A MEMORIAL PERFORMANCE FOR FLORENCE B. PRICE
The Second Violin Concerto in 1953
It’s generally said that Florence Price’s moving and innovative Second Violin Concerto was premiered by White violinist Minnie Cedargreen Jernberg (1888–1957), who was frequently featured as soloist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the early years of the twentieth century, and for whom it was written, in a Musician’s Club of Chicago Recital in 1955 (about two years after Price’s death).I repeated this assertion in a program note I wrote for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s recent performances of that work with the brilliant solo artistry of Randall Goosby.
This weekend, though, I happened upon a newspaper story that demands a revision of that account. For — as pioneering Price scholar Dr. Rae Linda Brown mentioned (without documentation) in her milestone biography of the composer, The Heart of a Woman (p. 337) — on November 1, 1953, on November 1, 1953, some five months after Price’s death on June 3, Nancy Fitzpatrick reported in the Chicago Tribute that Jernberg would perform the Concerto in “a program in memory of the late Mrs. Florence B. Price, composer and member of the Musicians Club of Women” to be given the next day (November 2). Fitzpatrick reported that the program would also include performances by pianist Florence Henline and sopranos Ethel Foote Blettner and Jeanette Stroudberg Hayden, but provides no further details. Here is that report:
I would love to know more about this performance — which other pieces were performed, the program order, etc. — but it’s helpful to be able zero in on the early performance history of this important work (there was probably an earlier performance with orchestra rather than piano — Price demonstrably made preparations for one, taking the significant time and effort to copy out an entire set of orchestral parts — but the particulars of that remain to be unearthed by Price scholars). Nor do we know whether Florence B. Price ever heard her final orchestral composition performed. For now, we have to content ourselves with imagining what it must have felt like to attend what was surely the first posthumous performance of Price’s Second Violin Concerto.
The Concerto’s fate after the 1953 performance is well known: Price, an African American woman working in a field dominated by White-owned and White-operated music publishers who were, to say the least, resistant to the idea of publishing classical music by Black folk, let alone Black women, necessarily left the work in manuscript at her death. Jernberg performed it again in 1955 and 1964 (still in manuscript), and the manuscript was then lost until it was found among the storied trove of manuscripts discovered in an abandoned house in St. Anne, Illinois, in 2009. Violinist Er-Gene Kahng made history with the work’s modern revival in 2018, and the work is now published by G. Schirmer.
If you don’t already know the Violin Concerto №2, why not take a few minutes to learn it? It’s a remarkable work in many ways. Here’s a recent performance by wonderful violinist Kelly Hall-Tomkins with the Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Cunningham:
Originally published at https://cooperm55.wixsite.com on December 12, 2022.