Sunday, February 21, 2021

John Malveaux: Dr. Michael Cooper uncovers Florence Price's PRELUDES set for PIANO

Dr. Michael Cooper

John Malveaux of writes:



for Piano


edited by

John Michael Cooper




Foreword and Critical Report.......................................................................................... iii


Preludes........................................................................................................................ 1

No. 1. Allegro moderato....................................................................................... 1

No. 2. Andantino cantabile................................................................................... 5

No. 3. Allegro molto............................................................................................. 9

No. 4 [“Wistful”]. Allegretto con tenerezza.......................................................................................................................... 14

No. 5. Allegro.............................................................................................................................. 18


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 only a small portion 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 her encouragement to pursue these editions. Finally, I thank my family for their patience and support.  


Published here for the first time, Price’s Preludes are her first major set for piano – and they are not without their enigmas. For one, only one of the autographs sources bears Price’s name, a rare occurrence in her papers. For another, the earliest manuscript version (now surviving as two separate autographs, identified as sources AS 2 and AS 3 below[4]) is dated June, 1926, but neither it nor the only complete autograph that survives intact (source AS 1) names Price as author. Most curious of all, that autograph is found not with most of the remainder of Price’s musical estate in the Special Collections division of the University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, but rather in the papers of Margaret Bonds (1913-72) at the Booth Family Center for Rare Books and Manuscripts in the Georgetown University Libraries (Washington, D.C.). Because Price collaborated with Bonds on several projects in 1932-34, lived in the Bonds home after her separation from her second husband, P.D. Arnett, in late 1933 or early 1934, and had no sustained interaction with Bonds after the younger composer’s move to New York in 1939, this autograph was probably written between 1932 and 1939. But source AS 1 clearly served as the basis of a separate autograph for No. 4 titled “Wistful” (source AS 4, below), and that manuscript survives in a brown-paper folder bearing the address “4404 Vincennes Ave.,” where Price lived with Arnett in 1931-1933/34. Finally, source AS 1 is written on PHILADA paper, which is rare in Price’s manuscripts after 1932. The complete set may thus be tentatively dated 1926-32.

          The Preludes are also unique among Price’s sets for piano solo in that they are her only set of “absolute” rather than characteristic or programmatic pieces. All of Price’s later sets bear descriptive collective titles and movement titles such as Village Scenes (“Church Spires in Moonlight,” “A Shaded Lane,” and “In the Park”) or Snapshots (“Lake Mirror,” “Moon behind a Cloud,” and “Flame”).[5] But the lack of a descriptive collective title for the Preludes should by no means be taken to indicate that they are abstract, abstruse, or (least of all) bland. The existence of No. 4 as a separate work titled simply “Wistful” clearly assigns a distinct and melancholy character for that movement, and the other movements all possess sharply contrasting characters as well as imaginative and evocative music. No. 1 as a whole is conspicuously impetuous, alternating between the dotted main theme in C major, fanfare-like figures, and a lyrical second theme; No. 2 is dominated by a leisurely, songlike theme but includes a middle section of greater urgency; and No. 3 seems to take the character of the middle section of No. 2 as its point of departure. Nos. 4 and 5 form a complementary pair in G minor, moving from an exploration of Tchaikovsky-like melancholy to a rapid and concentrated technical study to bring the set to an exciting close.

               – John Michael Cooper

Denton, Texas, 21 May 2020

About This Edition

Four separate autographs survive for the Preludes:  

·       AS 1: Booth Family Center for Special Collections in the Georgetown University Libraries (shelfmark (GTM 130530 Box 12, no. 4). Complete autograph for all five movements in sequence, titled “PRELUDES” and undated. This holograph is in the Margaret Bonds collection, suggesting that Price gave it to Bonds at some point (probably during the time of their collaborations, 1932-34). It is undated but written on PHILADA staff paper, which is rare in Price’s manuscripts after the early 1930s; and internal evidence clearly points to it as a revision of the versions of the preludes given in sources AS 2 and AS 3. Because Bonds and Price collaborated in 1932-34, it probably was written after 1926 and given to Bonds in 1932-34.

·       AS 2: Special Collections division of University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville (MC 988a Box 17, folder 2): composing score for No. 1, later dated in pencil “June, 1926” at the bottom right-hand corner of the first page. No author is given. The title was originally given as ALBUMLEAVES, but this was lined through and changed to PRELUDES. Internal evidence shows that source AS 2 pre-dates source AS 1. It was originally the beginning of the same manuscript that now survives as source AS 3. It is written on “No. 3 Century Brand Century Certified Edition” staff paper, which was printed by the New York firm Century Music Publishing Co.

·       AS 3: Special Collections division of University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville (MC 988b Box 4A, folder 1): composing score for Nos. 2-5, undated and with no author given. Originally continuation of source AS 2, also written on “No. 3 Century Brand Century Certified Edition” staff paper.

·       AS 4: Special Collections division of University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville (MC 988a Box 17, folder 38): separate autograph copy of No. 4, titled “WISTFUL” with no reference to the other Preludes. The autograph is contained in a brown paper wrapper with the handwritten title “WISTFUL / For / Pianoforte / by / Florence B. Price” Also written on the wrapper in Price’s hand, perhaps later, is the address “4404 Vincennes Ave., Chicago, Ill.” – the address where she lived with P.D. Arnett from February 1931 to late 1933 or early 1944. Internal evidence shows that AS 4 post-dates source AS 1.


This edition takes source AS 1 as its main copy-text, relying on sources AS 2 and AS 3 for clarification of specific issues in Nos. 1-3 and No. 5. Because source AS 4 demonstrably post-dates sources AS 1, AS 2, and AS 3 and therefore represents Price’s latest surviving thoughts on No. 4, the edition includes information from that version of No. 4 in brackets. On the whole the edition presents Price’s musical text as she wrote it; editorial intervention is minimal and clearly differentiated either in the main musical text or in the notes below. Authorial accidentals, including cautionary accidentals, are given as shown in the copy-text, while editorial accidentals, including cautionary accidentals, are given as ficta. When editorial accidentals occur in the middle of a chord, they are enclosed in brackets. Editorial slurs and ties slurs are perforated, editorial expressive indications and tempo markings are given in Roman font and enclosed in brackets, and editorial extensions of dynamic and expressive indications are hooked at both ends.

The critical notes below identify measure number, hand (as appropriate), beat(s), and note or rest within the beat in instances where the editing process required judgment calls beyond those accommodated by the notational differentiation techniques described above. Thus, “9/2.1” indicates the first note of beat two of m. 9. RH denotes “right hand” and LH denotes “left hand.”

Notes: No. 1: 9/2.1, both hands: accented in AS 2; 27-33: “cresc. et accelerando poco a poco”; 38/3: F originally lacking in AS 2 (added in pencil); 38/4: A originally lacking in AS 2 (added in pencil). No. 2: “Andantino cantabile” lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 3); 9 a tempo lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 3); 12 RH continuation of slur lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 3); 18 RH slur lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 3); 22-23 “accel. e cresc.” in AS 3; 33  lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 3). No. 3: 16 RH slur lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 3). No. 4: No tempo in AS 1; “Allegretto con tenerezza” adopted from AS 4 (“Allegro” in AS 2 and AS 3); 7 [poco accel.] adopted from AS 4; 9 [a tempo] adopted from AS 4; 9 RH slur adopted from AS 3; 10 RH  in AS 4; 11 [agitato] adopted from AS 4; 15 [p], [rit.] adopted from AS 4; 16 [a tempo] adopted from AS 4; 16 p in AS 4; 25 RH whole note tied to quarter note in AS 4; fermata on /4 in AS 4; 25 LH [- - - -] adopted from AS 4; 26 [mf] adopted from AS 4; 30 [p] adopted from AS 4; 33-34 completion of crescendo and [f] lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 4); 35 [poco rit.],[ ], and [p] lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 4); 36 [a tempo] lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 4); 36-37  extends only through 36/5 in AS 4; 40 fermata adopted from AS 4; RH whole note tied to quarter note in AS 4; 44-45  extends through 45/4 in AS 3; 45 RH notated as dotted whole note in AS 1 followed by half rest (stem forgotten); LH slur lacking in AS 3; [p] adopted from AS 4; 46 LH slur lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 4); 46-47  lacking AS 4, instead cresc. . . . ; 48 [f] lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 4); 49 [ff] and [con passione] adopted from AS 4; 50 RH slur lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 4). No. 5: 29-30 slur lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 3); 33 [p], slur lacking in AS 1 (adopted from AS 3); 67-68 slur completion lacking in AS 1.

[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. The most detailed and authoritative biography currently available is 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). As of this writing there is still no book-length biography, but Brown’s drafted biography has been completed by Guthrie P. Ramsey, jr. and is due for release in June 2020 (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, forthcoming]). The Preludes 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,

[4] “AS” denotes “autograph score.”

[5] Florence B. Price, Village Scenes, ed. John Michael Cooper (New York: G. Schirmer, 2020); idem, Snapshots, ed. John Michael Cooper (New York: G. Schirmer, 2020)

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