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The South‐Grappelli Recordings of the Bach Double Violin Concerto

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Abstract:

Among the earliest known jazz interpretations of Bach's music are two 1937 recordings of the Concerto for Two Violins in D minor featuring the American Eddie South and the Frenchman St├ęphane Grappelli as soloists. Recorded in Paris with an accompaniment by guitarist Django Reinhardt, the discs represent not only an intersection of musical genres, but furthermore an encounter between performers of diverse nationalities and ethnicities. A classically trained African American artist who turned to jazz out of economic necessity, South continued occasionally to perform classical works, often presenting them while adopting a consciously exoticized “gypsy” persona. Reinhardt's cultural trajectory was in some respects the reverse of South's: the guitarist was a Manouche gypsy who gravitated toward American jazz, only rarely acknowledging his own ethnic identity explicitly, though it was reflected in his musical language. The Bach recordings were planned and overseen by the record producer and jazz critic Charles Delaunay, son of the post‐cubist painter Robert Delaunay and raised among France's elite high‐art community during the inter‐war period. In this intellectual milieu, Bach's music was the focus of two distinct aesthetic ideologies (Taruskin “Back”), both of which, I argue, are manifested by the South‐Grappelli recordings. At one level, the recordings present an artisanal Bach whose music can readily be assimilated into vernacular musical idioms like jazz or European gypsy music. But, at the same time, they reflect a conception of Bach's art as a transcendent, universal site where disparate other musical traditions could be engaged on neutral terms.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03007760600670406

Publication date: 2006-07-01

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