Gustavo Dudamel to Conduct Margaret Bonds’s Montgomery Variations in July, 2021

This past weekend was filled with plenty of grim news – the stuff that headlines are made of.

But amidst that distressing din there were also some most welcome tidings: on July 15, 2021 Maestro Gustavo Dudamel will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a new performance of “excerpts” from Margaret Bonds’s 1964 masterpiece, The Montgomery Variations — a set of programmatic variations on the spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” scored for large orchestra and lasting about twenty-three minutes in its entirety. Bonds wrote a detailed program for the piece, explaining how specific events in the Civil…


In life and in their contemporary and posthumous receptions, the color line profoundly separated Margaret Bonds (1913–72) and Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950). This would not have been lost on Margaret Bonds — but her six recently published songs on sonnets by Millay demonstrate that she also recognized that their spirits were in many ways alike. They were both brilliant feminists, both iconoclastic, both deeply committed to using their art in the service of social justice. Millay’s poems are suffused with musical references, and Bonds’s music reveals that she was a voracious and extraordinarily astute reader of poetry.

I recently…


Florence Price’s First Symphony, the 1933–34 World’s Fair, and Three Tribbles [corrected]

In Part 1 of this three-part post, I suggested that even though the June 15, 1933 premiere of Florence Price’s First Symphony was important, the familiar narrative portraying the symphony as a triumph and the (implicit) centerpiece of the program is not quite true and has eclipsed the Fair’s celebration of deeply offensive racist stereotypes. …


Updated: a minute ago

Florence Price’s First Symphony, the 1933–34 World’s Fair, and Three Tribbles

In the first part of this post I talked about the context for the premiere of Florence Price’s First Symphony. That premiere was part of a concert themed “The Negro in Music” and offered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Music Director Frederick Stock on June 15, 1933. As I noted there, it was a milestone in many ways — and in latter-day commentaries on Price it’s often the only part of her professional biography that is mentioned with any specificity, eclipsing the extraordinary two subsequent decades of her creative life.

But in…


Florence Price’s First Symphony, the 1933–34 World’s Fair, and Three Tribbles (Part 1)

Never in my career of writing did I expect that one day I would link the concert program that included the world premiere of Florence B. Price’s First Symphony and music history’s retelling of that narrative with a classic and much-beloved episode of the original series of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. But here we are. This is a three-part post, so I hope you’ll bear with me because, to be perfectly frank, the points I’m covering are not just informational, but actually important. Here goes . . .

The Trouble with Tribbles” ranks as one of the most enduringly…


Florence B. Price’s “Night” (Text by Bessie Mayle)

The poetry, music, and other art of the Harlem Renaissance and Chicago Black Renaissance was enormously consequential in doing something that had previously been taboo in the profoundly racist world of the United States: it affirmed that Blackness is inherently beautiful and, equally important, that the White-dominated world’s ubiquitous portrayal of Black as an incursion into White space was unjust and simply wrong, an implicit but potent assertion that Blackness inherently encroached on White dominance. …


Sometime in 1930, Florence B. Price (1887–1953) wrote a poem titled Song of Hope and set it to music as an expansive composition for soprano solo, baritone solo, chorus, and large orchestra — a score that runs to thirty-two pages and perhaps twelve minutes, and that pre-dates her oft-discussed First Symphony by three years and thus stands as her first major orchestral composition (with chorus). The work is not mentioned in Dr. Rae Linda Brown’s recently released biography of the composer, and the circumstances of its composition remain obscure. …


Maeve Brophy and one of the Seven Descriptive Pieces for Piano Solo (1927–28)

A month or so ago I published the premiere edition of Florence B. Price’s Seven Descriptive Pieces for piano solo.[1] This edition was number fifty-nine (59) in my series of source-critical editions of compositions by Price that, despite the considerable attention being devoted to Price in recent musical and musicological discourse, have lain untouched — neither consulted, nor edited, nor performed, nor studied, nor taught — in the Special Collections division of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, for the last decade. The paradox of its obscurity, and the pity of its having remained ignored even by those for whom Price…


Resurrecting a Blacklisted Musical Affirmation of Freedom from 1976 in 2021

[Update (March 8, 2021): The June 13, 2009 revival of Harris’s “Bicentennial Symphony” has been repackaged and is currently available for broadcast to any interested NPR station beginning today thru June 30, 2021. The repackaged audio and video versions are also available via MusicUNTOLD website and the MusicUNTOLD YouTube channel.]

Two seemingly unrelated facts:

  • On February 10–12, 1976, the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Murry Sidlin (b. 1940) premiered the Bicentennial Symphony (Symphony No. 13/14[1]) of U.S. composer Roy Harris (1898–1979) as part of that year’s many…

Margaret Bonds (1913–72) is commanding increasing attention as a composer lately — an acknowledgment that is at once timely and long overdue. But she was also a pianist, and apparently quite a good one. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees as a pianist from Northwestern University, where she studied with acclaimed piano pedagogue Emily Boettcher Bogue (1907–92) and performed as soloist in the oft-discussed premiere of Florence Price’s First Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. She then went on to study in New York with Djane Lavoie-Herz (1889–1982; herself a student…

John Michael Cooper

A musicologist with a passion for social justice, bringing unheard music to life for performers and listeners, and teaching.

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