It amazes me that this piece so poignantly expresses and addresses our own time. This is the second movement from William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony, which was the first symphony of a black composer to ever be performed by a major American orchestra in 1931. In 1936, William Grant Still conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a performance of this piece at the Hollywood Bowl. On October 13 of this year, Gustavo Dudamel conducted this piece with that same orchestra at that same venue, masked and widely spaced, no audience. It’s terribly moving.

Listen for:

1. Okay…,.listen for the harp! The very fact that it is present and so audible and so important shows off William Grant Still’s knowledge and care as an orchestrator. Each instrument has a very particular place and “voice” . I hear this as a group of voices lamenting a loss.

2. This is melodic in the extreme.  Follow all the many melodic threads, and listen to the shifts in their character and emotion.

3. Listen for the rhythmic chords underscoring the last repetition of the melody. This sounds like steps in a final funeral march. Not the weeping, wailing kind, the quietly accepting and sorrowful kind. Beautiful and terribly sad.