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American violinist Rachel Barton Pine marks the 25th anniversary of her 1997 recording of violin concertos by Black composers of the 18th and 19th centuries with Violin Concertos by Black Composers Through the Centuries. This special-edition reissue updates and expands the original program into the 20th century with Pine’s recent recording of Florence Price’s Violin Concerto No. 2, composed in 1952. The 1997 release established the violinist’s reputation as a passionate advocate for composers of African descent.
Pine recorded Price’s Second Violin Concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by American conductor Jonathon Heyward, newly named Music Director Designate of the Baltimore Symphony (at age 32). The violinist reprises her previous recordings of masterworks by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1775), José White Lafitte (1864), and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1899), all with Chicago’s Encore Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Hege. The New York Times declared: “Rachel Barton [Pine] handles the concertos’ varied demands with unaffected aplomb, performing this music lovingly.” The Chicago-based artist has been hailed as “an exciting, boundary-defying performer” by the Washington Post. The New York Times described her as “striking and charismatic … she demonstrated a bravura technique and soulful musicianship.” Violin Concertos by Black Composers Throughout the Centuries is Pine’s 22nd Cedille Records album. Her discography also includes critically acclaimed recordings on the Avie and Warner Classics labels.
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799)
Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 5, No. 2
Rachel Barton Pine; Encore Chamber Orchestra; Daniel Hege (conductor)
José White Lafitte (1836-1918)
Violin Concerto in F-sharp minor
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)
Florence Price (1887-1953)
Rachel Barton Pine; Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Jonathon Heyward (conductor)
Program NotesDownload Album Booklet
Notes by Rachel Barton Pine and Mark Clague
Personal Note by Rachel Barton Pine, 2022: This album is dedicated with love to the memory of Michael Morgan, Robert Fisher, and Terrance Gray, all of whom we lost far too soon. Your work as performers, educators, and advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion in classical music will always remain a shining example and inspiration.
Sometimes an album can change your life. I’ve been fortunate to have had several.
My beloved baroque chamber group, Trio Settecento, was formed following my 1997 recording of Handel Sonatas. My 2002 recording of the Brahms and Joachim Violin Concertos led to the lifetime loan of “my” extraordinary “ex-Soldat” Guarneri “del Gesu” violin.
Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries opened my eyes to the lack of awareness of and access to the repertoire and history of Black composers. Its release, 25 years ago, generated an outpouring of requests from students, teachers, and parents for more information about these composers and where to obtain their music. To meet this need, my Rachel Barton Pine (RBP) Foundation created its Music by Black Composers (MBC) initiative in 2001. MBC has been a primary focus of my research and advocacy efforts for over 20 years.
The genesis of this album began several years earlier when I was 17 years old and concertmaster of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony’s training ensemble. Our principal conductor, Michael Morgan, programmed a groundbreaking concert entirely of works by Black composers. I was invited to give the modern-day premiere of a recently rediscovered concerto by an 18th-century French composer, the Concerto No. 1 in D major by J.J.O., Chevalier de Meude-Monpas.
It was a delightful piece. When Cedille Records offered me the opportunity to record my first concerto album, I immediately thought of this virtually unknown work. Curious about what other violin concertos had been written by Black composers, I visited the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago (CBMR). There I discovered a treasure-trove of fantastic music spanning 300 years, including
works for violin and orchestra by Joseph Bologne (the Chevalier de Saint-Georges),
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Roque Cordero, Anthony Davis, Julia Perry, George Walker, Gregory Walker, and José White.
With so many wonderful options, I decided to focus on the most historical works. Joseph Bologne, whose portrait graces the cover of this album, was the greatest violinist (and greatest swordsman) in France during his lifetime. Although he is still often referred to as “The Black Mozart,” he was the elder composer and inspired Mozart, so it should really be the other way around, with Mozart as “The White Bologne.” Of his numerous concertos, my favorite is Op. 5 No. 2 in A major, and I’ve been fortunate to perform it many times with orchestras throughout the world. I believe that some of the more extreme demands he places on the bow arm must have been inspired by his prowess as a fencer!
I love virtuosic repertoire from the Romantic period and was extremely excited to discover José Silvestre de los Dolores White y Lafitte. He was George Enescu’s teacher, making him Yehudi Menuhin’s grand-teacher! His artistry and virtuosity were consistently compared favorably to his classmates Sarasate, Wieniawski, and Vieuxtemps. After many years of trying to get this wonderful concerto programmed, I finally had the opportunity to perform it with orchestra this season. I sincerely hope that presenters and my fellow violinists will embrace it and share it with audiences everywhere.
I had hoped to include Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto on the original recording. … some of the more extreme demands he places on the bow arm must have been inspired by his prowess as a fencer! It is a beautiful piece and was written for my violin hero, Maud Powell, but it was too long to fit. Fortunately, he wrote a gorgeous Romance in G for Violin and Orchestra that rivals those of Dvořák and Beethoven. I’ve performed it a few times and hope that it will soon become more regularly programmed.
In a strange twist of fate, recent research has concluded that the composer who started it all — Meude-Monpas — was probably not of African descent. Scholars now believe that the appellation of “Le Noir” appended to his title did not refer to his ethnicity, but to the color of his horse. Ironically, the “Black” composer that inspired my journey with this body of repertoire wasn’t actually Black!
In light of this revelation, we decided to replace the Meude-Monpas Violin Concerto with another work, by an undisputedly Black composer, for this 25th Anniversary Edition release. When I first visited CBMR back in 1996, I was shown a single manuscript page from a violin concerto by Florence Price and told that this work, and indeed much of her music, had been lost forever. You can imagine my joy when her violin concertos were unexpectedly discovered in an old trunk just a few years ago. Her Violin Concerto No. 2 was the perfect piece to add to the album: a 20th-century work by a woman composer.
Interpreting the Florence Price Violin Concerto No. 2 was a challenge. The vast array of resources that are typically available for works by historic white, male European composers do not exist. There are no dissertations discussing the history of the compositional process or published analyses putting the work into the context of the composer’s broader output. Performance traditions passed from teacher to student going back to the time of the concerto’s premiere are simply missing. Fortunately, I had access to her manuscripts. Jonathon Heyward and I had to make decisions based on our instincts and best guesses, and I’m very grateful to him for his care and commitment to doing justice to Price’s masterpiece. I can’t wait to share this concerto with live audiences this season and beyond.
It’s been wonderful to see the music of Bologne, Coleridge-Taylor, Price, and others growing ever more popular and finding their long overdue place in the repertoire. I urge everyone to seek out and play works by as many Black composers as possible. Please take advantage of MBC’s website containing numerous free resources, including directories of over 150 historic composers and more than 300 living composers. There are still so many undeservedly neglected works to discover and share!
I’m occasionally asked if it’s appropriate for me, as a white artist, to perform repertoire by Black composers. Interestingly, no one ever asks the same question when I play Tchaikovsky or Sibelius even though I’m neither Russian nor Finnish. While other genres may struggle with cultural appreciation versus appropriation, I believe that classical composers want their music to be as widely heard as possible. As classical performers, it’s our joy and responsibility to study and share as much great music as we can, so we can better understand each other’s humanity. I’ve witnessed the music of Beethoven bring tears to the eyes of a Black audience in Ghana, and the music of Coleridge-Taylor bring tears to the eyes of primarily-white symphony patrons in the U.S. Sharing all of this music is cultural celebration!
Please join me in celebrating the 25-year anniversary of this groundbreaking recording and these extraordinary composers whose remarkable works inspire everyone who loves classical music and the violin.
The Social Power of Creativity: The Search for Equality through Cultural Virtuosity
Notes by Mark Clague
Scholars have identified two possible and markedly contrasting derivations for the term “concerto.” Each has resonance for the musical and social parameters that surrounded the creation of the works by Black composers on this recording. One school of thought emphasizes the contentious juxtaposition of soloist and ensemble by tracing the term “concerto” to the Latin verb “concertare,” meaning “to fight” or “to contend.” Indeed, the concertos recorded here were and remain social weapons —tools created by their authors to express their humanity against a countercurrent of racist limitations.
A second line of reasoning traces the term through a variant spelling, “conserto,” to the root verb “conserere,” which in Latin means “to join together.” This derivation highlights the partnership between orchestra and soloist and by extension composer and society. Each of these composers — three active in Europe and one in the United States — used their talents and unusual access to musical institutions and training to leverage the traditions and tropes of the Western European concert tradition to claim space in a prevailing white musical culture.
All four composers heard on this album participated in the musical dialogues of their eras, with the requisite skill, awareness, and experience to create compositions that engage and expand upon musical tradition. Their work is in conversation with the solo violin repertoire of Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Wieniawski, and Sibelius. Yet these works are never simple imitations; they confront the classical tradition and extend it, revealing a unique creative personality.
None of these concertos quote African-derived melodies or rhythmic signatures in an obvious way. On one hand, direct knowledge of African musical practice was limited in the 18th- and 19th-century European orbit. On the other, composers such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and, later, Florence Price might reference African or African-American music in certain works, but they were not inspired exclusively by or in any way limited to this technique.
Each concerto nevertheless gives voice to a multifaceted personal experience, offering a statement of individual humanity, and by extension, a claim to universal rights for a people too often unjustly reduced to commodity status by the historical legacy of the slave trade. To be a composer is to be a creator, an artist, and a slave to no one.
The inspiration for this recording began in 1992 when the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and its conductor, Michael Morgan, asked violinist Rachel Barton Pine to perform Concerto No. 4 in D major by Le Chevalier de Meude-Monpas (ca.1740–1810) as part of a concert of orchestral music by Black composers. Programmed alongside premieres of 20th-century American works by Ed Bland, Gary Powell Nash, and Henry Heard, as well as Hale Smith’s Innerflexions and Alvin Singleton’s Sinfonia Diaspora, the 18th-century violin concerto sparked Ms. Pine’s interest in the possibility of discovering other silenced compositional gems by unjustly neglected composers.
Guided by scholar Dominique-René de Lerma (1928–2015), a pioneering authority on Black music, and supported by the archive of the Center for Black Music Research, she explored a small but significant repertory composed by Black violin virtuosos active over the past two and a half centuries: Joseph Bologne, also known as Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–1799), José White Lafitte, also known as Joseph White (1836–1918), and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912), who played the violin but was better known as a conductor and composer. This project thus came together organically at a time when the vast majority of musicians were wholly unaware of this repertory. It remained in the shadows of history, all but unpublished, and written about by only a handful of scholars such as the pioneering musicologist Eileen Southern. The very idea of the Black composer of classical music was excluded from music school curricula.
According to music scholar Gabriel Banat, little might be known of the exploits of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges if not for his undisputed prowess with a sword. While the composer’s biographers were prone to elaborate mythologizing, the chroniclers of Saint-Georges the fencing master were much more precise. Even so, more recent sources have again provided important corrections, for example, showing that his family name was long misspelled as “Boulogne.” Born in 1745, Saint-Georges adapted his name and title from that of his father, Georges de Bologne Saint-Georges, a noble French plantation owner on the island of Guadeloupe. Saint-Georges’ mother, Nanon, was an enslaved African woman attached to the household. Nothing is known of Saint-Georges’ early musical training, but musical study was undoubtedly included in his broad classical training as the son of a European nobleman. In this era, it was not unusual that the male child of an enslaved worker would be accepted as his own by his white European father. According to André Maurois, “It was customary that colons return to France with their sons of semi-African blood, leaving their daughters in the islands.”
In 1753, Georges returned to France with his seven-year-old son Joseph to provide for his education. The first reliable evidence of the young violinist’s musical career dates from 1764 when the composer Antonio Lolli composed two concertos for him. By 1769, he was performing in Paris with composer François-Joseph Gossec’s orchestra, Le Concert des Amateurs. Based on the dedication of Saint-Georges’ trios, Gossec, an important figure in the development of the French symphony, may well have been his composition teacher. When Gossec left Les Amateurs to direct the Concert Spirituel in 1773, Saint-Georges assumed the leadership of the orchestra and dedicated himself to a career in music.
In 1776, Saint-Georges joined forces with “a consortium of capitalists,” aspiring to become co-director of the Academie Royale de Musique, later known as the Paris Opéra. He lost the chance for the position when three ladies in the company petitioned the queen for his rejection, claiming that their honor would be compromised if they had to take orders from a “mulatto.”
In his day, Saint-Georges was a prominent musician and popular performer. The 236 compositions credited to Saint-Georges — including eight operas, 14 violin concertos, and 115 songs — only begin to encompass his impact on the Parisian music scene. He commissioned Joseph Haydn’s six Paris Symphonies, leading their premieres in 1786 with his own orchestra, Le Concert de la Loge Olympique. Among the first French composers to write string quartets and symphonies, he was sometimes called the “Black Mozart.” This nickname is a misnomer, however, as the influence between the two composers was mutual. The younger Mozart even found inspiration in Saint-Georges’ concertante works as Saint-Georges helped shape the musical genre of the sinfonie concertante — a type of orchestral concerto featuring multiple soloists (usually two violinists in his case).
As with all of his classical-era violin concertos, Saint-Georges’ Concerto for Violin in A major, Op. 5, No. 2 (ca. 1775) serves as a bridge from the virtuosic works of Baroque violinist/composers such as Corelli, Locatelli, Vivaldi, and Tartini, to those of 19th-century virtuosi, including Paganni, Spohr, Joachim, Vieuxtemps, and Wieniawski. Although influenced by the more conservative writing of Mannheim symphonists such as Johann Stamitz, Saint-Georges was both a performer and a showman. His virtuosic emphasis on the upper register, for example, extends five pitches higher than any of Mozart’s (exactly contemporaneous) violin concertos. Saint-Georges also took full advantage of recent developments in bow technology to emphasize fleeting and precise passagework. Around 1750, European bow makers began the transition to the modern bow, experimenting with the convex arc of the baroque bow resulting in its now typical concave shape, and as a result giving the performer more power and control, especially in the upper portions of the bow.
Following the traditional fast-slow-fast plot, Saint-Georges’ concerto is in three movements. Although other Saint-Georges concertos include winds, here the accompanying ensemble features only strings. The opening Allegro moderato is by far the work’s longest movement and is cast in a modified sonata form, albeit lacking a recurring first theme stated unequivocally in the tonic key. Typical of French concertos of the era (and in contrast to contemporary German tradition), it also lacks a solo cadenza in the opening movement. While melodic ideas are repeated and passed from orchestra to soloist and back, Saint-Georges seems to possess a limitless melodic imagination. His melodies are often in two markedly contrasting four-bar segments whose distinct personalities are underscored by shifts from soft to loud. His writing is vigorous and intended to maximize virtuosic impact.
Rather than develop small melodic ideas into larger ones, Saint-Georges provides a series of independent melodies. The orchestral motif that begins the piece, for example, never comes back. Likewise, the soloist’s initial melody is not prefigured by the orchestra as would be typical in Mozart’s concertos (although that theme does return in the recapitulation). The soloist is also the only musician to play triplets in this movement. Throughout the work, orchestra and soloist retain their distinct melodic identities, sharing some material but also claiming certain motifs as uniquely their own. It is, in a sense, a duo concertante for soloist and orchestra. One of the orchestra’s signature motifs is based on the medieval hocket or “hiccup” technique of alternating a motive between two instrumental voices, in this case an off-beat figure bouncing between first and second violins. Excepting brief turns to the minor mode and some chromatic passagework, Saint-Georges’ harmonies are straightforward. He makes wonderful use of texture, balancing melody and accompaniment with polyphonic interplay and unison writing.
Lilting triplets from the orchestra announce a shift in character for the second movement, a Largo that, despite its somber mood, is in the key of D major. Again, Saint-Georges strikes a remarkable balance between unity and variety in this lyrical interlude. Tying this movement to the previous one is the soloist’s theme which, as in the first movement, begins with a long, held note that blossoms into a lyric gesture. Saint-Georges borrows a technique from the Baroque concerto grosso by frequently restricting his accompanying ensemble to a small treble group of violins. The bass instruments’ return creates a powerful sense of depth and variety within the limited context of an all-string orchestra.
The Rondeau form of movement three is perfectly suited to Saint-Georges’ gift for melodic invention. An opening eight-measure theme serves as a recurring touchstone for the composer’s melodic fantasies and vibrant sense of humor. As with the second movement cadenza, each of the Eingangen or improvised melodic introductions recorded here were composed by Ms. Pine based on themes from within the movement or stylistically appropriate ornamental devices. This final movement brings the virtuoso display to a dramatic pinnacle — a display that Ms. Pine intensifies with additional ornamentation, especially trills.
Born in Matanzas, Cuba to a white French businessman father and an Afro-Cuban mother, José Silvestre de los Dolores White y Lafitte (a.k.a. Joseph White) made his public debut as a violinist at age 18 performing a fantasy on themes from Rossini’s William Tell along with two pieces of his own creation. His accompanist was the most celebrated North American pianist and composer of the day, Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829–1869). Gottschalk encouraged White to pursue further training in Paris and raised the money to send him there. Overcoming 60 rival applicants to the Paris Conservatoire, White won the opportunity to study with Jean-Delphin Alard, the pre-eminent master of the French school of violin playing, as well as Henri Reber and Ferdinand Taite. In 1856, White won the Prix de Rome in Violin and two years later began touring Europe, the Caribbean, South America, and Mexico. Gioachino Rossini, living in France in retirement, wrote a letter of praise to the young virtuoso dated November 28, 1858: “The warmth of your execution, the feeling, the elegance, the brilliance of the school to which you belong, show qualities in you as an artist of which the French school may be proud.”
While living in Madrid in 1863, White was awarded the Order of Isabella la Catòlica by the Spanish court. He taught at the Paris Conservatoire from 1864–1865 as a temporary replacement for Alard, and his Six études pour violon, Op. 13 were approved as standard teaching materials for the school. White made his U.S. debut during the 1875–1876 season, performing a recital at New York’s Steinway Hall and concerts with New York’s Philharmonic Society and the Theodore Thomas Orchestra on which he performed Mendelssohn’s Concerto, Vieuxtemps’ Ballade et Polonaise, and his own operatic Fantasie on Friedrich von Flotow’s opera Martha. It was his performance of Bach’s solo Chaconne, however, that was largely responsible for what newspapers called the “immense furore.” A reviewer at his first Boston recital in March 1876 exclaimed, “His style is perfection itself, his bowing is superb, and his tone exquisite…. His execution is better than Ole Bull’s, he possesses more feeling than Wieniawski, the volume of his tone is greater than that of Vieuxtemps.” For about ten years, White worked for the Imperial Court in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1891 he resettled in Paris, where he spent the remainder of his life. Some 32 of his works have survived in published or manuscript form. White’s most famous piece, La bella cubana, is celebrated as an unofficial national song, making him known to many Cubans (not just aficionados of classical music).
Composed in 1864, at the beginning of White’s touring career, the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in F-sharp minor follows the standard three movement plan: Allegro, Adagio ma non troppo, Allegro moderato. Although quite colorful and sonorous, the choice of F-sharp minor is curious. F-sharp is a rare, but not unheard of, key for violin concertos. In fact, White’s choice may signal a competitive stance toward two rival performers — composer/virtuosi who also authored concertos in this key in the early 1850s: Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1812–1865) and Henryk Wieniawski (1835–1880). White performed the solo part himself for his concerto’s 1867 premiere in Paris. A critic described the piece as “one of the best modern works of its kind… The fabric is excellent, the basic thematic ideas are carefully distinguished, the harmonies are elegant and clear, and the orchestration is written by a secure hand, free from error. One feels the presence of a strong and individual nature from the start. Not a single note exists for mere virtuosity, although the performance difficulties are enormous.” The work’s modern American premiere did not occur until 1974, when violinist Ruggiero Ricci performed it with the Symphony of the New World, Kermit Moore conducting, in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall. Its first commercial recording, the only one to predate Ms. Pine’s, was made the next year by violinist Aaron Rosand with the London Symphony under Paul Freeman as part of the conductor’s landmark Black Composer Series.
Written after Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840) had redefined the standards of violin performance, White’s concerto is by far the most virtuosic work on this recording: frequent double stops (two pitches performed simultaneously), often in parallel octaves, and rippling arpeggios that traverse the entire range of the violin in just a few beats characterize the work. The opening movement is in a straightforward sonata form. The first theme appears at the onset in the orchestral violins’ melody, while the second theme is presented initially by the clarinet. White’s treatment of the development section is rather ingenious as he imitates the sparse and free recitative texture of opera, resulting in a spontaneous and dramatic cadenza-like delivery. The coda’s simple horn melody helps relax the aggressive virtuosity of the first movement and sets up the beginning of the second, which follows without a break. Cast in an ABA ternary form, the Adagio ma non troppo features a lyric violin melody characterized by wide leaps and angular rhythms that enliven the slow tempo. The central Animato section adds intensity and drama to the argument before the return of the slower A theme. The rolling grace of the cadenza’s passagework belies its difficulty. To conclude, an ethnically-flavored, almost Hungarian or Romani-like theme for the rondo finale propels the listener on a journey through a series of enchanting dances, culminating in a bombardment of virtuosic cadential pyrotechnics.
The son of an Englishwoman and a Black father from Sierra Leone, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in Holborn, near London, and lived in the English town of Croydon. Later in life, he became increasingly involved in the racial politics of the United States as a symbol of the “New Negro,” a full cultural and social participant in American life, deserving of all the rights of U.S. citizenship. In 1905, Booker T. Washington hailed Coleridge-Taylor as “the foremost musician of his race” and “an inspiration to the Negro, since he himself, the child of an African father, is an embodiment of what are the possibilities of the Negro under favorable environment.” While Coleridge-Taylor became aware of African-American musics in 1897 and often followed Dvorák’s call to include melodies from African-American spirituals in his work, the Romance in G major, Op. 39 for violin appears to bear no direct relationship to Black musical materials. Coleridge-Taylor is remembered more as a composer than a performer, yet he presented the work’s premiere himself in the year of its composition (1899), accompanied by his wife, Jessie, at the piano.
Written in one continuous movement, the Romance eschews technical display in favor of lush harmonic and melodic beauty. To help sustain his lengthy and slow melodic essay, Coleridge-Taylor adopts one of the strongest and most economical musical formats: sonata form. Theme one appears in the violin solo at the beginning of the work. Following an extended transition that modulates to D major (the dominant of G) through both B major and B-flat major, the composer presents theme two in the solo voice using double stops. A faster Animato section presents the development in which theme one is transformed into a stormy motive primarily through acceleration and melodic ornamentation. The orchestra restates theme two briefly before the recapitulation presents both themes through the voice of the solo violin. A short coda reiterates the first theme in a gesture of apotheosis that brings the work to a close in the upper reaches of the violin’s tessitura. The composer demonstrated his fondness for the piece when he incorporated a shorter, simpler version of the Romance as the second movement of his Sonata for Violin and Piano (1917).
Composer, pianist, and organist Florence Beatrice Price (1887–1953) was born in Little Rock, Arkansas into a middle-class family of European, African, and Native American descent. Her father was among the nation’s few Black dentists. Her mother, a music teacher, nurtured the future composer’s early training. Price was a precocious child who graduated high school at age 14 and enrolled in Boston’s New England Conservatory (NEC) the next year. Many music conservatories of the era treated Black students unfairly, so Price — despite the racial pride her mature compositions demonstrate — at first identified herself as being of Mexican heritage to reduce the burdens of racial discrimination that might interfere with her education. At NEC, she studied composition with composers Frederick Converse and George Whitefield Chadwick, who himself embraced Black musical influences. She returned to Arkansas after her studies, but in the aftermath of the lynching of a Black man in Little Rock in 1927, Price moved to Chicago, where she soon enrolled in composition studies at the Chicago Musical College. She studied orchestration and harmony with Carl Busch, Wesley LaViolette, and Arthur Olaf Anderson, as well as with Chicago composer Leo Sowerby, who became one of her champions.
Price created some 300 musical works, ranging from songs to symphonies, yet her compositional achievements are still being recovered and rediscovered. As a Black woman and single mother, she faced the dual challenges of racism and sexism that limited her opportunities to perform and to publish. Further, following her death in 1953 at age 66, many of her works were considered lost. In 2009, however, a trove of her handwritten manuscripts, including two violin concertos, were found in St. Anne, Illinois, in a dilapidated house. The structure had once been the composer’s summer retreat. Happily, its new owners recognized the value of their musical discovery.
Price completed her Violin Concerto No. 2 in 1952, only a year before her untimely death. A note on the original score indicates that it was written “For Minnie Cedargreen Jernberg.” The dedicatee was a skilled, white female violinist who graduated from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and later studied in Berlin. Originally from Iowa, she returned to Chicago and raised a family while remaining active as a performer. Price is the only composer featured on this recording who did not play the violin; one wonders if Jernberg offered advice on the solo writing. While Jernberg may have commissioned the work, information on any personal relationship between composer and dedicatee remains to be discovered. Jernberg did play the concerto at least once — more than a decade after the composer’s death and without the full orchestral accompaniment — at the 1964 dedication of the Florence B. Price Elementary School (4351 S. Drexel Blvd.) in South Chicago. The work was not premiered in its intended form until 2018.
Price’s Concerto No. 2 is cast in the composer’s mature, modernist musical style. Even though it is conceived in contrasting sections, it comprises just a single, thematically interconnected movement. Price weaves together two primary musical themes within a skillfully contrapuntal and expressively chromatic idiom.
The concerto opens with a declamatory orchestral tutti, featuring an emphatic two-note gesture. Shortly afterward, the solo violin enters in the operatic style of an 20 accompanied recitative, as a kind of free opening cadenza. A gentle trill leads to the first theme, a lilting, dance-like melody characterized by skipping rhythms in snapped short-long pairs. This rhythmic motto is soon echoed by the bassoon and reappears throughout the concerto. The violin then repeats the main theme an octave higher as the melody gradually spins out into a chromatic, serpentine line. The skipping gesture passes from instrument to instrument throughout the orchestra. Finally, the flute extends the violin’s closing ornament, bringing the first thematic section to a close.
Next, the violin intones a lyrical second theme — a hymn-like tune that presents a soulful emotional contrast to the bright, animated first theme. Its flowing serenity seems to reflect Price’s heritage, both with reference to the African-American spiritual and the music of the Christian church more generally. A march-like interlude ushers in virtuoso passagework for the soloist, fulfilling the expectation that the concerto form will highlight the performer’s technical prowess. The dance-like gestures return, leading to a repeat of the hymn-tune melody.
The orchestra then recapitulates the movement’s opening declarations, inspiring more virtuoso passagework from the soloist until the first dancing theme returns in the orchestra, now juxtaposed with the violin’s lyricism. Here Price seems to explore a variety of collaborative relationships between orchestra and soloist. The violin’s virtuoso passagework is next accompanied by the hymn-like theme in the ensemble. Violin and orchestra then alternate, sometimes with just a single note bouncing rapidly back and forth.
The hymn tune returns one last time, at first seeming to bring the work to a peaceful close. Instead, Price interjects a cadential surprise: a return of the opening orchestral tutti. Its triumphant declarations propel a final virtuoso flourish from the soloist and set up a powerful set of reiterated, closing chords, no doubt intended to bring the audience to its collective feet in appreciation. The whole is thus a virtuoso showcase of thematic economy, compositional craft, and expressive drama.
Much has changed in the 25 years since Ms. Pine originally released the first edition of this path-setting recording in 1997. A new generation of scholars has expanded the field of Black music studies, building upon the scholarship of De Lerma, Southern, Samuel Floyd, and others. This silver anniversary release has likewise been updated to include to include the rediscovered Violin Concerto No. 2 by Florence Price. This new track replaces the original album’s concerto by Le Chevalier de Meude-Monpas, as subsequent research demonstrated that he was not of African descent.
What has not changed, however, is the value of a dedicated performer leveraging exceptional artistry to showcase the value of music by composers too long neglected by the canon of classical music. By its very nature, the canon resists new additions. As a result, its foundation is built upon a legacy of missed opportunities. This recording offers a corrective intervention whose importance is only highlighted 25 years later. It celebrates the accomplishments of composers initially lost to history: those who often lacked the social privilege of publication, recording, and public support. Classical music culture as a whole is impoverished when the voices of any group are confined to the shadows of silence. Violin Concertos by Black Composers… was and remains a testament to the importance of artistic advocacy. It is a lasting musical tribute not only to great music, but also to the social power of creativity. This music continues to inspire composers and performers today.
Mark Clague is Professor of Musicology and Associate Dean at The University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). He serves as editor-in-chief of the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition and as Chief Advisor to the RBP Foundation’s Music by Black Composers project. His recent publications include O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
(Price session engineer)
(Price mixing engineer)
Bill Maylone (Price)
RECORDING SESSION PHOTOGRAPHY
Sally Jubb Photography
Amati, Antonius & Hieronymous, Cremona, 1617, the ‘ex-Lobkowicz’
Guarneri “del Gesù,” Cremona, 1742, the ‘ex-Bazzini, ex-Soldat’ (Price)
Dominant Stark Vision Titanium Solo by Thomastik-Infeld (Price)
Dominique Pecatte (Price)
June 3–5, 1997, Chapel of St. John the Beloved, Arlington Heights, Illinois
January 7, 2022, Scotland’s Studio, Glasgow (Price)
Price © 2018 G Schirmer Inc.