By Dr. Laurel Swinden | March 4, 2021Print | PDF
I’m a woman
- Maya Angelou
The four composers whose music is presented today showcase the adversities that women have overcome in the music profession, as we progress to a place of equity.
Florence B. Price (1887-1953): The Deserted Garden
In 2009 a couple renovating an abandoned house in St. Anne, Illinois uncovered 30 boxes of personal documents. It turned out that this home used to be the summer residence of composer Florence Beatrice Price. Among the findings were manuscripts of dozens of works thought lost, including two violin concertos and her fourth symphony.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Florence Price had her first performance at age 4 and her first composition published at age 11. She graduated with honours from the New England Conservatory, majoring in piano and organ. Following graduation Price took a college teaching position in North Little Rock and later became head of the music department at Clark Atlanta University, Georgia. Returning to Little Rock in 1912, escalating racial tensons eventually precipitated a move to Chicago in 1927. There, her composition work took a front seat, composing songs for radio ads alongside short instrumental works and pedagogical pieces. With support from colleagues at the Chicago Musical College and Chicago Music Association, Price took on larger forms including concerti and symphonies.
The Deserted Garden was composed for violin and piano in 1933. It is an example of how, in her songs and shorter instrumental compositions, Florence Price blended elements of African-American spirtuals and blues with European Romantic techniques and Western structures. In this short instrumental work of classical structure, Price uses the dorian mode and pentatonic scale prominently used in sprituals and blues.
Amanda Harberg (b. 1973) Court Dances (2017)
Amanda Harberg is a composer and concert pianist whose work communicates on emotional, spiritual and intellectual levels. With music described by the New York Times as “a sultry excursion into lyricism”, Harberg weaves her deep admiration for the classical tradition together with contemporary influences to create a distinctively personal style. Composer John Corigliano says that her music “invigorates the brain and touches the soul.”
Her compositions include orchestral works, concerti, instrumental chamber music, choral music and numerous solo piano works. She has composted for short films and award winning documentaries, through Common Good Productions.
Court Dances was initially inspired by the fast, syncopated bounce of a squash ball and grew into a celebratory three movement suite, referencing 16th and 17th century court dances. Co-commissioned by a group of 57 flutists from around the world, the premiere was performed by Cobus duToit with Amanda Harberg at the piano.
The first movement, Courante, reflects the lively character and triple meter typical of its Baroque namesake. The lyrical and flowing Air de Cour offers introspective contrast to the more gregarious outer movements. The dynamic final movement, Tambourin, referencing both the Provencal dance and the French drum through its accents, syncopation, and percussive effects.
Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944): Serenade aux Etoiles, Op. 142
An accomplished pianist, Chaminade gave recitals of her music as early as 1878. In the United States, her performances in Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and venues throughout the Midwest, inspired hundreds of women to found eponymous musical societies: “Chaminade Clubs.” In spite of her international renown, Chaminade continued to find herself marginalized by the Parisian music world, and the sexism that pervaded music criticism that pervaded the early twentieth century. A review in the New York Evening Post of one of Chaminade’s 1908 Carnegie Hall performances, described Chaminade’s music as having “a certain feminine daintiness and grace,” and stated “on the whole this concert confirmed the conviction held by many that while women may someday vote, they will never learn to compose anything worthwhile.”
Chaminade wrote prolifically, and nearly all her approximately 400 compositions were published in her lifetime. Her works cover a wide range of forms, including orchestral works, a ballet, an opera comique, over 200 piano works and approximately 150 character pieces for voice and piano or solo instrument and piano. Throughout the 1890s, these mélodies were her primary mode of musical expression.
Sérénade aux Étoiles is typical of Chaminade’s character pieces (mélodies) with chromatic, spun-out lines. The bell-like tones and rolled chords in the piano accompanying the main theme add to the shimmering quality illustrative of the work’s title.
A special thank you to Kimberly Barber, Associate Dean of Music (External), Faculty of Music, Wilfrid Laurier University, for her reading of Maya Angelou’s poem, Human Family.
Valerie Coleman (b.1970) Fanmi Imèn (Human Family)
Recognized by Performance Today’s 2020 Classical Music Woman of the Year, Valerie Coleman’s music is frequently “on air" with Sirius XM, NPR’s Performance Today, All Things Considered, and MPR’s Saint Paul Sunday. She has a growing body of national and international commissions and awards. By the age of fourteen, had written three symphonies. She is the founder, creator, and former flutist of the Grammy® nominated Imani Winds, winners of the Concert Artists Guild competition.
Ms. Coleman has carved a unique path with her artistry. With works that range from flute sonatas that recount the stories of trafficked humans during Middle Passage and orchestral and chamber works based on nomadic Roma tribes, to scherzos about moonshine in the Mississippi Delta region and motifs based from Morse Code, her body of works are deeply relevant to modern music. She is perhaps best known for UMOJA, recently arranged for and premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Fanmi Imèn (Human Family)
The title Fanmi Imen is Haitian Creole for Maya Angelou's famous work, Human Family. Both the musical and literary poems acknowledge differences within mankind, either due to ethnicity, background or geography, but Angelou's refrain: " we are more alike, my friends, than we are unlike," reaffirms our humanity as a reminder of unity. Coleman's work draws inspiration from French flute music blending with an underlying pentatonicism found in Asian traditions, a caravan through Middle Eastern parts of the world merging with Flamenco, and an upbeat journey southward into Africa with the sounds of Kalimba (thumb piano). The flute imitates the thumb piano as it playfully taps out a tune that spells out a morse code message of U-N-I-T-Y within the rhythm. The many twists and turns come together to create a sound that symbolizes a beautifully diverse human race. Fanmi Imèn was commissioned by the National Flute Association and premiered in 2018.
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