Florence Price: Moon Bridge
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.
Composed in 1930, Florence Price’s Moon Bridge is part of her set of 44 art songs. Scored for high voices and piano, this gentle song uses words by poet Mary Rolofson Gamble.
The moon like a big, round ball of flame
Rose out of the silver bay,
And built a bridge of golden beams,
Where the fairies came to play.
I saw them dancing in jewel’d robes
On the wavelet’s rhythmic flow,
And I long’d to stand on the magic bridge,
In the moonlight’s mystic glow.
But over the sky a veil of mist
Thin, soft as a web of lace,
Was drawn, then parted, then came again,
With easy, coquettish grace.
And the moon put on a somber mask,
And frowned on the rippling wave,
And the beautiful bridge went under the sea,
Nor a beam could the fairies save!
I wonder’d if this would end their play,
And if, as the bridge went down,
They would lose their jewels so frail and fair,
And their queen her diamond crown!
But they glided away in merry mood,
To their home in the rosetree’s bowers,
And there they danced on the dewy grass,
Till the “wee sma” morning hours.
After a rolling piano introduction, the voices enter in unison. The quick-moving accompaniment keeps the voices moving along. Price uses word painting to highlight various points in the text. For instance ‘I saw them dancing’ is sung with more bounce and rhythm to shadow a real dance, and the word ‘down’ is sung as a descending scale which is then repeated by the piano.
The influence of blues harmony can be heard in parts of the song, but not all, making it really prominent when it does rear its head. In four-part harmony, the voices sing in unison for most of Moon Bridge. The light textures of the high voices bounce off of the jaunty piano accompaniment. The song comes to joyous close as the voices rise in dynamic and the piano plays a closing passage.
Ⓒ Alex Burns