The cultural convergences and foreign commodities of the Atlantic world provided rich fodder for seventeenth- and eighteenth-century musicians, appearing in everything from folk music to French opera.

From the Playlist

The three selections from the playlist below were featured in the exhibition in the Society of Winterthur Fellows gallery. Considering the objects in their contemporary soundscape is one way to think about these pieces from a new perspective.


From The First Part of Ayres (Musicall Humours)

Tobias Hume

London, England; 1605

As a bawdy popular song, British Captain Tobias Hume’s “Tobacco” would have been right at home in any tavern throughout the Atlantic world. The song compares the addictive qualities of the plant to romantic love, speaking to a burgeoning obsession already apparent in the early seventeenth century.

“Essequibo River”


Notated as a sea shanty, “Essequibo River” is thought to have been introduced to British soldiers by enslaved Africans in seventeenth-century Guyana. The song is arranged in the call and response form, a type of phrasing traditionally found in music of African cultures.

Les Indes Galantes, RCT 44

Jean-Phillipe Rameau

Première entrée: “Le turc généreux”

Scène VI: “Air pour les esclaves africains”

Paris, France; 1735

Capitalizing on the colonial European fascination with foreign cultures, Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s most popular opera is set in four foreign locales across the globe, including North and South America. Strong inspiration for the final act, “Les sauvages,” may stem from contemporary responses to a 1725 performance of two Native Americans at a Paris theatre. Listen closely to hear the tambourine, a hallmark of exoticism in baroque music.