Songs We Love: Florence Price, 'Violin Concerto No. 2' (14:16)
February 9, 2018
By her own admission, composer Florence Price had two strikes against her.
"To begin with I have two handicaps – those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins," is how she began a 1943 letter to Serge Koussevitzky, the revered conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She added later, "I would like to be judged on merit alone."
Koussevitzky never gave her music a chance, but along the way a few others did. Even so, her music is little known – and some of it was lost for decades – but now Price is finally receiving a little belated recognition. There's a profile in the New Yorker by Alex Ross and a new recording of two recently discovered Violin Concertos on the Albany label.
Price completed her Violin Concerto No. 2 in 1952, the year before her sudden death at age 66, just as she was set to explore career possibilities in Europe. The manuscript was never published and considered lost sometime after 1975, when Price's daughter died. The concerto, along with other music and personal papers, was discovered by accident in 2009 when renovators opened up an abandoned house Price once owned some 70 miles south of Chicago.
Unfolding over a relatively brief 14-minute span, the concerto opens with a sober orchestral introduction, pausing for a beat to let the solo violin make its honeyed, serpentine entrance. Violinist Er-Gene Kahng's tone, round and lustrous, is well-suited to the concerto's breezy melodic theme and dotted rhythm, which propels the music forward. Along with Price's harmonies – with their tasteful dabs of dissonance – the music is reminiscent of the sweeping, melody-driven American violin concertos of the 1930s by Samuel Barber and Erich Korngold.