COMPOSITION IN BLACK AND WHITE: The Life of Philippa Schuyler by Kathryn Talalay

COMPOSITION IN BLACK AND WHITE: The Life of Philippa Schuyler

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The story of a child-prodigy pianist and journalist and her troubled family. This book is a three-way portrait of Philippa Schuyler (1931-67); her father, an African-American journalist; and her mother, a domineering southern white. Josephine Cogdell left her family and wealth to pursue a bohemian life in New York City, where she met George Schuyler, a prominent Harlem columnist and editor. Differences in temperament would strain their marriage even before the birth of their daughter. Philippa showed early talent on the keyboard both as performer and composer. Josephine managed her young prodigy and was highly critical of her performances (the young pianist was described by one onlooker as a ""prodigy puppet""). Although accepted as a child phenomenon, once Philippa reached maturity, she found the doors of the American classical music world closed to a black concert pianist. She took refuge in a series of tours, often to Third World countries, where she received recognition for her talent. In the early 1960s, Philippa and her mother hatched a bizarre plan in which she took the name ""Felipa Monterro"" and attempted to relaunch her career. Philippa's natural propensity for writing led her to journalism; she reported on the troubles in the Belgian Congo in the early '60s and on the early days of the Vietnam War, dying in a helicopter crash there in 1967. Her mother, devastated by the loss, committed suicide two years later. Talalay (assistant archivist/editor at the American Academy of Arts and Letters) does a reasonable job of recounting Schuyler's life, although her skimpy musical knowledge leads to occasional howling errors (she asserts that Western classical music is based on ""nonequal temperament""). She also lapses into purple prose from time to time: ""Blind jealousy, hurt pride, puritanical disgust, and utter amazement chased each other in the vortex of his despair."" Aworkmanlike biography that will interest students of African-American studies.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0195113934
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.