Tone Poem Tuesday

Ulysses Kay was a Black composer who lived from 1917 to 1995. Born in Tucson to parents who encouraged music-making in the home, Kay went on to study music at the University of Arizona and the Eastman School of Music, working with such musical luminaries as William Grant Still and Howard Hanson. Kay’s music is (so I’ve read, having not heard much of it at all!) mostly written in the neoclassical style, which makes sense from my hearing of today’s piece. I don’t hear a great deal of jazz or African influence here. This work has an almost academic kind of feel to it, which may be simply because the piece is called “Fantasy Variations” and does not seem to have any programmatic content at all, which puts it in a different category, more of an “absolute music” kind of piece, than a lot of what I’ve been featuring over the last few weeks.

This work rewards several listens, I have found. It opens with a lyrical passage that quickly gives way to stark modernism, and then the mood alternates several times before arriving on an almost hymnlike conclusion. The piece stands in much the same kind of musical tradition as a great deal of American 20th century music, and I am entirely unsurprised to read that Kay studied with Still and Hanson.
Here is Fantasy Variations by Ulysses Simpson Kay.

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