As a female studying classical music I always wondered if there were any female composers in the early classical history eras. I have not found many. I supposed it is be expected as women throughout history have always been denied certain rights and freedoms. However, in my search one female composer stood out among the rest, Florence Beatrice Price. Not only was she a female but also an African American composer in a time when African Americans, let alone African American women, had little to no freedoms or rights. She was the first African American woman to have her compositions played by a major symphony. She faced adversary which led to her having to move out of her town due to hate crimes such as lynching and even pretended to be a Mexican student to save herself from prejudice. But at the end she finished her musical education at Conservatory of Music in 1906. In the end, Price finished a whooping total of more than three hundred compositions. Shortly after her death in 1953 some of her pieces were lost due to lack of interest as new modern composers were emerging.
One of her most famous compositions was The Symphony in E Minor. There are four movements within this composition. Each one with a different sound or inspiration. Although some say that the first movement is a representation on the African American spiritual or spirituality. I found the piece to be much too soft sounding and peaceful to represent the African American spirituality. When studying American African history and their music their spiritual music sounds very powerful and strong with an intensity that moves and penetrates. I found the very end of the first movement closer to this ideal representation than the rest of it.
The second movement has a soft oriental sounding harmony that sneaks up throughout the piece. True to popular saying, the trumpets did remind me of a hymn like song just as Price based it to be. The melody in this part is played only by a brass choir. Later in the piece when the wind instruments join the strings in harmony it gives you a feeling of righteousness and strength as if you are constantly rising above temptation that is displayed by the minor melody. Then of course there are the famous church bells at the end that tie together this feeling of being in touch with a higher being and your spirituality.
The third movement is defined by many to have a jovial feel. When asked Price stated that the third movement was influenced by the African American “Juba dance”. She wanted to bring out some of her Africanisms within her compositions. Prior to listening to this piece, I familiarized myself with the Juba dance and music. So, when I heard the third movement I immediately detected the Juba dance melody throughout the whole piece. It even had the percussion beat that follows a Juba. It truly is a jovial piece as all I pictured in my head was Charley Chaplin in a film happily strutting down a nice sidewalk with a side to side head movement to the Juba beat.
Finally, in the last movement the tempo speeds up. It feels as though Price is rushing to a finish. There are a lot of repetitions of scales throughout this movement. Towards the end when the instruments join together and play as a force, the ups and downs among the minor scale feel as if you’re on a winding carousel with no end. This piece comes together in a loud forceful sound that brings this movement to a strong end.