Saturday, July 25, 2009

Video Music and Gamez: William Grant Still's 'Africa' 'is close to being a symphony'

[William Grant Still: Afro-American Symphony; Fort Smith Symphony; John Jeter, Conductor; Naxos 8.559174 (2005)]

On June 22, 2009 AfriClassical posted “Fort Smith Symphony Records Premieres of William Grant Still's 4
th & 5th Symphonies on Naxos”. We wrote, in part: “The new disc is also a Naxos American Classics CD, and will feature William Grant Still's Symphony No. 4 (Autochthonous) (1947), Symphony No. 5 (Western Hemisphere) (1945, 1958) and Poem, for orchestra (1944) (12:30).” Today's post is a comment on the world premiere of Still's Africa (Symphonic Poem) (27:51) on the Fort Smith Symphony's earlier Naxos CD:
Video Music and Gamez
“William Grant Still - Afro-American Symphony • Africa
Posted by N on Friday, July 24th 2009

'With humble thanks to God, the Source of Inspiration.' Such is the inscription to be found on the scores of the works of William Grant Still, sometimes called 'The Dean of African-American Composers' and one of America’s most versatile musicians. African-American composer William Grant Still’s signature piece, Symphony No. 1 'Afro-American' is the only one of his many works that has seldom needed a recording. As such, it is a natural fit for Still’s entry in the Naxos American Classics series.

“However, Naxos has gone the extra mile for Still, including a key work never heard on record before, his symphonic poem Africa written between 1924 and 1930. Despite a widespread performance history gained in the wake of a successful 1931 launch by the redoubtable Howard Hanson and the Rochester Symphony, Africa was never published and ultimately withdrawn from circulation. It is hard to imagine why, as Africa is musically so very accomplished and attractive. It does spring from an idealized view of Africa common to African-Americans of the day, as expressed in the movement titles: 'Land of Peace,' 'Land of Romance,' and 'Land of Superstition.' It wasn’t until Baptist missionaries traveled to Africa that the continent’s other sides became apparent — a land of unending inter-tribal warfare, starvation, and poverty. Given the program of this symphonic poem, which is close to being a symphony, Still’s music is appropriately lush, dreamy, and owes something to the work of Ferde Grofé. By comparison, the 'Afro-American' is drawn from a more Dvorákian part of Still’s vocation. - AMG” [William Grant Still (1895-1978) is profiled at, where a complete Works List by Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma is also found]

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