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Hello and welcome to Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast!  This podcast is for anyone who loves classical music, or is just getting ready to dive in for the very first time.  Thanks so much, and I hope you enjoy it!  

Oct 12, 2023

On October 29th, 1931, The Rochester Philharmonic presented the world premiere of a new symphony by the composer William Grant Still. A symphonic premiere is always something to look out for in musical history, but this one had an even greater significance. The premiere of Wiliam Grant Still’s First Symphony, subtitled  “Afro American,” was the first time a symphony written by a Black American composer was performed by a leading orchestra. William Grant Still was a man of many firsts, whether he was the first Black American conductor to conduct a major orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major company, the first Black American to conduct an orchestra in the South of the United States, and much more.  Today we’re going to focus in on Grant Still’s first symphony, a piece that Grant Still had long thought about, conceptualized, and dreamed of. It was also a symphony wrapped up in the roiling currents of Black America at the time, with the Harlem Renaissance in full swing and Alain Locke’s tract The New Negro sparking discussion and debate all over the country. It was a symphony that attempted to do something no one had ever done before, that is, to marry together the genre of the Blues with that of symphonic music. At the time of its premiere and afterwards, it was quite a success, and until 1950, it was THE most performed symphony written by an American composer. After 1950, the symphony practically disappeared from concert stages, but due to the explosion of interest in Black American composers of the past and present, this brilliant symphony is making its way back into the repertoire of orchestras all over the world. The way that Grant Still constructed this meeting of two genres of music was ingenious and innovative from start to finish, and so today on the show we’ll explore all of the historical context of the symphony, what Grant Still was trying to do with his monumental new endeavor, and of course, all of the music itself. I'm also joined today by the great writer and linguist John McWhorter, who discusses the 4 Paul Laurence Dunbar poems Grant Still added to each movement as epigraphs, as well as their cultural context. Join us!