Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Blog Devoted to Music of William Grant Still

[Symphony No. 1 (Afro-American) (24:10); William Grant Still; Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Neeme Järvi, Conductor; Chandos 9154 (1993)] 

A blogger named Marlene launched a blog in January 2009 on the music of the African American composer William Grant Still (1895-1978). Its title is Still, William Grant” Several recordings have been reviewed, including the Chandos CD of the composer's most famous symphony, his Symphony No. 1 (Afro-American). As others have noted, William Grant Still is an All-American composer who wrote for radio, television programs and films, and composed the theme for the 1939 New York World's Fair. His classical compositions have been compiled by Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma, who has generously made the Works List available to, a website at which William Grant Still is profiled in detail. An excellent source of his sheet music and recordings is William Grant Still Music, operated by the composer's daughter, Judith Anne Still. Today's post follows:

Sunday, January 25, 2009
Still: Symphony No. 1; Ellington: Suite form “The River” Manufacturer: Chandos
Number Of Discs: 1
William Grant Still composed a large body of excellent music that deserves the widest possible circulation. He merged his mastery of the jazz vernacular with classical forms learned at Wilberforce and Oberlin. Even while studying later with an iconoclast like Edgar Varese, Still sought to extend the historical focus of the Harlem Renaissance into his compositions, injecting the "Afro-American" symphony especially with folk-inspired touches of impressionism and neo-Romanticism. The work seeks a broad sweep and bears resemblances to Gershwin and Ellington in the mix of pop and swing elements into the symphonic language. The coupling is a fitting one, in part because Ellington struggled for years to create a large-scale work that could indeed be considered rightfully "orchestral" outside his own big band's works. The Suite from the River is an ideal revelation, taking Ellington's sectionally orchestral thinking (where the orchestra was a conglomerate of different sections playing off each other) to levels that reach Still's well-schooled use of the symphony orchestra as a vehicle. Neeme Järvi does a fine job leading the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in rendering these two unlikely but deserving works. --Andrew Bartlett (Posted by Marlene)

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