Claudio Jose Brindis de Salas
During the first half of the nineteenth century most of the people of Cuba were of African origin, which explains the strength and influence of their culture, especially black-mulatto musicality, distinguished by its immense creativity, extraordinary force and captivating originality. This music reached the largest number of performers and fans compared to the music from the Iberian peninsula, to the point that its rhythms, initially considered by white people as savage, came to be incorporated as their own. One of the black musicians that influenced that process was undoubtedly Jose Claudio Brindis de Salas, son of another black musician of the same name.
At first glance it incomprehensible that aspects of the culture of seemingly underachieving people can become dominant, but when we explore a bit in history and we come into contact with figures like Brindis de Salas, father and son, the mystery disappears. The moral is, to paraphrase Walterio Carbonell, without the knowledge of the particularities of the African cultures that influenced us we can not understand the process of formation of the Cuban nation
Brindis de Salas the father — the brother of the Count of Casa Bayona, whom his mother nursed — was famous in Havana in the mid-nineteenth century. Brindis became one of the most educated and famous blacks of the time, he cultivated poetry, was a composer, bandleader and musician of the Battalions of Browns and Mulattos. During the events of the Conspiracy of the Ladder, in 1844, he was arrested and tortured along with thousands of other blacks, expelled from the island and subsequently arrested for returning illegally. After being released, unable to recover his few possessions, he tried unsuccessfully to recreate his old orchestra until he died in extreme poverty.
Brindis de Salas, Jr., unlike his father, was born when the figure had entered Havana society and already had a solid cultural background. When, according to the musicologist Serafin Ramirez, music was the delight of all, the cultivation of art was widespread and opera companies and concerts of the first order quite frequently visited Havana.
Brindis de Salas began his studies with his father and continued them with Van der Guth, a famous Belgian concert pianist based in Havana who was affectionately called “attack violin,” with whom he progressed remarkably, but it was thanks to his studies at the Paris Conservatory with the most famous teachers of the time, that the union of talent and ideal conditions resulted in one of the most extraordinary musical figures of the nineteenth century.
His musical aptitude was evident from an early age. At age eight he composed a dance called The Sympathizer and two years later he debuted at the Lyceum of Havana with great success. Since the beginning of his studies, and in every performance in Paris, Brindis a long career was marked by triumphs. His natural talents, refined and enriched by study, gave an enviable expertise in the domain of the instrument and the audience. “It would seem,” wrote a French commentator of the time, “as if a hidden hand draws the most sublime notes from the instrument, making them appear as emanating from heaven.”
Once he completed his studies he triumphed in Italy, the country of origin of the violin, where he performed at the Conservatory of Milan and the Scala Theatre, and in Berlin, he was appointed chamber musician to the Emperor. Also St. Petersburg, London, Portugal and Spain were witnesses to his expertise. In Argentina, fans bought him a genuine Stradivarius, in Mexico, although acting almost simultaneously with another violinist Jose White — another black violinist from Cuba, who also graduated at the Conservatory of Paris — he also triumphed. Venezuela, Central America and Cuba enjoyed his wonders.
International critics in particular acclaimed his art and named him the King of Octaves and the Cuban Paganini. In these critical comments we find expressions such as: extraordinary talent who speaks six or seven languages, possessor of a legitimate arc portamento while an energy that has printed the momentum characteristic of his race, shows a deep understanding, reveals a wonderful spontaneity in his creations and a boldness in style worthy of the immense talent of the artist.
His strong personality led to uncontrollable negative consequences for his life. In Germany he lost the relationship with his wife and three children, who following the family tradition were also violinists, and inconsistency in maintaining his skills generated a clear decline in his artistic genius. Thus, the excesses of his exalted temperament, spurred by the glory, undermined his health: tuberculosis and destitution invaded. Its decline was evident in his last concert at the Teatro Espinel in Spain.
We cannot ignore the memory of such famous black musician, awarded the Grand Cross of the Black Eagle, a member of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Austrian orders; the chamber violinist of the Emperor of Germany, who carried his fame and insolence out into the world to return to die in Buenos Aires, the scene of his former triumphs, in extreme isolation and poverty on June 2, 1911.