• Henry Stoll
  • Department of Musicology, Harvard University
  • Abstract Title: "Mais li pas en criole": Singing French, Sounding Sovereign

Bio: Henry is a Ph.D. candidate in historical musicology at Harvard University. His research favors the music of Latin America and the Caribbean, specializing in opera, transatlantic history, and Haiti. At Harvard, he is an affiliate of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute and is a candidate for the Certificate in Latin American Studies. His research today is funded by a Frederick Sheldon Fellowship, a John Carter Brown Library Associates Fellowship, and grants from the American Musicological Society, the Society for American Music, and the Charles Warren Center. Henry is a very proud alumnus of Rutgers, having received his undergraduate degree summa cum laude from the Mason Gross School of Music and the French department.

Abstract: With the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), Haiti expelled its French oppressors, becoming the first independent nation in Latin America, the first to abolish slavery, and the only to be established by a slave rebellion. Its first leaders set about making Haiti a nation worthy of the world’s approbation, building palaces, schools, fortresses, theaters—and, as I will show, commissioning music for the glorification of their country. In this paper, I will introduce the music of early Haiti through an opera written and performed for the Haitian monarchy: L'Entrée du Roi, en sa capitale (“The Entrance of the King in His Capital,” 1818). Interspersed with parodies on melodies from the French Revolution, the opera is most remarkable for its opening scene—a dialogue between two Creole-speaking lovers, Marguerite and Valentin. This transliteration of Haitian Creole dates among the earliest writings in the language and is doubly notable for its verisimilitude and latter-day legibility. Many Haitian proverbs discuss the relationship between Haitian Creole and French—Pale franse pa di lespri pou sa (Speaking French doesn’t mean you’re smart), Kreyòl pale, kreyòl komprann (Creole spoken, Creole understood), Li pale frances (He speaks French [so he is likely deceitful]). And indeed, hidden in Marguerite and Valentin’s chirpy banter is a critique of Haitian decolonization—of linguistic prestige, Enlightenment thought, and the act of translation. I ask, why is theater—particularly musical theater—so valuable to the study of intercultural encounters and Afro-diasporic voice? And ultimately, what is the relationship between translation and sovereignty? Excerpts from this opera will be heard.

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