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Music of the Haitian Masters
Jean E. Saint-Eloi, Midi guitar
Cover portrait Copyright Jean-Rene Jerome
IFA Music Records 256 (1999)
Composers -> Jeanty, Occide
An important source on
Occide Jeanty is Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music And Cultural
Nationalism, written by Michael Largey, and published by The
University of Chicago Press (2006):
Occilius Jeanty fils (junior), better known to Haitian
audiences as Occide, was born in Port-au-Prince in 1860
during a period of relative political stability under
President Fabre Geffrard. The young Jeanty was an
elementary school student at the L'Ecole Polymathique de
Coupeaud and attended high school at the prestigious
Lycée Pétion. According to Dumervé (1968, 124), Jeanty was an indifferent student, preferring to sing
children's songs to himself while beating time with his
ruler or pencil.
The author continues:
Jeanty was part of a musical family. His mother
was Mulerine Obin and his father was Occilius Jeanty
père (1830-82). Occilius père was the director of
the Ecole Centrale de Musique and a professor of
mathematics at Lycée Pétion, as well as the director of
the Corps de Musique, a military band attached to the
National Palace in Port-au-Prince.
In contrast with his son, Occilius père was a talented
student, excelling in mathematics and music.
We are told
Occilius père was "conscripted" to play in the official band of
Emperor Faustin I, and subsequently served five Haitian
Michael Largey describes the son's early study of music:
Occilius Père encouraged his son, Occide, to study music
from a young age. The younger Jeanty proved adept
at music, eventually opening his own course of solfège
at the Ecole Centrale de Musique under the Boisrond
Canal regime. (Dumervé 1868, 60).
4 Paris Conservatory
The author tells us of
Jeanty's trumpet scholarship at the Paris Conservatory of Music:
In 1881, Jeanty
was awarded a scholarship to study trumpet in Paris with
Jean Baptiste Arban. Despite the backing of the
legendary Arban, Jeanty failed to win the first prize
for the annual instrumental competition at the Paris
Conservatory. To make matters worse, political
problems in Haiti caused Jeanty's scholarship payments
to stop shortly after he arrived in Paris. A
frustrated Jeanty played in the streets of Paris for
money to support himself.
Dominique-René de Lerma
is Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton,
Wisconsin and has written about Black classical music for four decades. He has generously made his research entry on Occide Jeanty available to this Website:
teachers in Paris included Arban (Jeanty’s principal
instrument was the valve cornet), pianist
Antoine-François Marmontel, and Douillon.
5 Recall to Haiti
Rumors claimed Jeanty was spending his time pursuing "les
blondes des boulevards" instead of his music studies, Largey
Whether or not the
rumors about Jeanty's behavior were true, his reputation
was already damaged in the eyes of the Haitian
government. Jeanty was recalled to Haiti and
dressed down personally by President Salomon.
6 Presidential Audience
The book tells us Jeanty's backers rose to his defense:
P. Saint Clair, a priest of the Saint Esprit order who
had served on the jury that awarded Jeanty his
scholarship to study in Paris, arranged an audience with
President Salomon and other well-respected musicians,
including Edmond Roumain, Toureau Lechaud, and Louis
Astrée père (Dumervé 1968, 125; Herissé n.d.).
Jeanty's brilliant playing prompted Salomon immediately
to appoint the young cornetist to the ranks of the
Musique du Palais National, the Haitian president's
official military band (Herissé n.d.).
We learn from
Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma that Occide Jeanty's return to Haiti
took place in 1885:
he left Paris to become music director to President Lysius Felicité
Salomon writing musique du palais in
Port-au-Prince, where a street was later named for him,
and a stamp issued in centennial tribute in 1960.
Musique du Palais
Largey describes Jeanty's output as a composer with the military
band of the president:
Jeanty wrote at least
eight processional marches, six funeral marches for
Haitian dignitaries and their families, and four
patriotic marches, as well as various polkas, gavottes,
and méringues. Most of his works were originally
written for the Musique du Palais National. His
dance pieces were often scored for wind band so that the
Musique du Palais National could play them in their
weekly concerts on the Champs de Mars in Port-au-Prince.
It was during his tenure with the Musique du Palais
National from 1882 to 1916 - first as a cornet soloist
and then as director of the group - that Jeanty turned
his creative talents fully toward musical composition.
The author identifies Jeanty's first funeral march as
Imprécations des Dessalines (Curses of Dessalines) and
explains that it was commissioned by President Hyppolite.
The five sections of the work are Introduction, Prayer, Curse,
Agony and Last Breath. Largey adds:
Jeanty provided other
official funeral marches, including two for President
Florvil Hyppolite ("Chery Hyppolite" [Dear Hyppolite],
and "Nos L'Armes"), one for Tirésias Augustin Simon Sam
("Ti Sam" [Little Sam]), and one for Nord Alexis ("Sur
la Tombe" [On the Tomb]). Jeanty also wrote
patriotic pieces, including the "Chant National" (with
lyrics by Haitian poet, Oswald Durand) in 1897 and the
commemorative march "1804" in celebration of the
centennial of Haitian independence.
While Jeanty's official responsibility was to compose music for
ceremonial purposes, Michael Largey notes, he also wrote works
in response to military and diplomatic interventions and
humiliations, such as the Emile Lüders affair, involving a
Haitian resident with German citizenship. Lüders had
been sentenced to one year imprisonment after his second
criminal conviction, this one for assaulting an officer and
receiving the news of Lüders's sentence, Count von
Schwerin, the German chargé d'affairs, bypassed the
usual diplomatic channels and demanded a personal
audience with President Simon Sam. Under pressure
from the American legation, Simon Sam released Lüders on
22 October; Lüders left Haiti immediately. In
order to further humiliate President Simon Sam, Schwerin
called for German naval intervention. On 6
December 1897, the German ships Charlotte and
Stein sailed into the bay of Port-au-Prince and the
German navy demanded a $20,000 indemnity from the
Haitian government, a salute to the German flag, as well
as a four-hour reception for the German chargé d'affairs
(Bellegarde 1938, 142).
Occide Jeanty composed "Les Vautours de 6 Décembre" (The
vultures of 6 December) shortly after the incident to protest
the treatment Haiti suffered at the hands of the German navy.
While Jeanty was experienced in writing patriotic music for the
needs of the Haitian government - marches for Fête Dieu parades,
two funeral marches For Florvil Hyppolyte - "Les Vautours" was
Jeanty's first explicitly political work that was not geared
toward presidential praise or military procession.
The author relates that the poet Durand made a connection
between the bourgeois and the lower class in his works, and adds:
Jeanty engaged in his own version of cross-class
performance with pieces written to evoke the folkways
and mores of lower-class Haitians. His
programmatic piece, "Coq, Poules, et Poussins" (Roosters,
Hens, and Chicks), imitates the sounds of the barnyard,
complete with crowing rooster courtesy of the
saxophones, the cooing of the hen by the flutes and the
chirping of the chicks from the oboes. Jeanty's
polka "Pauvres et Pauvres" (The Poor and the Poor)
(1901) is a "social satire criticizing the exploitation
of the small by the great" (Herissé n.d.).
The author says popular culture is the subject of Jeanty's
the most interesting example of Jeanty's interest in the
cultural practices of ordinary Haitians came in his
méringue, "Zizipan." A "méringue evoking the
celebrations of yesteryear," "Zizipan" refers to a
processional band that marched in the streets of
Port-au-Prince during the Easter seasons of the 1880s (Herissé
n.d.). While both Herissé and Corvington refer to
this practice as "carnivalesque," it is likely that
Zizipan was in fact a Lenten processional band from a
tradition known as Rara. Despite its resemblance
to Caribbean carnival traditions, Rara is a distinct
cultural celebration that has close ties to Haitian
13 U.S. Occupation
Michael Largey tells us Occide Jeanty was a general in the army
of Haiti when U.S. troops arrived in the capital in 1915.
Although he left the army in the following year, his reasons for
doing so are a matter of dispute. He subsequently taught
music at the Lycée Pétion and directed a small band from the
town of Petit Goâve. President Louis Borno returned Jeanty
to his former position as director of the Musique du Palais
National in 1922, the author relates. He continues:
1922 and the end of the U.S. occupation in 1934, Jeanty
resumed his regular duties as leader, conductor, and
composer for the band. It was through his public
performances with the Musique du Palais National that
Jeanty created his most lasting impression as a defender
of the Haitian nation. By performing pieces that
had extramusical programs referring to Haitian political
resistance, the Musique du Palais National, with Occide
Jeanty conducting, became a symbol of Haitian resistance,
albeit in musical, not military terms.
The author writes that the work popularly called "1804" is the
best known work of the composer:
Jeanty's most famous composition, "Dessalines ou 1804:
Marche Guerrière" (Dessalines or 1804: War March) -
known to Haitian audiences as "1804" - was another
example of a work that, through performance, became an
unofficial anthem of Haitian resistance and political
autonomy until the end of the occupation in 1934.
The march became an anthem of anti-American resistance
for Haitians and continues to have revolutionary
connotations for Haitian audiences.
During the latter part of the occupation, Jeanty was
forbidden to play "1804" with the band during their
popular Sunday concerts in the Champs de Mars.
Other bandleaders could perform the piece with impunity;
only Jeanty was forbidden to lead the march.
Occide Jeanty passed away in 1936. Prof. De Lerma identifies
his wife and daughter:
married to Lydia Robin. Their daughter, Lydia (born
about 1910) was on the faculty of the Collège Louverture
until her retirement in 1963, and served as Haiti’s
ambassador to London for seven months in 1958.
16 Haitian Masters
The classical guitarist Jean E.
Saint-Eloi has recorded a CD entitled Music of the Haitian
Masters, IFA Music Records 256 (1999). The
music was composed for piano, but is performed on MIDI guitar.
Among the works on the CD is a piece written by Occide Jeanty
for solo piano, Invocation
Several other prominent Haitian composers of classical music are
named in the liner notes. They include Justin Elie, Ludovic
Lamothe and Solon Verret, whose works for solo piano round out
the program of the CD and who have pages of their own at this
Web site. Saint-Eloi estimates that Haiti has produced about 60
Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma
1804; Haitian march, for band.
CD: Ifa Music Records (1999; Music of the Haitian
masters, vol. 1)
Les imprecations de Dessalines.
Les trompettes des anges.
Les vautours du 6 décembre.
Un choeur de nos heros.
Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma
Southern, Eileen. “Jeanty, Occide (Fils)” in Biographical
dictionary of Afro-American
and African musicians. Westport: Greenwood Press,
1982, p201-202. (Greenwood encyclopedia of
This page was last updated
July 06, 2013