famous figures from the Crescent City, other equally brilliant artists worked in comparative obscurity, yet with an equally powerful musical vision. Why didn't Barès publish this composition? Did he see it as too experimental for his audience? In any event, this work deserves to be far better known and factored into accounts of the American music history, where it is completely ignored at present.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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