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About this Piece

Composed in 1930, William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1, nicknamed the “Afro-
American Symphony,” represented in the composer’s words “the Negro of days not
far removed from the Civil War.” Still weaves musical ideas from jazz, spirituals, and
in particular the blues into a portrait of that shared Black experience. A 12-bar blues
is the central theme of the symphony, and Still wanted to present the music with
the dignity it was not widely given in America at the time, believing “the blues were
not immoral or trivial, as some people wanted to believe, but instead an expression
of the hopes and yearnings of a lowly people, wanting a better life.” The traditional
slow adagio movement, “Sorrow,” expands on that blues motif with subtle
chromatic harmony and call and response throughout the orchestra.