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Home -> Composers -> Elie, Justin

Justin Elie  (1883-1931)

Haitian Composer & Pianist


Table of Contents

  1 Birth
  2 Paris Conservatory
  3 Return to Haiti
  4 Caribbean Tour 
  5 Méringues Populaires
  6 Native Americans
  7 Vodou
  8 United States
  9 Publishers
 10 Carl Fischer Music
 11 Légende Créole 
12 Kiskaya    
13 Program Notes
 14 Radio
 15 Films
 16 Fantaisie Tropicale
 17 Death
 18 Recorded Works

 19 Works
 20 Bibliography


Justin Elie
Cover photo of sheet music for Nostalgie

1 Birth
According to a column by W.E.B. Du Bois in the January, 1916 issue of Crisis, the magazine of the N. A. A. C. P., and reproduced in Africana Encyclopedia, the Haitian composer Justin Elie was born on September 1, 1883.
An important source on Elie is Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music And Cultural Nationalism, written by Michael Largey and published by The University of Chicago Press (2006):

Born in Cap Haïtien, Elie received his early education in Haiti, studying with pianist Ermine Faubert from 1889 to 1894 and enrolling briefly at the prestigious institution de Saint Louis de Gonzague in Port-au-Prince.

2 Paris Conservatory
Michael Largey writes that Justin Elie attended a prep school in France before studying at the Paris Conservatory:

In 1895, he traveled to France and enrolled at the Cours Masset, a preparatory school for the Paris Conservatory. After gaining admission to the Paris Conservatory in 1901, he studied with Antoine François Marmontel and Charles Wilfred Bériot for piano, Émile Pessard for harmony, and Paul Vital for composition (Dalencour 1983, Herissé n.d.).

3 Return to Haiti
Elie returned to Haiti in 1905, and performed actively with Haitian musicians including Ludovic Lamothe. From 1905 through 1908, the author writes, Elie toured the Haitian localities of St. Marc, Gonaïves, Port-au-Paix, Jacmel, Jérémie and Les Cayes, and Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic.

4 Caribbean Tour
The author describes the importance of touring on Elie's standing as a composer:

At the height of his career, Justin Elie (1883-1931) enjoyed the most prominent international reputation of all the Haitian composers; this reputation was fostered by his frequent trips abroad from his student days on.
He undertook a concert tour in 1909 and 1910, featuring works by European composers, and visited Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Curaçao, Venezuela, and Cuba.  Elie's concerts were especially well received in Jamaica.

5 Méringues Populaires
The author notes the political significance of Justin Elie's
Méringues Populaires:

Justin Elie's Méringues populaires (1920) were a set of six dances published by R. de la Rozier Co. in New York City that set a tone of resistance toward the U.S. occupation, albeit in a form that only Haitian audiences would recognize.

6 Native Americans
The book contrasts the sources of inspiration of Justin Elie and Ludovic Lamothe:

While Ludovic Lamothe looked to Africa and specifically to the Vodou ceremony as sources for his musical compositions, Justin Elie drew on Native American music for his creative inspiration. Elie wrote several pieces that used Indianist musical motifs and descriptive programs that put Native Americans at the center of Haitian musical life. Unlike Lamothe, whose audience was primarily drawn from Haiti, Elie developed his career in the United States.
Between 1910 and 1922, Elie wrote “Chant du Barde Indien” based on a text by Honduran poet Joaquin Bonilla. He also set Haitian poet Jean-Joseph Vilaire's “La Mort de l'Indien” (1916) to music.

7 Vodou
One work in which Justin Elie combined Vodou with Haiti's African religious heritage is Cléopâtre, Largey tells us:

For Justin Elie, Cleopatra provided an ideal dramatic subject to link Vodou with a “classicized” past. Elie wrote the music for a “poème musical en 4 tableaux” called Cléopâtre in 1917. The lyrics for the drama were penned by Louis-Henri Durand, a customs official and amateur poet who also wrote the libretto for Elie's Aphrodite in 1914.
Cléopâtre's connection to the practice of Vodou implicitly pervades the work, other pieces by Elie were explicitly inspired by Haitian traditional religion. Two of Elie's Vodou derived works, “Scènes Vaudouesques” and “Deux Poèmes Vaudouesques,” were written while Elie was beginning his composing career in Haiti (Durand 1983, 2).

8 United States
Justin Elie emigrated to the U.S., followed within six months by his wife, we learn from
Vodou Nation:

Eager to make a career of music composition, Justin Elie left Haiti on 12 September 1922 and moved to New York City.
His wife, Lily, joined him in New York in February 1923 and the two of them performed frequently in recitals that included Elie's compositions.

9 Publishers
The author indicates Elie's arrival in the United States was timely from the standpoint of music publishers:

When Justin Elie arrived in the United States, music publishers were looking for opportunities to capitalize on consumer interest in exotica at home and abroad. Elie's status as a conservatory-trained and Caribbean-born pianist-composer made him an attractive prospect for a music-publishing career. Before emigrating from Haiti in 1921, Elie had already established professional contacts with the music industry in the United States.

He had contracted with QRS Music Company, which produced piano rolls for player pianos.

10 Carl Fischer Music
Michael Largey tells us of a publishing contract Justin Elie made when he reached the United States:

Upon his arrival in the United States, Elie negotiated a contract with Carl Fischer Music, Inc. to publish his music manuscripts. Elie's first compositions with Carl Fischer were his “Haitian Legend” (Légende Créole) for violin and piano (1921), “Prayer at Eventide (Prière du Soir) Invocation No. 2” (1922) for chamber orchestra, and the piano compositions "The Echo (Ismao-o!): Ancient Mountain Legends, No. 1 (Les Chants de la Montagne No. 1)", "Nostalgia (Nostalgie): Ancient Mountain Legends No. 2 (Les Chants de la Montagne No. 2)," and "Nocturne: Ancient Mountain Legends No. 3 (Les Chants de la Montagne No. 3)" (1922).


11 Légende Créole
Légende Créole (5:22), also known as Haytian Legend, is available on a YouTube.com video:


Uploaded on Apr 20, 2011
Jean R Perrault (violin) and Jeanne Doty (piano) perform Légende Créole for violin and piano (also known as Haytian Legend) by Haitian composer Justin Elie. Jean R Perrault and Jeanne Doty are both on the faculty of the University of Minnesota Duluth. This performance took place in Weber Music Hall, on the UMD campus, on February 25, 2008.

12 Kiskaya
Both the publisher and scholars gave Elie credit for an ethnographic knowledge of Native American music which Michael Largey argues is not demonstrated in his works:

The best example of the transformation of a Native American inspirational source into a sensationalized U.S. Indianist vision is in Elie's Kiskaya: An Aboriginal Suite for Orchestra (1928b). As the subtitle implies, the piece is meant to invoke the music of aboriginal peoples, especially the cultures of Central and South America.

13 Program Notes
The author finds blatant misrepresentations in the unsigned program notes which accompanied

In addition to exaggerating the extent of Elie's travels (as noted earlier, he traveled to the Caribbean, but made only a brief concert appearance in
Venezuela), the author of the program notes obscures the specifically Haitian inspiration for the suite by erroneously identifying the setting of
Kiskaya as somewhere in western Brazil, despite the title's clear reference to the Native American name for Hispanola, or Quisqueya.
Kiskaya, Elie emphasized the Native American connections Haiti had with its Latin American neighbors at the expense of the African roots of Haitian culture.

14 Radio
The book recounts Justin Elie's successes in radio:

Elie was able to parlay his success with Kiskaya into other employment opportunities as a composer. In May 1931, Elie negotiated an arrangement with the National Broadcasting Company to provide, conduct, and arrange music for a weekly radio program called “The Lure of the Tropics” on radio station WEAF in New York City (“Programs for Today” 1931). His compositions were also heard frequently in concerts by the United Service Orchestra, a radio orchestra that by 1931 had given fifty-three concerts of music by Latin American composers (“Service Orchestra is Lauded” 1931).

15 Films
Elie also enjoyed success in the film industry, the author reports:

In addition, Elie provided music for silent films. Ray Hart, conductor of the Rialto Orchestra, used one of Elie's pieces as an overture to the 1925 film, The Phantom of the Opera (Somers, n.d.). Elie also arranged other composers' works for silent films; Paramount Studios, for example, asked Elie to make an arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.

16 Fantaisie Tropicale
Largey writes that one work had the potential of assuring Justin Elie's legacy:

Unfortunately, the work that might have secured Elie's name in the memories of concert-going audiences in the United States was never published.  His Fantaisie Tropicale (1930) is a single-movement work for piano that was first performed on 13 July 1930 by Bolivian pianist Lolita Cabrera in a concert sponsored by the General Electric Company (Dalencour 1983, 14).

17 Death
The author tells us Elie's death came suddenly on Dec. 3, 1931:

In spite of its technical and artistic merits, Fantaisie Tropicale was never published due to Elie's sudden death on 3 December 1931 of a cerebral hemorrhage. His body was sent to Haiti where it was buried at a ceremony officiated by Elie's friend and fellow musician, Occide Jeanty.
Elie was like U.S.-based African American composers of his day, expected to conform to white racial expectations, particularly a penchant for the exotic.

18 Recorded Works
Three short pieces by the Haitian composer Justin Elie were recorded with a MIDI guitar on IFA Music Records 256 (1999):
Chant De La Montagne #1, Isma-o! (1:55); Chant De La Montagne #2, Nostalgie (2:17); and Legend Creole (4:10). The CD may be ordered, and an audio sample of Chant De La Montagne #1, Isma-o! may be heard, at: http://cdbaby.com/cd/sainteloi

19 Works
Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma

2 Poèmes vaudouesques, for low voice & piano.  1. Hymne à Danbala; 2. Chant des hounsis; vodoo moon.

----- 1. Hymne à Dambala, for voice & orchestra.

-----  for chorus & orchestra.  Première: Washington DC; Les Petits Chanteurs de Ste. Trinité; Janus Smith, conductor.

6 Haitian meringues.[1]

Aboriginal suite, for orchestra.

Anthnea, for orchestra.  Unfinished.


Ballet vaudouesque, for orchestra (1921).  Première: 1922;

Chants de la montagne,[2] for orchestra.  1. Mélida; 2. Isma-o; 3. Prière du soir; 4. Nostalgie; 5. Nocturne.

----- for piano, violin, viola & cello.  New York: Carl Fischer.

----- 1. Melida; A Creole tropical dance, for orchestra, arr. by Charles J. Roberts.  New York: Carl Fischer, 1927.  5p. (piano score)  (#24318).

----- 2. Isma-o; The echo, for piano.  New York: G. Schirmer.  Library: Spingarn.

----- CD: Jean Ernst Saint-Éloi, guitar, MIDI realised.  (1999; Music of the Haitian masters, vol. 1).

----- 3. Prière du soir; Prayer at eventide, for piano.  New York: Carl Fischer.  Library: Spingarn.

----- 4. Nostalgie; Homesickness, for piano.  New York: G. Schirmer.  Library: Spingarn.

CD: Jean Ernst Saint-Éloi, guitar, MIDI realised.  (1999; Music of the Haitian masters, vol. 1).

----- 5. Nocturne; Ancient mountain legend, for piano.  New York: G. Schirmer.  Library: Spingarn.

Cléopatre, for orchestra.

Concerto, piano, no. 1.

Concerto, piano, no. 2.

Danse tropicale.  Not extant, unless reference is to the initial
    title of Chants de montagne .

Doll's parade.  Library: Spingarn.

Fantasie tropicale, for orchestra.

Grande valse de concert, for orchestra.

Haitian legend, for violin & piano.  New York: G. Schirmer.  Library: Spingarn.

Hymne à Legba.

Indian dance and ritual, for piano.  New York: Carl Fischer.  Library: Spingarn.

La kiskaya; suite aborigene, for orchestra.  Also known as Quisqueye.

La mort de l'indien, for medium voice & piano.  Text: Joseph Vilaire.

La nuit dans les Andes, for orchestra.  Containbs Evocation.

Lamentations, for medium voice & piano.  Text: Henri Durand.

Le chant du bard indien, for medium voice & piano.  Text: Joaquin Bonilla.

Légende créole, for violin & piano.  New York: G. Schirmer.

----- CD: Jean Ernst Saint-Éloi, guitar, MIDI realised.  (ca. 1999; Music of the Haitian masters, vol. 1).

Lorsque je serais vieux et que tu serais vielle, fpr medium voice & piano.  Text: Georges Sylvain.


Night of Babylon suite.

----- Queen of the night.  New York: n.d.  Library: Library of Congress, Spingarn.

Night in the Andes.

Procession of the shadow.

Quiétude, for medium voice & piano.  Text: Henri Durand.

Quisqueya; Suite quisqueya; Kiskaya, for orchestra.  New York: Carl Fischer.  1. Dans le temple du Dieu Soleil; 2. Procession des ombres; 3. Danse de l'homme des grottoes.  Library: Spingarn.

Rumba.  Library: Spingarn.

Rustic scherzo, for piano or organ.  New York: T. B. Harms.

Suite aborigène, for orchestra.

Suite Babylone, for orchestra.

Suite orientale; La reine des nuits, for piano.

Tropical dance, no. 1, for piano.

Tropical dance, no. 2, for piano.  New York: Carl Fischer.  Library: Spingarn.

Voudoe, ballet.


[1] If Méringues populaires haitiennes (for piano.  New York: 1920.  7p.) is not a title of this work, it is a separate title.


[2] Saint-Eloi (2004) lists Isma-o as the first of this set, and Nostalgie as the second, although this may refer to the sequence on the cited recording.


20 Bibliography

Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma

Elie, Justin, 1883-“in Crisis, v11 (1916/I) p118.

The music store”
http://www.culturalenlightenment.com/projects.html. 2p.
Consulted 1003/VI/15.

Buckingham, James Silk. “Emidee, a Negro musician” in Black
perspective in music
, v1n2 (1973/fall) p175-177.

Cultural Enlightenment Association of Ifé== http://www.culturalenlightenment.com/Jeansainteloi/html.
3p. Consulted 2003/VI/15.

Cultural Enlightenment Association of Ifé. “Justin Elie (1883-
1931)” http://culturalenlightenment.com/Justinelie.html.
2p. Consulted 2002/VII/7.

Dauphin, Claude. Notes pour l’audition de Ludovic Lamothe,
Claude Dauphin, Edouard Wooley, Justin Elie, Werner
Jaegerhuber, Michel-Étienne Descourtilz, Robert Durand,
Carmen Brouard
. Montréal: Société des Recherche et de
Diffusion de la Musique Haitienne, 1979. 11p.

Grenier, Robert. “La mélodie vaudoo, Voodoo art songs; The
genesis of a nationalist music in the Republic of Haiti” in

Black music research journal, v21n1 (2001/I), p29-74.

Horne, Aaron. String music by Black American composers.
Westport: Greenwood Press, 1991 (Music reference collection, no. 33). xx, 327p. Foreword by Dominique-René de Lerma.

Lassègue, Frank. “Études critiques sur la musique
haïtienne, première série” in Bibliothèque haïtienne
. Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie du Sacre-
Coeur, 1919.

Lerma, Dominique-René de. Black concert and recital music;
A provision list
. Bloomington IN: AAMA, 1975.

Ratner, Conrad. “Justin Elie and the revival of the music of
the natives of Latin America” in Musical monitor, v14n2
(1923) p7-8.

Saint-Éloi, Jean Ernst. http://catchmusic.net/catchweb/View
. (2004). 3p. Consulted 2006/V/15.

Southern, Eileen. Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and
African musicians.
Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982.
(Greenwood world encyclopedia of Black music).

The UCLA language materials project. “Haitian Creole profile” http://www.Imp.ucla.edu/profiles/profO1.htm. 3-. Consulted

Zick, William J. “Composers of African descent; Music in the
Western classical tradition by African, African Americans,
and African Europeans”
27p. (2003). Consulted 2003/IX/23.


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