William Grant Still (American, 1895-1978): Summerland
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I thought we could listen to some music by William Grant Still, a prominent American composer and one of the first African-American musicians to reach the elite classical music circuit--he was, for instance, the first African-American composer to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera, the first to conduct a major orchestra, and the first to have his work performed by a leading symphony orchestra. (He has known as the "Dean of Afro-American Composers," but as we will see, there may be some women who deserve to share that title!) As part of the Harlem Renaissance movement, he also felt closely tied to African-American culture and is probably best known today for his "Afro-American Symphony," which incorporates elements of blues, jazz, and spirituals into standard classical forms.
We are going to listen to "Summerland," which was originally the second movement of "Three Visions," a work for solo piano. (I can't figure out if Still arranged all three movements for violin and piano, but I know at least this arrangement of "Summerland" is his.) It is intended to evoke the promised beauty of the afterlife. This young violinist plays it extremely skillfully and elegantly.