Author: Geoffrey Lehmann

Music and Language, Cultural Identity and Fame

In this essay I hope to cover all the topics above – an ambitious ask – and suggest why some great composers are forgotten and then revived. In particular there is the mystery of J. S. Bach. Why was Johann Sebastian highly regarded during his lifetime, but only as one good composer among many, then forgotten, and now regarded as one of the great geniuses of all time, ranking with Albert Einstein, Michelangelo and Shakespeare? In 1846 a group of “Ethiopian Serenaders”, including a New Yorker, my great-grandfather John Cragin Rainer, performed for Queen Victoria, their faces painted black and lips white. The jokes were suitably toned down for the royal family. While on tour in the United States Rainer’s forehead was grazed by a bullet from a man in the audience, who presumably thought the black faced minstrels were black. In 1852 he arrived in Sydney from the Californian goldfields with his group, “Rainer’s Original Ethiopian Serenaders”. If his would-be assassin had been a better shot I would not be writing this article now. …