Classical Album of the Week: British Pianist Samantha Ege’s Four Women, Music for Solo Piano

Jun 14, 2019

June 10, 2019. Four Women is not just the debut album of pianist Samantha Ege, it’s a window onto a labor of love. A British artist of Jamaican and Nigerian heritage, Ege has dedicated the last several years of her life to amplifying under-represented women composers—both Europeans and African-Americans— inlcuding Florence Price, Vítězslava Kaprálová, Ethel Bilsland, and Margaret Bonds.

This work has spanned the UK, United States, and Singapore, fueled by scholarship at the University of York and Chicago’s Newberry Library as well as lecture-recitals from Melbourne to Arkansas.  A recent tweet by Ege, “I feel like I’m writing the #Lemonade of dissertations #phdchat," referring to Beyoncé’s landmark concept album, reminds us of how squarely Ege’s work sits in the zeitgeist of our times.

Four Women opens with the Sonata in E minor by Florence Price (1887-1953) — hands down, the most talked-about female composer of the last year.

A Southerner by birth, Price was a long-time Chicagoan and a largely forgotten composer until recently. After some of her scores were rediscovered in an Illinois attic in 2009, her star rose, culminating with coverage in The New York Times, a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a top publisher, G. Schirmer, clamoring for rights.

Her Sonata in E minor has a historical Philadelphia connection, by way of the Wanamaker family, no less. In the late 1920s, Rodman Wanamaker, son of the more famous, John, instituted a national music competition for African-American composers. (A fascinating letter, appealing for publicity during the contest’s early days, attests to the importance the Wanamakers placed on this initiative.)

Price and her sonata were awarded the competition’s piano composition prize in 1932. Even more, that year she won the symphonic prize and two honorable mentions. For someone who only months before had left an abusive husband, suffered a broken foot, and moved in with one of her students—with two daughters in tow—this was a breathtaking achievement.

Hear host Gregg Whiteside play the sonata’s third movement on Tuesday morning, June 11, and more works from this album throughout the week.