Sunday, January 3, 2021

John Malveaux: Dr. Michael Cooper shared information about Florence B Price's "Seven Pieces for Piano Solo" with MusicUNTOLD

Dr. Michael Cooper

John Malveaux of writes:

Dr. Michael Cooper shared the following  information about Florence B Price's "Seven Pieces for Piano Solo" with MusicUNTOLD.


Florence B. Price (1887-1953) achieved a level of renown that defied all expectations for an African American woman in her day.[1] Having studied at the New England Conservatory from 1903 to 1906, she pursued a career that included teaching at Shorter College (Little Rock) and heading the Music Department at Clark College (Atlanta). After moving to Chicago in 1927 to pursue a better, safer life than anything possible in the virulently racist U.S. South, she immersed herself that city’s bustling cultural and educational life, becoming actively involved with the National Association of Negro Musicians and studying music and a variety of subjects at American Conservatory, Chicago Teachers College, Central YMCA College, the Lewis Institute, and the University of Chicago.[2] Today she is celebrated as the first African American woman to have her music performed by a major U.S. orchestra (her First Symphony was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as part of the World’s Fair in 1933), but her fame spread far beyond than that, and lasted much longer. The following two decades witnessed performances of her music by at least nine other orchestras, as well as by some of the world’s greatest soloists and chamber players.  More than a decade after her death her reputation was still so great that the City of Chicago Public Schools named the Florence B. Price Elementary School after her in 1964. That school closed in 2012, but the same building still bears her name: the Florence B. Price Twenty-First Century Academy for Excellence.

And through it all, she composed. Florence Beatrice Price penned hundreds of compositions of astonishing richness and breadth which gave voice to a musical imagination that would not be stilled despite the limitations that her world would have imposed on her because of her race and her sex. Her reputation has been steadily broadening in recent decades thanks to dedicated and brilliant scholarly work by Rae Linda Brown, Barbara Garvey Jackson, Eileen Southern, Helen Walker-Hill, Samantha Ege, and Douglas Schadle, among others.[3]

But if Price the composer never had to be rediscovered, the same could not be said of her music itself simply because she published little of what she wrote. That began to change when her elder daughter, Florence Price Robinson (1917-75), donated a significant body of her music manuscripts and biographical materials to the University of Arkansas Libraries (Fayetteville), and the situation further improved with that library’s acquisition of a sizeable “addendum” in the late 1980s. Another major development was the discovery of a sizeable trove of music manuscripts and other documents in an abandoned house in St. Anne, Illinois, in 2009 a recovery that eventually met with major media coverage. Florence Price, having already during her lifetime overcome the forcible silencing that was her lot as an African American and a woman in a profoundly racist and sexist world, was now in a position to have her voice heard again.

The present edition owes its existence to the generosity of the heirs of Florence B. Price, to the Special Collections division of the University of Arkansas Libraries (Fayetteville), and to G. Schirmer’s acquisition of the rights to Price’s complete catalog in 2018.  Thanks are due also to David Flachs and Peter Martin at G. Schirmer, Inc. To Florence Price advocate and pianist extraordinaire Lara Downes I am grateful for encouragement to pursue these editions. Special thanks are due to Jonathan Bellman (University of Northern Colorado, Greeley) and Maeve Brophy (Memphis, Tennessee) for their tempo suggestions. Finally, I thank my family for patience and support.  


 The seven compositions presented in this volume bookend the Price family’s move from Little Rock to Chicago. The first six pieces were written as a set between October 7 and October 26, 1927, while “Pensive Mood” (Appendix A) was written on March 3, 1928. Although all seven works bear descriptive titles and all are now found in the same folder in the Florence Price papers in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Price herself may not have grouped them together; the title “Seven Descriptive Pieces” is editorial.

But while the circumstances of these works’ composition are unknown, they are among Price’s earliest surviving works for piano solo, and they reveal several important facets of her creative personality. The most obvious of these, especially in the first six pieces, is her work as a piano teacher – an occupation that she had pursued both at the collegiate level and privately since 1906; indeed, the titles of Nos. 1, 2, and 4 seem expressly geared toward young pianists. The chromaticism of No. 3 shows Price’s proclivity, even in these relatively early works, for rich harmonic language, while No. 5 displays her fondness for sentimental romance and No. 6 is one of the earliest specimens of her genius for lilting waltzes (preceded only by the Valsette mignon, 1926). “Pensive Mood,” for its part, displays a greater emotional range, with unsettled harmonies (including strings of augmented triads) and rich chromaticism – all features that, whether autographically intended or not, are consistent with the travails the Price family faced in Chicago.   

– John Michael Cooper

Denton, Texas, 30 December 2020

About This Edition

The autographs for the seven works presented here are contained in a single folder in the Florence Price papers of the Special Collections division at the University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville (MC 988b Box 1A, folder 3). Nos. 1-6 were clearly written as a set, while the second autograph (that for “Pensive Mood”) appears to have been composed separately and may have been sent to a publisher (the autograph bears the autograph pencil annotation “copy sent” at the top of the first page). The edition presents Price’s music as she wrote it, differentiating between authorial and editorial information. Editorial accidentals are presented as ficta, while authorial accidentals are presented as given in the autographs. Editorial dynamic and expressive information is presented in Roman font, and editorial extensions of dynamic and expressive markings are hooked at both ends. Because Price provided no tempo indications in these autographs, all tempos are editorial suggestions. These were provided by Prof. Jonathan Bellman and Maeve Brophy, and are given in that order.

[1] Although Price is mentioned in many texts that deal with African American composers and women in music, many of these sources repeat the same, rather basic information. Until recently, the most detailed and authoritative biography was the Introduction to the late Rae Linda Brown’s edition of Price’s First and Third Symphonies (“Lifting the Veil: The Symphonies of Florence B. Price,” in Florence Price: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3, ed. Rae Linda Brown and Wayne Shirley, Recent Researches in American Music, No. 66 [Middleton, Wisconsin: A-R Editions, 2008], xv-lii). The situation improved significantly in June 2020 with the publication of the first book-length life-and-works study (Rae Linda Brown, The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price, ed. Guthrie P. Ramsey, jr. [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2020]), although this volume adds little to the material contained in Brown’s dissertation and her “Lifting the Veil.” The Seven Descriptive Pieces are not mentioned in Brown/Ramsey, The Heart of a Woman.

[2] Brown, “Lifting the Veil,” xxiv.

[3] See, for example, Barbara Garvey Jackson: “Florence Price, Composer,” The Black Perspective in Music 5 (1977), 30–43; Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1971; 3rd ed., 1997); Rae Linda Brown, “Selected Orchestral Music of Florence B. Price (1888 [sic] – 1953) in the Context of Her Life and Work (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1987); Helen Walker-Hill, “Music by Black Women Composers at the American Music Research Center,” American Music Research Center Journal 2 (1992): 23-52; Calvert Johnson, “Florence Beatrice Price: Chicago Renaissance Woman,” The American Organist 34 (2000): 68-76; Scott David Farrah, “Signifyin(g): A Semiotic Analysis of Symphonic Works by William Grant Still, William Levi Dawson, and Florence B. Price” (Ph.D. diss, Florida State University, 2007); Samantha Ege, “Florence Price and the Politics of Her Existence,” The Kapralova Society Journal 16, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 1-10; Douglas Shadle, “Plus ça change: Florence B. Price In The #Blacklivesmatter Era,” NewMusicBox 20 February 2019, New Music USA, accessed 21 September 2019,; Samantha Ege, “Composing a Symphonist: Florence Price and the Hand of Black Women’s Fellowship,” Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 24 (2020): 7-27.  

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