Skip to main content

The inspirational life of trail-blazing composer Florence Price

19 Oct 2022

News Story

To honour Black History Month, we take a look back at the life and work of American composer, pianist and organist Florence Price.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887, Price was one of three children in a mixed-race family. Her mother, a music teacher, was an early influence. At only four years old the composer had already given her first piano recital and then by the age of eleven she had her first work published. Eventually Florence went on to study at the New England Conservatory of Music, majoring in piano and organ. She graduated with honours and had risen to the ranks of Head of Music at the Clark Atlanta University in Georgia by 1910.

The composer married Thomas Price in 1912 and the couple returned to Florence’s hometown of Little Rock. Sadly the couple were compelled to leave after escalating racial tension culminated in a lynching near Thomas’s office.

The pair found a more accepting, musical, community on settling in Chicago in 1927. Florence became a key part of the Chicago Black Renaissance, and by far the most prominent of its composers, regardless of gender. Despite the success of her Symphony in E minor, which was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933, she still struggled to get her works played outside African-American communities, although she was inducted into the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1940.

The [...] restoration of Price's unique voice is unquestionably an enrichment of the American symphonic canon.

Gramophone, 2019

The rediscovery of dozens of her scores in 2009 established beyond doubt Price's ability to compose in all manner of genres. Her symphonies currently lead the field in terms of recordings, but she also wrote a good deal of instrumental music (notably for organ) along with many vocal and choral works.

Price’s music is characterized by duality, bringing together a traditional, classical tradition (in which she was trained) and the evocative melodies of African American spirituals and folk tunes. Her chamber music spans her entire career, and we are proud to present one of these works as part of our 2022/23 Digital Season. Four SCO string players explore the opulent harmonies and gentle lyricism of Price’s 1929 First String Quartet, which brings Tchaikovskian tenderness to traditional spiritual melodies.

The work will be available to enjoy from 9 February – 9 March 2023 on the SCO’s YouTube Channel. Sign up to SCO News and we’ll send you a reminder, plus information on other SCO events and activities.

Related Stories

View All