ed. John Michael Cooper

  • Piano
  • 5 min

Programme Note

Clouds stands as one of the most important of Price's hitherto unpublished works for piano solo — and in some ways one of her most problematic. Its importance derives partly from its scale — its length is comparable to that of the extant Fantasies nègres — and partly from the richness of its musical material. Although the work as a whole is unified by the recurrent scalar descent from dominant to tonic, and its associated rhythm, stated at the outset (mm. 1, 27ff., and elsewhere), its stylistic allusions range from a tender meditative style familiar to Price enthusiasts from works such as Memory Mist and Sketches in Sepia through intense lyricism reminiscent of the music of Clara and Robert Schumann (mm. 27-36) and turbulent minor-mode chromaticism evocative of Rachmaninoff or Scriabin (mm. 51-60), to postimpressionist idioms that recall Debussy and Ravel. With characteristically clever resourcefulness, Price uses the inherent instability of the post-tonal materials as transitions between tonally stable plateaus.

The importance of Clouds also derives from its engagement with the very freedom of expression that was crucial to mid-twentieth-century music generally, and to societal identity for African Americans and women in particular. Not only does this work bring together in a single coherent composition stylistic idioms that are rarely found together in a single piece, but it does so under the descriptive moniker of clouds, which in literature, poetry, and African American art in particular are one of the most potent and ubiquitous symbols of freedom — freedom of movement, freedom of shape and form, freedom of mood, freedom from virtually every restriction that binds humans and other objects. By integrating disparate musical styles, none of which bows to the prejudicial restrictions that Price's world would have placed upon her because of her race and her sex, under a title so powerfully evocative of freedom, Price in Clouds asserts her ability to resist — to refuse to let her mind be segregated, her imagination stilled, her genius bowed by others' expectations.

— John Michael Cooper


Josh Tatsuo Cullen, piano