• Florence Price
  • Fantasie nègre No. 2 in G Minor (1932)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)


ed. John Michael Cooper

  • Piano
  • 7 min

Programme Note

Early in 1932 Price revised her first Fantasie nègre (in E Minor), which had first been composed in 1929. That spark of creative genius appears to have renewed her interest in its genre, for she penned three more fantasies nègres in quick succession: the G minor (No. 2) in early or mid-March 1932, the F minor (No. 3) on 30 March 1932, and the B minor (No. 4) on 5 April 1932. It was an extraordinary outpouring of musical inspiration in a genre that Price herself had invented — a genre that creatively integrated African American vernacular idioms (principally spirituals and plantation songs) and the tradition-laden world of the virtuosic European piano fantasy.

But if the resuscitated E minor Fantasie nègre had provided the springboard for Price's return to that genre, this did not mean that the other fantasies nègres copied it — quite the opposite. For while the first Fantasie nègre used an actual spiritual as its main theme and a lightly modified plantation song as its second subject, Price asserted a greater level of compositional autonomy in her remaining fantasies nègres, basing all on themes that stylistically evoked Black vernacular idioms but were actually of her own making. All three feature extended, improvisatory introductions, but the G minor Fantasie is unique in its evocation of the ancestral repertoires from the outset, as Price lays out a four-stage expansion of a call-and-response figure that moves between a modal fanfare on D and an ascending D major arpeggio. The motive of the first two bars proceeds from the soprano register to the bass register (mm. 7-8), suggesting that women initiate the process and are followed by men. The remainder of the work is based on two main themes: a soulful theme in G minor (mm. 11-37) and a gently lilting contrasting theme in B-flat major (mm. 38-66), with an insistent G minor episode enfolded into the latter (mm. 46-53). Interspersed among these evocations of African American repertoires are highly chromatic episodes that showcase Price's rich harmonic technique, as well as an ingenious contrapuntal combination of the main theme and the second theme (both now in B-flat major, moderato cantabile e con espressione) in mm. 99-106. That latter-day reference to the learned counterpoint of the distant past yields first to a reflective episode of extraordinary serenity (mm. 107-118) and then to the extended closing section. The turbulence of the latter leads through a section that Price labeled con bizarria (with bizarreness) into a virtuosic apotheosis of the G minor main theme, through a majestic, chordal allusion to "How Great Thou Art" (mm. 155-56), to an accelerando coda derived from the main theme (mm. 158-76). The concept of the G minor Fantasie nègre may have been established by its E minor predecessor — but from the perspective of compositional complexity and expressive intensity the later work leaves its predecessor far behind.

— John Michael Cooper

Listen

Lara Downes, piano

Discography