Florence Price: Preludes

For piano (edited by John Michael Cooper)

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Additional Info

  • Composer
    Florence Price
  • Publisher
    G Schirmer Inc
  • Arrangement
    Piano (PF)
  • Format
  • Genre
    20th Century


For piano (edited by John Michael Cooper)

No. 1. Allegro moderato
No. 2. Andantino cantabile
No. 3. Allegro molto
No. 4 ["Wistful"]. Allegretto con tenerezza
No. 5. Allegro

Published here for the first time, Price's Preludes are her first major set for piano — and they are not without their enigmas. For one, only one of the autograph sources bears Price's name, a rare occurrence in her papers. For another, the earliest manuscript version (now surviving as two separate autographs, identified as sources AS 2 and AS 3 below) is dated June, 1926, but neither it nor the only complete autograph that survives intact (source AS 1) names Price as author. Most curious of all, that autograph is found not with most of the remainder of Price's musical estate in the Special Collections division of the University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, but rather in the papers of Margaret Bonds (1913-72) at the Booth Family Center for Rare Books and Manuscripts in the Georgetown University Libraries (Washington, D.C.). Because Price collaborated with Bonds on several projects in 1932-34, lived in the Bonds home after her separation from her second husband, P.D. Arnett, in late 1933 or early 1934, and had no sustained interaction with Bonds after the younger composer's move to New York in 1939, this autograph was probably written between 1932 and 1939. But source AS 1 clearly served as the basis of a separate autograph for No. 4 titled "Wistful " (source AS 4, below), and that manuscript survives in a brown-paper folder bearing the address "4404 Vincennes Ave., " where Price lived with Arnett in 1931-1933/34. Finally, source AS 1 is written on PHILADA paper, which is rare in Price's manuscripts after 1932. The complete set may thus be tentatively dated 1926-32.

The Preludes are also unique among Price's sets for piano solo in that they are her only set of "absolute " rather than characteristic or programmatic pieces. All of Price's later sets bear descriptive collective titles and movement titles such as Village Scenes ("Church Spires in Moonlight," "A Shaded Lane, " and "In the Park") or Snapshots ("Lake Mirror," "Moon behind a Cloud," and "Flame"). But the lack of a descriptive collective title for the Preludes should by no means be taken to indicate that they are abstract, abstruse, or (least of all) bland. The existence of No. 4 as a separate work titled simply "Wistful " clearly assigns a distinct and melancholy character for that movement, and the other movements all possess sharply contrasting characters as well as imaginative and evocative music. No. 1 as a whole is conspicuously impetuous, alternating between the dotted main theme in C major, fanfare-like figures, and a lyrical second theme; No. 2 is dominated by a leisurely, song-like theme but includes a middle section of greater urgency; and No. 3 seems to take the character of the middle section of No. 2 as its point of departure. Nos. 4 and 5 form a complementary pair in G minor, moving from an exploration of Tchaikovsky-like melancholy to a rapid and concentrated technical study to bring the set to an exciting close.

— John Michael Cooper

Four separate autographs survive for the Preludes:
  • AS 1: Booth Family Center for Special Collections in the Georgetown University Libraries (shelfmark GTM 130530 Box 12, no. 4). Complete autograph for all five movements in sequence, titled "PRELUDES" and undated. This holograph is in the Margaret Bonds collection, suggesting that Price gave it to Bonds at some point (probably during the time of their collaborations, 1932- 34). It is undated but written on PHILADA staff paper, which is rare in Price's manuscripts after the early 1930s; and internal evidence clearly points to it as a revision of the versions of the preludes given in sources AS 2 and AS 3. Because Bonds and Price collaborated in 1932-34, it probably was written after 1926 and given to Bonds in 1932-34.
  • AS 2: Special Collections division of University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville (MC 988a Box 17, folder 2): composing score for No. 1, later dated in pencil "June, 1926" at the bottom right-hand corner of the first page. No author is given. The title was originally given as ALBUMLEAVES, but this was lined through and changed to PRELUDES. Internal evidence shows that source AS 2 pre-dates source AS 1. It was originally the beginning of the same manuscript that now survives as source AS 3. It is written on "No. 3 Century Brand Century Certified Edition" staff paper, which was printed by the New York firm Century Music Publishing Co.
  • AS 3: Special Collections division of University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville (MC 988b Box 4A, folder 1): composing score for Nos. 2-5, undated and with no author given. Originally continuation of source AS 2, also written on "No. 3 Century Brand Century Certified Edition" staff paper.
  • AS 4: Special Collections division of University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville (MC 988a Box 17, folder 38): separate autograph copy of No. 4, titled "WISTFUL" with no reference to the other Preludes. The autograph is contained in a brown paper wrapper with the handwritten title "WISTFUL / For / Pianoforte / by / Florence B. Price" Also written on the wrapper in Price's hand, perhaps later, is the address "4404 Vincennes Ave., Chicago, Ill." — the address where she lived with P.D. Arnett from February 1931 to late 1933 or early 1944. Internal evidence shows that AS 4 post-dates source AS 1.

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