From the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Program Notes
By Elizabeth Campbell
(b Little Rock, AR, 9 April 1887; d Chicago, IL, 3 June 1953)
In 2009 a dusty treasure was uncovered during the renovation of a dilapidated home in St. Anne, Illinois. Workers discovered boxes containing music by Florence B. Price previously considered lost, including two violin concertos and her fourth symphony. Although the quality of her compositions was recognized during her lifetime, her works were not widely heard. Writing to Serge Koussevitzky, the conductor of the Boston Symphony, she plainly addressed the prejudice that stunted her career, “I have two handicaps – those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins.” Now, 70 years later, the labor of activists, scholars, and performers has changed the musical landscape of the United States, and Price’s music is frequently heard in orchestra halls across the nation.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Price studied organ and piano at the New England Conservatory of Music, one of the only music institutions of the time that admitted Black students. She taught music at Black-serving institutions in the South after graduating. In 1912 she married and moved back to Little Rock. However, her hometown was not safe, and threats of racial violence compelled the family to flee to Chicago in 1927. Inspired by the culturally rich Black community in Chicago, Price renewed her study of music at the American Conservatory and the Chicago Musical College.
In 1932, she won the Wanamaker competition with her Symphony in E Minor, thus gaining national recognition. She is best known as a song composer, however, including her arrangement of the spiritual “My Soul’s been Anchored in de Lord” and a setting of Langston Hughes’ poem “Songs to the Dark Virgin.” Marian Anderson frequently sang her works and adopted Price’s arrangement of “My Soul’s been Anchored in de Lord” as a personal signature, often ending recitals with that spiritual. Price’s compositions combine a romantic vocabulary with African and African American musical traditions such as call and response and Juba dance rhythm patterns.
Published in 1951, Adoration was initially written as a short piece for organ in ABA form intended for use in church. It has proven attractive for arrangers, including Jim Gray, who has orchestrated it for solo violin and string orchestra.
Elizabeth Campbell is a current Ph.D. student in musicology in the UC Davis Department of Music. She was recently awarded a Smithsonian Institution Pre-Doctoral Fellowship to support research on her dissertation “Diva, Ambassador, and Activist: The multifaceted career of Black opera singer Lillian Evanti."