Florence Price: The Deserted Garden
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 Deserted Garden was composed in 1933, and is composed for solo violin and piano. As with many of Price’s works, The Deserted Garden was inspired by blues and jazz harmonies.
This piece is a great example of Price incorporating Western traditions such as structure, and then her use of modal harmony and the way she progresses tonality. Throughout the piece Price uses the dorian mode and the pentatonic scale, which gives the piece the bluesy feeling. The rich sound of the lower register from the violin interweaves with the simple but effective piano accompaniment.
After the more serious introduction, the main theme then pours out of the violin. Price’s use of blue notes adds to the idea of her amalgamating Western classical and American South musical traditions. As the melody and accompaniment blend together the rich and sonorous writing by Price shines through the texture. The Deserted Garden concludes with a reprise of the main theme before closing quietly.
Florence Price’s The Deserted Garden mixes different musical traditions to make this simple, but very welcoming and warm piece. Price’s sonorous writing brings the music to life, with her use of modal harmony and influences from blues and jazz music being very present throughout.
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