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Spotlight on Classical Organ Music Composed by those of African Descent (Part 1 of 4)

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  • Spotlight on Classical Organ Music Composed by those of African Descent (Part 1 of 4)

    Hello, I'm DEWII, your friendly neighborhood musicologist. You might remember me from such posts as Who/what are we not playing enough of? Who are your "forgotten masters"? or Wanted: A practice organ (or: "Bench time! Bench time! My kingdom for some bench time!").

    In honor of Black History Month, I have decided to begin a spotlight series on the oft-neglected oeuvre of "serious" or "classical" organ music put out by Black composers. As the title states, it will be a limited series (for both want of time and want of recordings). I do hope, however, that this musicological offering will spur some of you to seek out more of this rich body of work.

    I will dispense with a formal biography in all of these posts, but I will always endeavor to provide five or so "fun facts" as well as a few sources should anyone be desirous of them.

    The first composer up for consideration is Florence Beatrice Smith Price (1887-1953), professionally and variously known as Florence Price, Florence B. Price, F. B. Price, and Vee Jay.


    *****

    Facts about Florence Price
    1. Price, during her studies at the New England Conservatory, had the opportunity to play the finale of Guilmant's Organ Sonata no. 1 for the composer himself. History records that he was so impressed with her playing that he rushed to the stage to shake her hand.
    2. The final piece in Marian Anderson's famed Lincoln Memorial concert was a spiritual arrangement by Florence Price (My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord). Price and Anderson enjoyed a very cordial relationship, exchanging letters about life and music. Price would later arrange other spirituals with Anderson's voice in mind.
    3. Price is generally acknowledged as the first African-American woman to be recognized for her symphonic writing capabilities. Her Symphony in E Minor was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (dir. Stock) at the World's Fair in 1933. Gershwin and Eleanor Roosevelt were in attendance, and the latter is recorded as being quite moved by the music.
    4. As a child in Little Rock, Arkansas, she was friends with William Grant Still.
    5. Price wrote at least twice to Serge Koussevitzky of the BSO, asking him to consider her work for performance. There is no evidence of a reply. One letter begins:
    “My dear Dr. Koussevitzky: To begin with I have two handicaps – those of sex and race. I am a woman, and I have Negro blood in my veins. Knowing the worst, then, would you be good enough to hold in check the possible inclination to regard a woman’s composition as long on emotionalism but short on virility and thought content, until you shall have examined some of my work?”

    The music

    I offer to readers a piece I mentioned in my very first post in this forum: Adoration. It is more than likely the very last piece she composed (at the very least, likely the last organ work she composed). It will serve as a good introduction to her tonal language.

    For those interested, the finale to her Organ Sonata in E minor bears strong resemblance to the Guilmant finale she played at NEC.


    For more information...

    The Price of Admission: A Musical Biography of Florence Beatrice Price
    Florence Beatrice Smith Price (Encyclopedia of Arkansas)
    The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price



  • #2
    Thank you for sharing this information. I have not heard of her, which is very surprising to me since she studied in New England. I've got to try to use some of her pieces in upcoming performances.

    Michael
    Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
    • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
    • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
    • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 4 Pianos

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  • #3
    DEWII, I always appreciate your posts. Thank you for this.

    Two of my favorite composers in this category are Fela Sowande and Adulphus Hailstork. Both of these composers have written for the organ. While Sowande's music is difficult to find, Hailstork's music is still in print.
    Bill

    My home organ: Content M5800

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