Art Music by Caribbean Composers:



Christine Gangelhoff

Cathleen LeGrand

The College of The Bahamas [1]



Haiti has by far the longest history of independence of any of its Caribbean neighbors, having gained independence from France in 1804.  Haiti's tradition of classical music takes root in its colonial heritage.


"[B]y the early 18th century the rich plantation society [of French colonists] was emulating the urban culture of France."  After independence, the French colonists were expelled from the country but the "the cultural standards they established survived" into the next centuries (Grenier & Averill, 2007-2011).  Haitian classical music, "mizik savant ayisyen," is derived from that "desire to retain European standards while including local features" of indigenous musical traditions (Grenier & Averill, 2007-2011).


Haitian composers continue to "draw upon and incorporate the traditional music of Haiti into their compositions as they strive for a sound that is distinctly and identifiably Haitian" (Procopio, 2006, p. 42).  Ludovic Lamothe, known as "The Black Chopin," is among the most prolific and famous of Haiti's classical composers.  "Almost all Lamothes works were written originally for piano and many of them are influenced by Caribbean dance rhythms and African-derived religious music" (Largey, 2007-2011).  Lamothe's piano work, Nibo, serves as an excellent example. Nibo, the "winning submission in a contest for the best Carnival meringue ... was enjoyed by all strata of Haitian society.  Like most Carnival music, gave participants an easily recognizable melody" and used "a dramatic and endlessly repeatable musical phrase that could be easily memorized and subsequently performed by street crowds" ("Ludovic Lamothe," 2011).

Nibo by Lamothe

The works of Haitian composer Julio Racine clearly display a folk-inspired compositional style.  Unlike other composers who incorporate folk elements in a melodic manner, Racine relies more on rhythmic aspects to develop themes. I use rhythmic development in my music, because Haitian music is essentially rhythmic.  In fact most every instrument in folk is a one-pitch instrument, which tells you it's mainly rhythmic (J. Racine, personal communication, July 2011).  In his work, Tangente au Yanvalou for flute and piano, Racine invokes the folkloric rhythms of the Yanvalou.  He manipulates the meter to suggest the folk rhythm: sometimes it will miss one step, sometimes it will have one step too many, until it finally becomes the Yanvalou (Racine, 2011).

Tangente au Yanvalou

L'Ecole de musique Sainte Trinite, the renowned music school where Haitian composer Julio Racine was on faculty for many years, used to house a "manuscript collection of Haitian folk music and music by Haitian composers, orchestral music and arrangements for orchestra" (Dower, 1977, p. 32).  Tragically, the Ecole was destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince.  L'ecole de musique Sainte Trinite is also home to Haiti's only philharmonic orchestra.


The Societe de recherche et de diffusion de la musique Haitienne (SRDMH, Society for the Research and Diffusion of Haitian Music), a non-profit founded in Montreal in 1977 by Claude Dauphin, has a large collection of materials (textual and musical) documenting the classical music of Haiti.  The SRDMH also produces a variety of concerts and musical events to promote Haitian classical music.



Dower, C. (1977). Libraries with music collections in the Caribbean islands. Notes (Second Series), 34(1), 27-38. doi:10.2307/897276

Grenier, R., & Averill, G. (2007-2011). Haiti. Grove Music Online / Oxford Music Online. Retrieved from 

Largey, M. (2007-2011). Ludovic Lamothe. Grove Music Online / Oxford Music Online. Retrieved from

Ludovic Lamothe (1882-1953): Haitian composer & pianist. (2011). Retrieved from

Procopio, M. (2006) Crossing borders: Solo and chamber music for flute by Haitian composers. The Flutist Quarterly, 32(1), 38-43. Retrieved from


[1]Christine Gangelhoff, Assistant Professor, School of Communication and Creative Arts; Cathleen LeGrand, Public Services Librarian, Libraries and Instructional Media Services, The College of The Bahamas, P.O. Box N-4912, Nassau, Bahamas.

Cathleen LeGrand is now Librarian, at Royal Thimphu College, Ngabiphu, Thimphu, Bhutan.

Acknowledgments: The authors would like to thank Mary Procopio, Maestro Julio Racine, Thurgot Theodat and Jean R. Perrault for their help in compiling this chapter.

The authors are grateful to The College of The Bahamas for the grant that made this research possible.


How to cite this article in APA 6th ed. style: Gangelhoff, C., & LeGrand, C. (2011). Art music by Caribbean composers: Haiti. The International Journal of Bahamian Studies, 17(1), 25-42. Retrieved from

Copyright (c) 2011 C. Gangelhoff & C. LeGrand