FLORENCE PRICE (1887–1953): Concert Overtures Nos. 1 and 2 • Songs of the Oak • The Oak • Colonial Dance • Suite of Dances. Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen, cond. John Jeter
Catalogue Number: 12Y003
Description: The ongoing process of rediscovery of Florence Price's music suggests that she amply deserves to be considered a major figure in the history of American Romantic music - not limited by her rôle as a pioneering Black composer (which she was) or female composer (ditto). Her promising career in the South having been curtailed by the pervasive racial violence of the time, Price relocated to Chicago in 1927, which is where she turned to orchestral music for the first time; such of these works as were performed were met with considerable, if intermittent, success. Her deep engagement with the history of the Black experience in America found its expression in her belief that "… we already have a folk music in the Negro spirituals”, and her eloquent use of their memorable melodies in her symphonies (01U002, 12X008), and the two concert overtures here. These splendid, substantial works hold their own in the company of their European equivalents, on which they are modelled - Dvořák is an obvious influence - while their lush harmonies and sumptuous orchestration strongly suggests that, had history taken a different course, she could have enjoyed success in Hollywood. They are structurally sophisticated; the first explores the Spiritual "Sinner, Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass" (which was also the basis of Price’s Fantasie Nègre No. 1 for solo piano) as a glorious chorale and in a series of dramatic episodes based on fragments of the theme. The second is based on three spirituals, presented in turn – "Go Down, Moses"; "Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen"; and "Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit". The character of their successive sections evolves from sombre, to poignant, to ebullient. The second half combines melodic fragments from the three previous sections into a unified peroration. The symphonic poems Songs of the Oak, and The Oak, both written in 1943, are different tellings of the same tale which share no thematic material but have a good deal in common in idiom. Richly evocative in their woodland imagery, they are both centred on the idea of the mighty, perennial oak tree as protector of the forest and its denizens. Grand chords from the full brass section represent the unshakable oak, while the woodland creatures and birds are vividly depicted with scurrying and fluttering imitation in winds and strings. The effect of the whole is more than a little Wagnerian. Price regarded dance as an integral part of African-American culture, writing: “Rhythm is of preeminent importance. In the dance, it is a compelling, onward-sweeping force that tolerates no interruption." Colonial Dance is an energetic romp in triple time, while the Suite of Dances is the composer’s richly orchestrated version of her "Three Little Negro Dances" for solo piano, a collection written for advanced students with the movement titles Hoe Cake, Rabbit Foot, and Ticklin’ Toes. Undated, they were published in 1933 after Price’s move to Chicago, but could conceivably have been written for her piano studio in the 1920s. Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen, cond. John Jeter.