Price: Symphony no. 3 & Tone Poems / Jeter, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
A letter written before the symphony’s premiere offers one of the only first-hand accounts of Florence Price’s compositional approach. “It is intended to be Negroid in character and expression,” she wrote, but “no attempt has been made to project Negro music solely in the purely traditional manner.” That is, she wanted to project aspects of her cultural heritage in a symphonic framework without making direct references to an existing body of folk songs and dances – a broad creative challenge broached by many composers around the world.
In contrast to the symphony, The Mississippi River intentionally quotes several tunes with origins in the African diaspora, granting it a profound sense of place. Rivers, of course, pervade the spirituals repertoire, while the Mississippi River itself was a dominant geographic feature of Price’s life as she moved from Arkansas to Boston and back again before traveling upriver to Illinois. The specific songs quoted in the suite capture the combined struggles and dynamism of Black migration across the United States.
Ethiopia’s Shadow in America is one of only a few pieces in Price’s catalog for which she provided a descriptive accompanying narrative. The first page of the manuscript score explains that she wanted it to portray “I – The Arrival of the Negro in America when first brought here as a slave. II – His Resignation and Faith. III – His Adaptation, A fusion of his native and acquired impulses.” Her use of a three-part historical arc to trace the American experience of enslaved Africans aligns with works of certain Harlem Renaissance figures like Will Marion Cook, William Grant Still, and Duke Ellington.
"Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3 (1940) may be her finest. Written in four well-proportioned movements, it begins with music of high seriousness—a slow introduction that sounds like the Adagio of Bruckner’s Seventh meets the Blues—and never looks back. The ensuring Andante is extremely beautiful, and in place of the usual scherzo Price gives us her customary “Juba,” a dance-like fantasy full of captivating sonorities, sultry melodies, and gently offbeat rhythms. As in the Fourth Symphony, Price calls the finale the actual Scherzo, offering her own imaginative slant on traditional symphonic form. It’s worth pointing out that as a graduate (with honors) from the New England Conservatory, Price was about as well trained as any American composer of her day, and entirely apart from the music’s characteristically personal expressive elements, her technical sophistication as a writer for the orchestra really shows. This is good stuff."
The Mississippi River, sometimes called a 'suite,' is actually a tone poem containing nearly half an hour of continuous music. Price quotes American folk tunes and Negro spirituals ('Get Along Little Doggies,' 'Deep River,' etc) as the river wends its way from north to south, but what impresses most is how well sustained the musical argument is, and how effectively this lengthy and colorful piece cheats the clock. Really, there’s no excuse for this music not being programmed regularly in American orchestra concerts. Finally, Ethiopia’s Shadow in America is a brief triptych...The work offers a useful commentary on the role of the individual in society in these racially polarized times."
John Jeter has already turned in very good performances of Price’s First and Fourth Symphonies with his own orchestra in Arkansas, but these recordings with the full-time ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra are both better played and better recorded. Price was an important and worthy voice in American classical music, quite apart from the challenges she faced as an African-American woman. Getting to know her is a genuine treat."
--ClassicsToday.com (David Hurwitz)
Release Date: November 19, 2021
Catalog Number: 8559897
Number of Discs: 1
Period: 20th Century
Composer: Florence Beatrice Price
Conductor: John Jeter
Orchestra/Ensemble: ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra