Music Moment: Claudio Brindis De Salas Garrido

Claudio José Brindis de Salas y Garrido with violin
Claudio José Brindis de Salas y Garrido. Public Domain Image

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Claudio José Brindis de Salas y Garrido. A renowned violinist, born in Cuba in 1852. A contemporary journalist described his playing, and the effect it had on his listeners.

“His eyes sparkled. His fingers multiplied…reaching into the deep nerves of the melody…leading a rapt audience to drunken emotion.”

Brindis de Salas began astonishing music lovers on the streets of Havana at age 11. Shortly thereafter, patrons in Argentina gifted him with an original Stradivarius. He found his way to France, where he graduated from the Paris Conservatory with the First Prize, and where he received a knighthood in the Legion of Honor. To Germany, where he married into nobility, becoming a baron and, by edict of the Kaiser, a recipient of the Black Eagle Cross. To Russia, where he fully justified the nickname “The King of Octaves.” To Italy, where a newspaper admiringly dubbed him “The Black Paganini.”

Brindis de Salas was a tall, handsome, elegant black man. A musician acclaimed for the grace, as well as the technical prowess, of his playing. He spoke seven languages fluently and, at the height of his career, enjoyed a lavish, bohemian lifestyle in the classic nineteenth-century fashion. Alas, like too many other artists, he died, destitute and largely forgotten, in Buenos Aires in 1911, having sold his beloved Strad for a mere ten pesos. At the pawnshop, he hugged and kissed the violin, “like a child,” the shopkeeper reported.

In the century-plus since his passing, the world has slowly come to revisit the genius of Claudio Brindis de Salas, even honoring him before the United Nations General Assembly. All the same, his full legacy remains to be examined and appreciated.

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