Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection
Sat November 5, 2011
Works by Lili Boulanger, Vivian Fine, and Florence Price
Nadia Boulanger is well known to musicians, being the Parisian teacher of many American composers, most notably Aaron Copland. But her younger sister, Lili, excelled as a composer despite battling sickness most of her life. She eventually succumbed to Crohn's Disease at the much-too-young age of 24.
LILI BOULANGER(1893-1918). D'un matin de printemps (1918). The Women's Philharmonic, JoAnn Falletta.
VIVIAN FINE(1913-2000). Concertante for Piano and Orchestra (1944). Reiko Honsho, piano, Japan Philharmonic, Akeo Watanabe.
FLORENCE PRICE(1887-1953). Symphony No. 3 (1940), movements 2, 3, 4. The Women's Philharmonic, Apo Hsu.
In 1913, Lili Boulanger was the first female to win the coveted Rome Prize (which her sister never succeeded in winning), but which their father Ernest had won in 1835. In her last years, she produced a number of beautiful works, including D'un matin de printemps, Of a Spring Morning. The Fleisher Collection is putting the finishing touches on a new, critical edition. The music is a gorgeous and delicate example of her talent.
This work, along with Florence Price's Symphony No. 3 and more than a hundred other titles, were given to the Fleisher Collection by The Women's Philharmonic, which presented its final concert in 2004. In its two decades, the Philharmonic aggressively encouraged and promoted the work of women composers, instrumentalists, and conductors. Fleisher is proud to carry their legacy forward by making this music available for performance now and into the future. Composers such as Florence Price open a barely known window into the history of American music, as she was the first African-American woman to gain notoriety in orchestral writing.
Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, and many singers now know her songs, but the symphonic works are mostly unknown. This third symphony, like much of her music, hints at, rather than quotes, actual folk material. The hint, however, is undeniable and fresh. The third movement, "Juba Dance," is catapulted by rhythm, the element Price considered essential to an understanding of the African-American experience in music. She is a finely balanced composer, though, strong in her handling of harmony and the orchestra.
Vivian Fine was an excellent pianist and composer, so it's fitting to listen to her Concertante for Piano and Orchestra today. When she moved to New York City from Chicago in 1931, she supported herself by accompanying dance company rehearsals. She was soon writing dance scores and performing the works of Cowell, Ives, Copland, Rudhyar, Sessions, and many others.
Over her long career she composed in every form, including opera. She was never content to remain in any one style. The Concertante is tonal and almost romantic, but with a quirky humor that endears.