Discovering Florence Price

A review in the SF Chronicle of a concert by the Oakland Symphony conducted by Michael Morgan mentioned the Afro American composer Florence Price. The concert on January 25, 2019, seemed to have been a huge success. The reviewer, Joshua Kosman, hears references to Antonin Dvorak in Price’s music but also American musical elements. That intrigued me to find out more about Florence Price.

Luckily I found recordings of some of her works on Apple Music. The first album I listened to contains Price’s Concerto in One Movement for Piano and Orchestra. A wonderful, late romantic concerto. Furthermore the album contains her 1st Symphony E Minor. She wrote this symphony in 1932 for the Wanamaker Foundation Awards and won the first price. The Chicaco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frederick Stock premiered the symphony in 1933. It was the first piece by a female Afro American composer ever player by a major US symphony orchestra.

Price was born in 1887 into a mixed-race family in Arkansa. Her mother, a music teacher, introduced Florence to the piano and to composing. One could almost call her a prodigy. Her first composition was performed when she was only 11. Florence Price studied at the New England Conservatory pretending to be Mexican in the hope that racial issues would not hinder her studies. She returned to Little Rock in Arkansa where she married a lawyer. Racial incidents and lynching forced the young family in 1927 to move to Chicago. After her divorce, a financially difficult time in the Great Depression as a single mother she became friends with other musicians and composers, in particular with Margaret Bonds. They seemed to have inspired each other. Price passed away in 1953. After her death a lot of her work was lost. Only in 2009 a part of her compositions was found by chance and is now published by G. Schirmer.

Besides her symphonic works, Price wrote pieces for piano, for organ and for smaller ensembles. Her songs are particularly beautiful. Following her roots she also composed choral works and spirituals.

One can only hope that her fantastic works are discovered by more conductors, pianists and singers.

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