1887 — 1953
The American late-romantic symphonist Florence Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas into a mixed-race family. Her parents, a music teacher and a dentist, encouraged her gifts as a pianist and composer, although – mindful of the prejudices of the time – they urged her to pretend to be Mexican during her studies at the New England Conservatoire. In 1927, mounting racial tension prompted her to move north to Chicago, where she played the organ for silent films, and befriended the celebrated contralto Marian Anderson. Price’s songs, piano pieces and educational music sold well, and her First Symphony was premiered in June 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: "a faultless work" was one critic’s verdict. Price’s Second Symphony has been lost, while the Third was commissioned by the state-funded Federal Music Project and premiered in 1940. Like its predecessors, her Fourth Symphony (1945) makes use of the African-American Juba dance: Price was determined to integrate the music of her own roots into the classical canon, and elements of spiritual melodies can also be heard in her Piano Concerto (1934) and the three-movement Ethiopia’s Shadow in America (1932). Her death, aged 66, came at a time of growing international recognition for Price, and many of her scores were subsequently lost. Their rediscovery in 2009 sparked a revival of interest in Price’s distinctively American voice.