This is the piece that caused such a stir and received such incredible honor and notice for Mrs. Price. She wrote to a friend in 1931 that she was lucky to have broken her foot because it gave her much needed time to be able to work on this symphony. She also wondered when she might be so lucky in the future to break her foot again! The Chicago Symphony performed this work in 1933, making her the very first black woman composer to have a work performed by a major American orchestra. George Gershwin was in the audience the night it premiered! This beautiful symphony, however, was never published until years after her death.
1. Incredibly lush, varied orchestration. Full strings, intimate moments, woodwind choirs answered by brass choirs, percussion antics, ….all there. What an incredibly imaginative mind, what a fully formed internal sense of sound, and what a detailed knowledge of the parameters of each instrument she displays.
2. The first movement showcases and plays with with two freely written melodies based on the sound of spirituals. Listen for the melodies in this movement, and listen for her treatments. This movement has the feel of place to me….a landscape.
3.In Juba Dance, the third movement, listen for the jaunty theme and the rhythms. American slaves would create percussion sounds by slapping their bodies, clapping, stomping their feet, etc. The rhythms originate in West African music. Here, Florence Price uses West African percussion while the strings play the free, jaunty melody. Florence Price said Negro music always included the spiritual and the juba.
4. Melodies of Negro folk music often used repetition. W.C. Handy, the great band leader, meticulously collected and notated folk melodies, and noted the use of repetition prior to the eventual resolution of the phrase. Notice the melody in the third movement as repeating a statement three times before resolution (AAAB), and in the fourth movement as AABA .
(Note: I use the terms Negro, or slave, because these were the terms Florence Price used in referencing elements that were important to her in her compositions.)