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Showing posts with label Composer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Composer. Show all posts


PRICE, FLORENCE (Florence Beatrice Smith) (1888–1953) Musician, Composer

The first African-American woman to compose a symphony, Florence Price was born Florence Beatrice Smith in Little Rock, Arkansas, on April 9, 1888. She was raised in a middle-class family and received her early instruction in music from her mother, a former schoolteacher. Florence gave her first public performance on the piano at four and had her first composition published at 11. After graduating from high school, Florence Smith attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, studying piano, organ, and music composition and theory. She returned to the South once she earned her degree and began teaching music on the college level. In 1912 Smith left her job as head of the music department at Atlanta’s Clark University to marry Little Rock attorney Thomas J. Price. While raising two daughters, she gave private music lessons and began to compose in earnest.

Responding to rising racial tensions in Little Rock, the Price family moved to Chicago in 1927. The culturally rich environment of the city had an enormous infiuence on Florence Price’s musical developments. She became acquainted with many fellow musicians and composers and further studied composition at several area schools, including the American Conservatory of Music and the University of Chicago. Price also gave frequent piano and organ performances and taught lessons. She was a particularly important mentor to student Margaret Bonds, who later became a noted composer in her own right.

Living in Chicago, Price also developed contacts with music publishers. They published many of her works, having noteworthy success with her short piano pieces for beginning students. Also in demand were her songs, which often drew on African-American folk material, especially the rhythms of black spirituals. Price’s popular songs included My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord and Songs to a Dark Virgin; the latter was set to a poem by her acquaintance Langston Hughes. African-American singers such as MARIAN ANDERSON and LEONTYNE PRICE often sang Price’s works in concert. Price also gained a reputation for her longer, symphonic works, many of which won major music awards. In 1932, four of her works, including Symphony in E Minor, won prizes at the Wanamaker Competition. The next year, her award-winning symphony was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Chicago World’s Fair. Some of Price’s other works were subsequently performed by orchestras in New York, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. Price continued to perform, compose, and teach until her death from a stroke on June 3, 1953. Although in her lifetime she was largely unknown outside of the Chicago area, today she is considered one of the outstanding African American musicians and composers of the 20th century.

Further Reading
Friedberg, Ruth C. “Price, Florence B.” In  American National Biography, edited by John Arthur Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, vol. 17, pp. 858–859. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Green, Mildred Denby. Black Women Composers: A Genesis. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.
Jackson, Barbara Garvey. “Florence Price: Composer.” The Black Perspective in Music 5 (spring 1977), 30–43.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Black Diamonds: Althea Waites Plays Piano Music by African American Composers. Cambria Records, CD, 1993.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers: Art Songs by African-American Composers. Musicians Showcase, CD, 2000.


MONK, MEREDITH (1942– ) Performance Artist, Composer, Choreographer

“I combine forms weaving together music, movement, film, object, light and ambiance,” wrote Meredith Monk in 1996 of the performances that have made her a leading force in the American avant-garde. On November 20, 1942, Monk was born in Lima, Peru, where her mother, a professional singer, was on tour. She has claimed that she learned to sing before she could talk. At three she began taking dancing lessons, and at 16 she began composing music.

Monk formally studied performing arts at Sarah Lawrence College, where she embraced the school’s interdisciplinary approach. In addition to studying composition, opera, and chamber music, she concentrated on dance, learning both classical ballet and the modern dance techniques pioneered by DORIS HUMPHREY and Merce Cunningham.

After graduating in 1964, Monk moved to New York City, where she joined the innovative Judson Dance Theater and became involved in happenings and off-Broadway theater. Monk also began creating her own works, which combined music, dance, theater, and film. Early solo pieces included Break (1964), during which she moved across the stage accompanied by an audio tape of car crashes, and 16 Millimeter Earrings (1966), in which a film was projected onto her body.

In 1968, Monk founded her own company, The House. Ten years later, it was expanded to include the Meredith Monk Vocal Ensemble to perform her vocal compositions. In many of her early experiments with The House, she created site-specific performances designed for nontraditional spaces. Juice (1969), for example, was performed over three nights—the first at the Guggenheim Museum, the second at a Barnard College theater, and the third at Monk’s loft. Another piece, the Opie-award winning Vessel (1971), about Joan of Arc, began in Monk’s home and ended in a parking lot.

Monk’s work drew the attention of a larger audience with the success of Quarry (1976), which earned her a second Opie. It dealt with a sickly girl’s perceptions of World War II and the Holocaust. Monk again explored the effects of war in Specimen Days (1981), in which performers playing two Civil War–era families—one from the North, the other from the South—occupied separate sections of the stage.

More recently, Monk has been acclaimed for Atlas (1991), a full-length opera that premiered at the Houston Grand Opera. It examined the spiritual journey of a woman played by Monk and inspired by explorer Alexandra David-Neel. Also well-received were  American Archaeology No. 1: Roosevelt Island (1996) and Politics of Quiet (1996). In 1995 Monk was given a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, just one of the many honors she has received for her pioneering work.

Further Reading
Jowitt, Deborah, ed. Meredith Monk. Baltimore Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.
Kreemer, Connie, ed. Further Steps: Fifteen Choreographers on Modern Dance. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Four American Composers: Meredith Monk (1983). Unapix, VHS, 1991.
Our Lady of Late.Wergo, CD, 2000.

ETHEL LEGINSKA (Ethel Liggins)

LEGINSKA, ETHEL (Ethel Liggins) (1886–1970) Musician, Composer

Concert pianist Ethel Leginska helped open doors for women seeking careers as orchestra musicians. She was born Ethel Liggins in Yorkshire, England, on April 13, 1886. Ethel soon emerged as a musical prodigy and performed her first concert when she was only seven. Winning the support of a wealthy patron, she began studying piano in Frankfurt, Vienna, and Berlin in 1900. By 1906 Liggins was performing recitals throughout Europe as Ethel Leginska. She perhaps took the new surname because she believed its Polish sound would give her more legitimacy as a musician. The next year she married Roy Emerson Whittern, an American music student. The couple had one son, Cedric, before divorcing in 1918. Leginska made her American debut in New York in 1913. She was immediately a popular and critic success. Impressing her audiences by her demanding repertoire, Leginska was dubbed the “Paderewski of women pianists,” a nickname that compared her to one of Poland’s most famed musicians.

Leginska also became known for her opposition to the handicaps female musicians and other professional women faced. Angry over her own unsuccessful custody fight for her son, she spoke out against the lack of child care options as well as the inadequate educational opportunities for women. In concert, she eschewed ball gowns for practical, comfortable clothing, making it clear to her audiences that she regarded herself not as an ornament, but as an artist. Although Leginska was more than willing to challenge society’s prejudice against female concert performers, she was unable to conquer her own personal obstacles. After suffering three nervous breakdowns, she abandoned the concert stage in 1926. Leginska instead began to concentrate on her work as a composer and conductor. Since the early 1920s, she had tried to carve out her conducting career, a field previously closed to women. Drawing on her contacts in the music world, she secured engagements as a guest conductor of many of Europe’s finest orchestras by promising to play a concerto as part of the program. In 1925, she returned to the United States to conduct the New York Symphony Orchestra, following with successful engagements in Boston

and Los Angeles. The novelty of a female conductor first drew in audiences, though soon Leginska’s obvious talents were earning her universal acclaim. The ambitious Leginska also devoted herself to establishing the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (1926–27) and the Boston English Opera Company (1927–1929). In addition to directing the Chicago Women’s Symphony Orchestra, she also founded the National Women’s Symphony Orchestra in New York in 1931.

By the late 1930s, Leginska increasingly turned to teaching. In 1940, she settled in Los Angeles where she established a studio and gave lessons for more than a decade. She frequently staged concerts featuring her students as soloists and herself as conductor. In 1957 Leginska also conducted a Los Angeles orchestra in performing The Rose and the Ring, an opera she had composed in 1932. Having become the first woman to have a distinguished career as a pianist, conductor, and composer, Ethel Leginska died on February 26, 1970, at the age of 83.

Further Reading
Conlon, Paula. “Ethel Leginska.” In  American National Biography, edited by John Arthur Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, vol. 13, pp. 432–433. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Neuls-Bates, Carol. “Leginska, Ethel,” In The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. Edited by H. Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie. New York: Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, 1986.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Columbia Masters. Ivory Classics, CD, 2001.
The Pupils of Leschetizky: A Gallery of Great Pianists. Pearl Opal, CD, 1992.