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Florence Price
Symphony No. 3 in C Minor

Symphony No. 3 in C Minor
Florence Price (1887-1953)


When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered Florence Price’s Symphony No. 1 in 1933, history was made: never before had a work by an African American woman been performed by a major orchestra. Price, a New England Conservatory trained pianist, organist, and composer, moved to Chicago in 1927 to escape violent threats levied at her family in Jim Crow Arkansas. Upon relocation, Price wasted no time establishing herself with the Chicago-based National Association of Negro Musicians in addition to teaching piano, composing, and even playing organ for movies. The successful premiere of her first symphony bolstered her growing reputation as a skilled composer and arts advocate in Chicago.

In 1938, Price was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Music Project (FMP) to begin work on her Symphony No. 3. Founded in 1935, the Federal Music Project was designed to counter musician unemployment in the thick of the Great Depression. Hundreds of local and regional orchestras were established, providing thousands of jobs for out of work performers, and free concerts were provided to the public, often featuring works by American composers. Price’s Symphony No. 3, premiered by the Detroit Civic Orchestra on November 6, 1940, was a rousing success. As Price remembers, “I was recalled to the stage again and again. Finally, the women of the audience rose to their feet followed by the entire audience.”

Price envisioned her third symphony to be a “not too deliberate attempt” at portraying African American character and expression. Rather than directly referencing African American folk songs or spirituals in her themes, she chose to fuse the general expressive qualities of the folk tradition with her training in the European romantic idiom, much like her colleagues William Dawson (Negro Folk Symphony, 1934) and William Grant Still (Afro-American Symphony, 1930). Price’s third symphony stands as a mature statement of her compositional prowess while maintaining the charm and expressive depth so intrinsic to her musical language. 


  • The synthesis of styles presented in the first movement: the mystically chromatic introduction and resolute first theme reflect Price’s comfort in the romantic tradition, while the moving second theme is built with characteristic devices from the African American folk tradition such as pentatonic scales and flattened blue notes
  • The use of distinct choirs of instruments in the second movement—groups of woodwinds, flutes, strings, and brass alternately take turns with the melody as it is presented throughout the movement
  • The rhythmic vitality of the third movement, patterned after the African “Juba” dance that features cross-rhythms and extensive syncopation; Price uses an extensive percussion section to add variety, prominently showcasing castanets, snare drum, wood block, and xylophone
  • Price’s economy of motivic material in the final movement—the complimentary themes are repeated, combined, and refashioned incessantly, contributing a sense of unity and memorability to the galloping movement


Three flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, strings

© Andrew Moenning