aficionados of classical music will be aware of the name
Joseph Sickman Corsen and none will have any of his recorded
music because the review disc is the very first commercial
recording ever made.
was born on the island of Curaçao, the Netherlands Antilles
on 13 December 1853. Jo, as his friends knew him, grew up
in a family where literature and music were a way of life.
His early music tutelage included his father and uncle Chris
Ulder (1843-1895) who was a music teacher, composer, conductor,
pianist and organ player.
was however for his skills as a poet that Corsen became
more appreciated on Curaçao. He was the first poet to write
in the local language Papiamentu. While he also functioned
as a conductor, bandmaster, organ player and editor of the
‘Notas i Letras’, the first weekly paper on Curaçao, he
still found time to create an oeuvre of more than one hundred
poems and by estimate the same number of musical compositions.
preferred to write in Spanish and his tenderness is reflected
in the fact that many of his compositions have Spanish names.
In time people forgot that he had been a professional musician
and music teacher, and that aside from the well-known poet,
a meritorious composer. That no opportunity to record his
music existed only accelerated this process.
music of J.S. Corsen is categorised as Antillean classical
music; a blend of Antillean folk and European classical
music, it personifies the salon-style which was popular
in the latter part of the 19th century. Corsen was very
original in his compositions and each has a different ‘vibe’
and is said to be distinctive from that of his local contemporaries;
his attitudes as a poet permeated his music.
him the composer and pianist Wim Statius Muller said: ‘
One would listen in vain for poor voice leading; not a single
parallel fifth will be heard. His writing is
clever and idiomatic; his harmonic structures interesting,
his modulations smooth. All this is no mean feat for a partly
autodidactic composer living far from the music capitals
of the world in a small community.’
strong initial impression of the review disc was immediate
association with another solo piano programme by his contemporary,
Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth (Naxos 8.557687 - see
There are some interesting commonalities shared by these
two composers: each was inspired by the folk music of his
country and also strongly influenced by the great classical
composers such as Chopin, Listz and Schubert. The influence
of Gottschalk is particularly apparent in the music of Corsen.
Nazareth wrote more than eighty Brazilian tangos and more
than forty waltzes. Corsen’s cultural music influence included
Caribbean dances like waltzes, danzas, mazurkas and tumba,
but akin to Nazareth he was not happy to write only in the
of European music and cultural tastes together with local
prejudice inhibited the growth of
Brazilian classical music during Nazareth’s lifetime. For
Corsen it was probably the combination of his status as a
poet and the overshadowing of his musical identity by several
other composers of salon-style music that deprived him of
recognition as a worthwhile composer.
this occasion a great-grandson, Randal Corsen, performs
J.S. Corsen’s works. Born in Curaçao in 1972 he is renowned
as a jazz pianist, and in 2004 was honoured with the ‘Edison
Jazz Awards’, the most prestigious music award in the Netherlands,
for his album ‘Evolushon’.
may harbour initial apprehensions about a jazz pianist undertaking
a recording of Antillean classical music but these are quickly
dispelled. If there is any truth in speculation that musicians
have greater empathy for music composed by their fellow
countrymen it is certainly exemplified in this recording.
Here that conclusion may be partly clouded by the fact that
Randal Corsen is playing the music of his great-grandfather
and consequently any empathy factor is compounded; for whatever
reasons the end result is excellent. While there are no
recorded comparisons available, in absolute terms the playing
is very free and reflects the improvisational skills of
the player. I was always impressed with the renditions of
Nazareth’s music by fellow Brazilian Iara Behs but Corsen’s
playing is more fluid and particularly suited to the origin
and roots of this music.
Corsen was an undemanding man, modest in his dealings with
others and gladly gave away his compositions, which is one
of the reasons that a number have been lost. From an estimated
oeuvre of one hundred works, twenty-three are presented
on the review disc and there are some absolute treasures
here. If you are someone who likes to read the last page
of a book first try Wals No 12  and 1893 .
any musical odyssey, few new and previously unfrequented
ports-of-call will bestow so many delights as this music
by J.S. Corsen. Having heard this unjustifiably obscure
music played so well, one cannot help feeling inspired and