The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Rediscovering the music of composer Florence Price is a great way to start the celebration of Black History Month | February 3, 2019

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By Jacob Stockinger

February is Black History Month.

There are a lot of African-American performers and composers to emphasize during the month. Check out this exhaustive listing – conveniently organized into categories such as composers, conductors and pianists — in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:African-American_classical_musicians

But this year one of the best ways to mark the event is to rediscover the composer Florence Price (below, in photos from the University of Arkansas Libraries).

Much of her work was until recently hidden in 30 boxes in her abandoned and dilapidated summer home located 70 miles south of Chicago.

A good introduction to Price (1887-1953) – who was famous in her day and was the first African-American woman composer to be performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — can be found in the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio (NPR).

https://www.npr.org/2019/01/21/686622572/revisiting-the-pioneering-composer-florence-price

Here is a link to an excerpt from a new Albany recording of her two violin concertos:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/02/09/584312486/songs-we-love-florence-price-violin-concerto-no-2

And if you want to hear more of what her music sounds like check out the YouTube video at the bottom that has excerpts from the new Naxos recording, in the American Classics line, with her Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4.

You can also find quite a bit more of Price’s music, including a piano concerto, a piano sonata and orchestral suites, on YouTube.

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3 Comments »

  1. Certainly agree here — I often read about how Gershwin and Bernstein should be regarded as great American composers, in large part because they were able to provide convincing crossover works between Popular and Classical music spheres — but, uh, where’s Duke Ellington? Certainly belongs in the same pantheon of those two, and for the same reason. And I consider Jazz to be THE greatest contribution to music in the 20th Century, and fully deserves to be regarded as “Black Classical Music” — it is as demanding from a technical standpoint, and is based upon musical assumptions that, while different, are equivalently logical and complex.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — February 4, 2019 @ 9:37 am

    • I fully agree: good post.

      Plus, there’s lots of crossovers between jazz and classical music and more awaiting to be made (except for the warthogs in classical music who might object). Astor Piazzolla, for instance, was not black but a classically trained musician/composer whose music bridges the gap. Oscar Peterson was black and he could play both classical and jazz music, in fact, he was trained as a classical music pianist by a descendant of Liszt.

      I have often considered Gershwin as America’s greatest composer (and how sad it was that he died early). Sorry, Charles Ives is not on my list: he was an insurance salesman. His music is horrid and most of it completely a ripoff of others.

      Comment by fflambeau — February 4, 2019 @ 5:03 pm

  2. Let’s face up to it. Jazz, not classical music, was the place where talented black composers went.

    The Duke is still King.

    Comment by fflambeau — February 3, 2019 @ 8:34 pm


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