AUSTIN, Texas — Classical pianist Michelle Cann is a woman on a mission to help others discover the music of a composer who was almost lost to history.
Cann is championing the music of Florence Price, a Black woman raised in the South who composed brilliant symphonies but who struggled to get her music heard.
“She made history in 1932 as the first Black American woman composer to have a piece performed by a major symphony orchestra,” Cann said. “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered her Symphony No. 1, but other than that, no other orchestras performed her music in her lifetime. She would write letters begging conductors to please program her music, but they wouldn’t.”
Cann explained that it likely was the case of the classical music world of the 20th century ignoring a talented woman of color in a profession dominated largely by white males.
“Florence Price speaks about her race and her gender as a handicap. Those were her words in letters she wrote," Cann said.
Cann said she’s passionate about sharing what she called Price’s “fantastic and beautiful music” with the world.
In Austin this week, Cann is preparing for concerts with the Austin Symphony Orchestra on Friday and Saturday night at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
And while Florence Price’s music is not on the program this time, she will be performing the popular Piano Concerto No. 2 by celebrated Russian Composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.
“I swear Rachmaninoff came up with some of the most beautiful melodies known to mankind in this concerto,” Cann said. “The mix of beauty and intimacy and soulfulness along with just absolute ferociousness is just unmatched with many others.”
Cann teaches piano at the Curtis Institute of Music and regularly appears before concert audiences. She sees herself as something more – a person who wants the world to remember Florence Price, a composer who, against great odds, created music that is very much alive for us today.