June 2nd marked the death of Claudio Brindis de Salas (1852-1911), the famous Cuban violinist who was also known as the “King of the Octaves” or the “Black Paganini.” Brindis de Salas was born in Havana, Cuba, of unmixed African parentage; despite racial discrimination, he was acclaimed by audiences around the world for his brilliance, passionate style, and exceptional talent. As he was described in Paris after a virtuoso performance, “one would say that some hand surpassing human powers was drawing from the instrument notes that seemed to come straight from the skies.”
At the age of ten Brindis de Sala achieved much success at a recital in Havana, after which his father (also a violinist and his teacher) took him to Paris where he won the first prize at the Paris Conservatory. Following this success the young violinist made a tour of Europe, appearing in the principal concert halls of Milan, Turin, Florence, London, and Berlin, where he swept the audiences off their feet. He was not yet fourteen when he was hailed as a musical genius of the time. In Music in Cuba, Alejo Carpentier refers to him as “the most extraordinary of the black musicians of the nineteenth century” and “an unprecedented case in the musical history of the continent.”
He traveled around the globe performing in many European countries, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. He lived for a period of time in Haiti, where he was the director of the Musical Conservatory. In France he was awarded the Legion of Honor; and in Germany, Emperor William I bestowed on him the Order of the Black Eagle, made him a German citizen, raised him to the rank of baron. Although he married a German noble woman with whom he had several children, he did not remain in Germany because “combined with his artistic fire was a wanderlust that made it impossible for him to live a domestic life.” After achieving such extraordinary international fame, he died penniless in Buenos Aires, Argentina, prematurely aged and weakened by alcohol and tuberculosis.
For biography (in English), see http://www.marcusgarvey.com/wmview.php?ArtID=490&page=2
For biography (in Spanish), see http://www.trabajadores.cu/secciones/cuba/cuba_por_dentro/los-brindis-de-salas-celebridades-de-la-musica-cubana