Florence Price’s music was mostly ignored when she composed it. Now, however, the works of this African-American artist are being reevaluated. And performed. And recorded. But it almost didn’t happen at all.
Many of Price’s manuscripts were considered lost after her sudden death in 1953. In 2009, her abandoned summer home was under renovation. The workers uncovered a good deal of them. Rescued were Price’s two violin concertos and her fourth symphony. Also recovered were several piano works.
As Josh Tatsuo Cullen explains, this find was significant. Some of the pieces on this release have never been heard. Others were only known in incomplete sets or early manuscripts. This album is a major addition to Price’s catalog.
Price attended the New England Conservatory of Music. Her works are steeped in Western classical traditions. And, they’re also infused with the music of Price’s heritage.
At first blush, her 1928 “Scenes in Tin Can Alley” may sound like George Gershwin. The syncopations and harmonies Price uses come from the rural South, not New York. There’s a cultural subtext here that’s missing in Gershwin’s work.
The pieces in “Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman” and “Village Scenes” all have picturesque titles. They show Price’s attention to the details of everyday life. And especially of those who were mostly invisible to the public.
To me, the five Preludes perfectly synthesize African-American music and classical traditions. You might think they resemble George Gershwin’s Preludes, but they don’t. Playing them back-to-back the differences between Price’s and Gershwin’s jazz roots become obvious.
Josh Tatsuo Cullen performs with spirit and sensitivity. His liner notes confirm his deep connection to these works. And it’s a connection one can hear.
Yes, Price’s orchestral works are important. But she was a pianist and organist of the highest caliber. This album shows that her keyboard music is also worthy of attention.
Scenes in Tin Can Alley
Piano Music of Florence Price
Josh Tatsuo Cullen, piano
Blue Griffen BGR615