12 Jan 2023

FLORENCE PRICE: Adoration & Five Folksongs in Counterpoint

by Jeff Counts

Florence Price had no illusions about the success rates of composers like herself. “I have two handicaps,” she told Serge Koussevitzky in a 1943 letter, “those of sex and race.” She was asking the larger-than-life Boston Symphony conductor to view her work outside of the preconceived notions her gender and heritage might elicit, but nothing ever came of it. Perhaps he simply could not find a way to embrace an artist that did not match the white, male, marble-busted traditions of the profession. It’s a problem that plagues us still. Fortunately for Price, and us, other conductors (the Chicago Symphony’s Frederick Stock among them) did take her seriously and, though their support did not win her lasting renown while she was alive, they did help bookmark her legacy for later discovery during the ever-so-slightly more enlightened times we live in today. Discovery really is the operative word here, as a big part of Price’s catalogue was lost until 2009 when a trove of material was found in an abandoned house in St. Anne, Illinois. Price had spent her summers there before she passed in 1953, and among the buried treasures were two violin concertos and her Fourth Symphony. Lost in a different way were so many smaller works that did get published but were not widely noticed. Adoration was written in 1951 as a work for church organ but later was given new life in an arrangement for solo violin and string orchestra. The only two works Price wrote for string quartet (that we know about—maybe there is another chest of wonders waiting to be unearthed?) were created around the same time. Five Folksongs in Counterpoint (1950) features recognizable American melodies in a succession of sophisticated contrapuntal guises and the collection highlights Price’s impressive technical skill and imagination. As this evening’s concert proves, this music works quite well for a full string ensemble too.