Florence Price: African Spirituals meets Western Romanticism

Nationality: American

Born: 9th April 1887 – Little Rock, Arkansas

Died: 3rd June 1953 – Chicago, Illinois

Music period: Nationalist, Modern

Biography:

Florence Price is a legend, she was the first African American woman to have a symphony played by a major orchestra. Born Florence Beatrice Smith in Little Rock, Arkansas, she was lucky to be born with a music teacher for a mother who nurtured Florence’s talent from a young age and saw she got her first composition published at just 11 years old. Florence finished school at 14, despite racial tensions she went on to study organ at the New England Conservatory of Music and graduate at just 19 years old.

However, despite this prodigious early start in life it wasn’t until she was middle aged that she was able to achieve success as a composer. After university she became a teacher, married, had children. In 1927 she moved to Chicago to escape persecution and this meant she was able to study composition with various high profile teachers and at prestigious institutions. In 1931 she and her husband divorced and she became a single mother. But, in 1932, at the age of 45 she entered and won a national competition with her 1st Symphony and the following year the symphony was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

From this point in 1933 until her death two decades later Price was a respected and popular composer. She composed over 300 pieces including 4 symphonies and 2 violin concertos, a few glorious orchestral suites, a lot of insanely beautiful choral music and organ music.

Sadly after her death in 1953 her music faded away and a large chunk of it, including her 2nd symphony was lost. It wasn’t until 2009 when some random people were renovating a house in Illinois that they found vast amounts of her old scores in the attic, just lying there.

Why do I love her?

Florence Price ignited a love for classical music that I thought died 13 years ago. Her music enthrals in a way I don’t think I’ve felt since I was 9 and my parents took me to see The Nutcracker for the first time.

Price’s music is full of vibrant colours especially because she uses a lot of wind and brass instrumentation in her compositions, it’s not just all about the strings.

She mixes black spiritual music and African American church music with Western romantic styles, a lot of blues tones and gospel flavours.

Some of her works are arrangements and embellishments on folksongs and spirituals such as her Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint, think along the lines of Holst’s Military Suite in F and Vaughan Williams Folk Song Suite.

 

Where to listen?

You can listen to more of her music by checking out my specially curated Youtube playlist below:

You can also listen to my curated Spotify playlist here:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/f5br4ydnbuxgdiphp0one5y3q/playlist/3XXCuixDoxE8q3tBUWZ9WC

Lastly, I do encourage you to listen and then support her work by buying and downloading recordings of her music.

Where to buy?

There is a particularly amazing recording of her Symphony in E Minor and her Piano Concerto in 1 Mvt by the New Black Music Reportory Ensemble from Chicago and pianist Karen Walwyn, recorded in 2011. See the link below to listen and download it for £8.

https://www.prestomusic.com/classical/products/8026813–recorded-music-of-the-african-diaspora-vol-3

Enjoy all these resources and see you next week for a look into another amazing female composer.

Elizabeth

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