The work of composer Florence Price has recently caught national attention thanks to articles The New Yorker and The New York Times. A member of a biracial family, Price was born in Little Rock in the late 1800s — the daughter of a dentist and music teacher — and lived in the city during various points of her life. Her mother encouraged her daughter’s talents for the piano and by age 11, Price had published her first piece of music. She attended the New England Conservatory of Music and wrote her first string trio and symphony.
Price’s career and personal life took her to Atlanta and Little Rock before she eventually left Arkansas for Chicago after an outbreak of violence toward African Americans. In Chicago, she studied under top composers and great schools to expand her knowledge of music and composition. Eventually she found herself championed by two iconic African Americans in the arts – poet Langston Hughes and contralto singer Marian Anderson. Price’s work with her student and friend, Margaret Bonds, also a black composer and pianist, gained them adulation in the classical music community. However, Price’s legacy faded over time, only to recently be revived at a local level and now a national one. Katy Henriksen, host of Of Note with Katy Henriksen on KUAF 91.1 FM in Fayetteville, believes Price is important for both her historical context and musical abilities.
“Not only did she make history as the first African-American woman composer to have her symphony performed by a major orchestra in 1933, when the Chicago Symphony played her Symphony in E minor, she composed with a deep understanding for the Romantic Classical tradition in Europe while melding it to a vernacular folk tradition, that of the African-American South. She did this despite all the odds stacked against her as both black and a woman working in a conservative white European art form.”
On Wednesday, February 21, the Trillium Salon Series will feature works by Price performed by violinist and University of Arkansas professor Er-Gene Kahng in the Great Hall at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art at 7 p.m. She will perform two pieces that she recently recorded with a studio orchestra after discovering them in the Special Collections at Mullins Library.
“I’ve worked with Er-Gene Kahng to discuss Florence Price and her legacy for years, so it’s thrilling to have Er-Gene pick rarely heard chamber works of Price’s written for strings and piano for this concert,” said Henriksen, who is also the co-founder of Trillium. “There are two fantasies for violin and piano, one of which was written from the folk melody ‘I’m Working on My Building.’ Price bridges the classical ideals of late Romanticism in the Western European tradition for classical music (with allusions to greats like Dvorak and Tchaikovsky) and the spiritual/folk traditions of the South. One piece is simply titled ‘Three Spirituals’ with renderings of ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’ and ‘Lord I Want to be a Christian.’”
Trillium is an on-going series that brings classical music to non-traditional spaces and intimate settings. This is their first collaboration with the art museum, which is currently hosting their African American art exhibition “The Soul of a Nation,” on loan from the Tate Museum.
To reserve tickets for the event, click here.
Image by Monica Jordan of Paper & Wood Co.