Piano Concerto in One Movement
b. Little Rock, Arkansas, USA / April 9, 1887; d. Chicago, Illinois, USA / June 3, 1953
The first female African-American composer to earn a national reputation, and to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra, Florence Price enjoyed considerable renown during her lifetime. In recent years, she has come to be recognized as a significant American composer of the 1930s and 1940s. Selections from her 300 compositions have been performed by such celebrated musicians as soprano Leontyne Price and contralto Marian Anderson.
After early music instruction from her mother, she continued her studies at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. George Chadwick, the Director of the Conservatory, recognized her talent and took her on as a private pupil. By the time she graduated in 1906, she had already been composing for several years.
During the 1920s, she began to win awards for her music. After the successful début of Symphony No. 1, other orchestras began to perform her compositions. Further recognition resulted from Marian Anderson’s performances of Price’s arrangement of the traditional spiritual My soul’s been anchored in the Lord, and Price’s original composition, Songs to the Dark Virgin. The latter piece was hailed in the Chicago Daily News as “one of the greatest immediate successes won by an American song.”
In addition to 100 songs – her best-known works – her catalogue of music includes orchestral and choral pieces, and music for piano, organ and chamber ensembles. Orchestral works include four symphonies, concertos for violin and piano, and a variety of overtures, tone poems, suites and dance pieces. The style she adopted in her classical works was basically conservative late-Romantic, infused at times with echoes of her experience in popular music, and her African-American heritage.
The accomplished and quite attractive Piano Concerto in One Movement was premiered in Chicago in 1934 with Price herself as the soloist. There is no evidence of its being performed after the 1930s and there are no copies of the composer’s manuscript of the orchestral score. Composer Trevor Weston was commissioned to reconstruct the concerto’s orchestration in order to revive it.
Although it is technically in one movement, there are three distinct sections played without a break, following the practice established by such composers as Liszt and Mendelssohn. The first begins with an introduction in slow tempo, and continues with an urgent and lyrical principal section. The slow-tempo central panel is tender, nostalgic and more lightly scored than the opening section. The concerto concludes with a sprightly example of a juba, a folk dance that was popular in the years before the Civil War, a sort of proto-rag.
Program Notes by Don Anderson © 2019