• Florence Price
  • Fantasy No. 2 (1940)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)


ed. John Michael Cooper

  • Violin, piano
  • 5 min 30 s

Programme Note

Composed in March 1940, Price's F-sharp Minor Violin Fantasy postdates her G-minor Fantasie by about seven years and represents an appreciably different stage in her professional life. While the earlier work is contemporaneous with many of the compositions that established Price's presence as a major figure in the landscape of U.S. music — works such as the First Symphony, the D-minor Piano Concerto, the first Fantasie nègre, and the Piano Sonata — by the time of the F-sharp-minor Fantasy her presence on that stage and her leadership for African American and other musicians were well established. She had been prominent in the National Association of Negro Musicians since the mid-1930s, was the first Black member of the Chicago Club of Women Organists and the Musicians Club of Women in Chicago, and the first Black woman in the Illinois Federation of Music Clubs. The year 1940 would also see the premiere of her Third Symphony, as well as her induction, just weeks before the composition of the F-sharp-minor Fantasy, into the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

Those changed professional circumstances likely account for the stylistic distance between the G-minor and F-sharp-minor Fantasies. Both exemplify Price's genius for integrating techniques and harmonic idioms of the European concert fantasy into the melodic styles and phraseology of African American folksong and spiritual, and both feature a lengthy slow introduction, but beyond this the similarities are few.

The differences also extend to the two works' handling of their respective sources, for while the First Fantasy evoked the idioms of African American folksong and spiritual only in general terms, the Second Fantasy's subtitle states that the work is "based on a folk melody," otherwise unidentified in this manuscript. Comparing Price's work with other published collections of African American songs and spirituals, the main theme bears a resemblance "Talk about a Child That Do Love Jesus" (or "Talkin' 'bout a Child That Do Love Jesus"), also known as "Here's One," especially as it was arranged by William Levi Dawson (1899-1990). However, the corpus of other Price papers clearly reveals that the tune was the one that she set as "I'm Workin' on My Buildin'." Price's version of this tune does not concur with any other published version, but one of the autographs specifies that her version was written "as sung to Fannie Carter Wood of Chicago / by her grandmother Malinda Carter / a former slave of Memphis Tennessee."

This circumstantial and musical connection to a slave song which Price had heard performed by the granddaughter of a former slave not only provides — significantly — the only known documentation of "I'm Workin' on My Buildin'" in this form, but also might explain the deep pathos of the introduction to Price's F-sharp minor Fantasy and its stylistic allusion to the introduction to Dawson's arrangement of "Talk about a Child that Do Love Jesus." For example, Dawson's song sets the tone for the vocal line's spiritual intensity by means of a brief chromaticized descent spanning an octave in the right hand, and Price's Fantasy adopts a similar strategy in the Fantasy's introduction — but Price is in no hurry to get to the next section of the work. Instead, she amplifies the strategy. Her Fantasy's introduction spans sixteen bars and traces the chromaticized descent F-sharpE-sharpED-sharp(C-sharp)BAG-sharpF-sharpE in the right hand even as the last few notes of that descent begin an angular ascent back up to the upper dominant, C-sharp; additionally, the complex chromaticism and ambivalence of the thirds and sixths in Price's Fantasy suggest the influence of the blues. Not until mm. 10-12 does a foreshadowing of the motive that will become the third phrase of the tune on which the Fantasy is based occur. The first two phrases derived from the folk melody appear in the violin solo in mm. 17-32 but are interrupted in mm. 33-47, and the tune is completed in mm. 48-55. The central portion of the work is centered on D major (although that key is described and suggested more than it is actually stated, due to the richness of Price's harmonic language) and a return of the initial motive from the main theme in mm. 101-104 ultimately returns the piece to the tonic F-sharp minor. The closing is further derived from the main theme (mm. 105-110 are based on mm. 17-32, mm. 111-19 on mm. 48-55, and so on), but now the persistent fortissimo dynamic level and the unrelenting turbulence of the cascading doubled eighth notes in the violin line transform the gentle melancholy of the opening to an air of fiery urgency — a dramatic closing to a work fueled by the tension between vernacular and cultivated idioms.

— John Michael Cooper

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