ed. John Michael Cooper

  • Piano
  • 3 min

Programme Note

According to one of the autographs, Price's G major Song without Words was "composed in 1928 or [the] early '30's [sic]." The inscription appears to have been added later on — perhaps in the 1940s. The broadly approximated date is easy to understand, for this was an extraordinarily eventful period in the composer's life — the period that saw her settling into Chicago's bustling musical scene and ascendance to her role as a leading composer of the National Association of Negro Musicians, the premieres of her First Symphony and Piano Concerto, the receipt of Wanamaker Prizes in several categories, the dissolution of her marriage with Thomas Price, her marriage to P.D. Arnett and separation from him, and more. To look back years later on an undated, unpublished, short composition composed amid such turbulence with greater precision would have been impossible, even for Price.

And yet the G major Song without Words clearly held meaning for Price, for she wrote it out twice and it was in that retrospective retrieval that she also gave it the alternate title "Pleading." That designation, with its implication of one or more speakers who are pleading and another person or persons to whom the entreaties are directed, fits well with this piece — not only because of the obviously vocal character of the melodies themselves, but also because much of the work is cast as interactions among two, three, or occasionally four distinct melodic lines that continually interact, some initiating the interactions and others responding. Typically these exchanges occur between the treble and baritone or bass registers and with different rhythms. For example, the uppermost voices' melody in mm. 5-6 is initially supported by a low, unmoving bass line, but the half-note movements in the bass in mm. 7-8 are cast as responses to that initial entreaty and the descending eighth-note line in mm. 9-10 introduce a new conversational element. The texture thins and the voices diverge from one another rhythmically and melodically in the brief B section in E minor (mm. 30-35), and many of their interactions are recomposed in the reprise of the A section. Because of this, the forte climax at m. 50 is able to usher in an extended three-octave cadential descent that leads to a coda whose air of resolution suggests that, somehow, the entreaties have been heard. And while the pleadings and responses contained in Price's character piece remain, of course, purely musical, the clarity of the conversational exchanges in her G major song without words recalls Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's 1842 explanation of his own songs without words (Lieder ohne Worte):
There is so much spoken about music, and yet so little is said. I believe that words are entirely insufficient for that, and if I should find that they were sufficient, then I would write no more music. People usually complain that music is so ambiguous;…But for me it is just the opposite…[words]…seem to me so ambiguous, so unclear, so misleading in comparison to good music, which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words. — What the music I love expresses to me is thoughts not too unclear for words, but rather too clear.
The previously unknown song without words presented here is, we may safely say, a worthy successor to Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn's own creations in that genre.

— John Michael Cooper


Tomoko Kashiwagi, piano