Florence Price: Memory Mist

Context

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887, Florence Beatrice Smith Price received early musical training from her mother. Price went to study at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, graduating in 1906 with a Soloist’s Diploma in Organ Performance, and a Teacher’s Diploma in Piano Performance. Whilst at conservatoire, Price also studied composition with Wallace Goodrich, Frederick Converse and George W. Chadwick.

After completing her degree, Price returned back to the south to teach music at the Cotton Plant-Arkadelphia Academy in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, Shorter College in North Little Rock, Arkansas and then at Clark University in Atlanta (1910-1912). After around 20 years teaching, Price and her family moved to Chicago to ultimately escape the racial tension in the south. It was here that she was able to properly establish herself as a concert pianist, organist and composer.

During her career Price received many accolades. She composed over 300 compositions, including 20 full orchestral works and over 110 art songs. Her orchestral works in particular were performed by leading American orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Michigan W. P. A. Symphony Orchestra, the Woman’s Symphony Orchestra of Chicago and U.S. Marine Band, to name but a few. Price also worked with esteemed vocalists such as Ellabelle David, Todd Duncan and Blanch Theborn. 

Price was the first African-American woman composer to earn national recognition. Seen as a pioneer among women, she was celebrated constantly for her achievements. She was in the cluster of composers in the 1930s-40s that helped define America’s voice in classical music. Her musical style represents her cultural heritage, but also the national Romantic style of the period.

 

The Music

Composed in 1949, Memory Mist is a short work for solo piano. Only 52 bars in total, the piece highlights Price’s ability to create a moving work in a short amount of time. The serene lyricism in the melody paired with the emotional range of the piece makes Memory Mist quite the tear-jerker. As with many of Price’s works, Memory Mist is influenced by blues harmony, which adds a sparkle of Price’s pen directly into the music. The nuanced dissonances fizz in the textures as the tranquil melody floats. 

The title of the piece has been discussed at length with many believing it derives from the fact that Price composed this at age 62, in a season of life where memory might be encapsulated by mist. Memory Mist is evocative, bluesy and quintessential Price. 

 

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