BSO2021_Sessions_ProgramBook_Dec_FINAL_Pages - Page 11

WILLIAM GRANT STILL Darker America

WILLIAM GRANT STILL Darker America

“ I don ’ t think that it is good for the world of music to have everything come out of the same mold . God didn ’ t place only roses on earth , or only lilies or only violets . He put flowers of many sorts and many colors here , the beauty of each enhances that of the others .” – Still
ABOUT THE COMPOSER
Born 1895 in Woodville , MS ; died 1978 in Los Angeles , CA
• William Grant Still was born in Mississippi but grew up mainly in Little Rock , AR , where he moved with his mother after his father passed away .
• At age 15 , Still started taking violin lessons and taught himself how to pay clarinet , saxophone , oboe , double bass , cello , and viola .
• His mother wished for him to pursue a career in medicine , so Still worked toward a Bachelor of Science at Wilberforce University . While there , he conducted the university band and started to compose .
• Still decided to pursue music and left Wilberforce to study at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music . He later continued his education at the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied composition with avantgarde composer Edgar Varèse .
• In 1918 , Still joined the U . S . Navy and served in WWI . Upon returning from the war , he moved to Harlem where he performed and arranged commercial music and became a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance .
• Still ’ s first symphony , “ Afro-American ,” became the first work by a Black composer to be performed by a major U . S . orchestra when it was programmed by the Rochester Philharmonic in 1931 . Until 1950 , the work was the most frequently performed piece of Western classical music by an American composer .
• In 1934 , Still moved to LA . He became the first Black musician to conduct a major U . S . symphony orchestra when he led the LA Philharmonic in a performance of his own work , and his opera Troubled Island became the first opera written by a Black composer to be performed by a major U . S . opera company .
• Still received international fame , and his works have been performed around the world . Still is known as “ the Dean of African-American Classical Composers ,” and his body of work is an essential part of American classical music repertoire .
FUN FACT
Still ’ s Symphony No . 1 , “ Afro-American ,” was the first work to use banjo in an orchestra .
ABOUT THE PIECE
• Still composed Darker America in 1924 when he was 29 years old . According to his second wife in her book , In One Life , Still had not yet fully settled on his own style of composing when he wrote the piece .
• The work won a publication prize from the Eastman School of Music . It was well received by critics , who wrote , “ there is no doubting the man ’ s power ” in reference to Still after the premiere of the piece .
• This expressive tone poem explores the themes of sorrow , hope , prayer , and triumph and references the Black experience in America .
SCIENCE Edwin Hubble discovers that there are multiple galaxies in the universe
MUSIC The first Macy ’ s Thanksgiving Day Parade is held
HISTORY Vladimir Lenin dies
BSO SESSIONS | DECEMBER 2020
11