William Grant Still

William Grant Still - part of the vanguard of 20th Century American Composers, as well as a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

The Hancock Ensemble Play Music Of Griffes, Still, Kellley And Gershwin – 1943 – Past Daily Weekend Gramophone

William Grant Still
William Grant Still – at the vanguard of 20th Century American Composers, as well as a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

Theme and Variations – The Hancock Ensemble – Loren Powell, Conductor – April 23, 1943 – KHJ, Los Angeles – Mutual Network –

Another program of American music performed during the War years by the Hancock Ensemble, conducted by Loren Powelll and featuring Martin Ruderman, flute. This broadcast is from April 23, 1943 and was original presented by KHJ in Los Angeles and carried by the Mutual network.

Mostly familiar works in this half-hour program. Opening with the Poem for flute and Orchestra by Charles Tomlinson Griffes, followed by Confluentia No. 2 from Two Piano Pieces (arranged for orchestra)by Edgar Stillman Kelley. Two orchestral excerpt from the opera Troubled Island by William Grant Still – followed by Prelude No. 2 from the Three Piano Preludes by George Gershwin, arranged for Chamber orchestra and ending up with To A Water Lily by Edward MacDowell.

Often referred to as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers”, William Grant Still was the first American composer to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera. Still is known primarily for his first symphony, Afro-American Symphony (1930), which was until 1950 the most widely performed symphony composed by an American.

Born in Mississippi, he grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, attended Wilberforce University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and was a student of George Whitefield Chadwick and later Edgard Varèse.

Of note, Still was the first African American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have a symphony (his 1st Symphony) performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television.

Due to his close association and collaboration with prominent African-American literary and cultural figures, Still is considered to be part of the Harlem Renaissance movement.

Edgar Stillman Kelley was a Romanticist in the vein of Horatio Parker, George Whitefield Chadwick, and Arthur Foote, and brought much of his German training to bear in his compositions. Even so, he was always interested in bringing non-Western influences into his work. For his orchestral suite Aladdin, one of his early successes, he studied the music he heard in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and used oboes, muted trumpets, and mandolins to imitate Chinese instruments. His New England Symphony is based on themes found in bird songs (the andante portion[5]), as well as American Indian and Puritan music. For incidental music to a New York production of Ben-Hur in 1899, he based his composition on Greek modes. This music was to go on to become his most popular work; it is said to have been performed some five thousand times in English-speaking countries by 1930.

Charles Tomlinson Griffes‘ initial works are influenced by German Romanticism, but after he relinquished the German style, his later works make him the most famous American representative of musical Impressionism. He was fascinated by the exotic, mysterious sound of the French Impressionists, and was compositionally much influenced by them while he was in Europe. He also studied the work of contemporary Russian composers (for example Scriabin), whose influence is also apparent in his work, for example in his use of synthetic scales.

His most famous works are the White Peacock, for piano (1915, orchestrated in 1919); his Piano Sonata (1917–18, revised 1919); a tone poem, The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, after the fragment by Coleridge (1912, revised in 1916), and Poem for Flute and Orchestra (1918). He also wrote numerous programmatic pieces for piano, chamber ensembles, and for voice. The amount and quality of his music is impressive considering his short life and his full-time teaching job, and much of his music is still performed. His unpublished Sho-jo (1917), a one-act pantomimic drama based on Japanese themes, is one of the earliest works by an American composer to show direct inspiration from the music of Japan.


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