Scherzo from "The Afro-American Symphony"

From Wind Repertory Project
William Grant Still

William Grant Still

Subtitle: From The Afro-American Symphony

General Info

Year: 1930 / 1970
Duration: c. 9:00
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: William Grant Still Music
Cost: Score and Parts - $250.00   |   Score Only - $29.95


Full Score
Flute I-II-III (III doubling Piccolo)
Oboe I-II
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
Tuba I-II
String Bass
Percussion, including::

  • Snare Drum
  • Bass Drum
  • Crash Cymbals (2: large and small)
  • Snare Drum



None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Of his nearly 150 works in various media, it was the Afro-American Symphony that established Still’s reputation worldwide. It was first given in 1931 by that indefatigable champion of his fellow composers, Howard Hanson, with the Rochester (N.Y.) Symphony. It rapidly established itself in the repertoire, including the New York Philharmonic performance at Carnegie Hall and performances by 34 other American orchestras in the 1930s alone. Still succinctly described his goals in writing the work: ‘I knew I wanted to write a symphony; I knew that it had to be an American work; and I wanted to demonstrate how the blues, so often considered a lowly expression, could be elevated to the highest musical level.’ After the work’s completion, Still appended verse by Paul Lawrence Dunbar to illuminate the mood of each movement. A deeply religious man, he inscribed the work (as he did each of his works) to God, ‘the source of all inspiration’.

The third movement fulfills the traditional scherzo function. Entitled Humor, it is the most popular of the four movements and is often performed independently. The third major genre of African-American music, dance music, which encompasses ragtime and jazz, is celebrated with distinctive syncopated cross-rhythms and ‘backbeat’ figures. The use of the banjo (the first use of the instrument in a symphony) adds local colour to the festive atmosphere. A tune vaguely reminiscent of George Gershwin’s I’ve Got Rhythm appears here. Still’s melody predates Gershwin’s, the tune being improvised by Still in the 1920s while performing in the Broadway show Shuffle Along. As contemporaries who moved in the same circles and admired each other’s work, Still and Gershwin consciously and unconsciously influenced each other.

- Program Note for orchestral version by David Ciucevich for liner notes for Naxos CD William Grant Still

N.B. The origin of the title Scherzo is uncertain. The William Grant Still Music website shows the work's title as Afro-American Symphony "SCHERZO" for Band, with the notation "An arrangement of the 3rd movement of the AFRO-AMERICAN SYMPHONY produced by the Westpoint Military Academy." However, the full symphony's third movement is called Animato, and possibly nicknamed Humor. The word "scherzo" does not appear in the symphony's score.


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State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


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Works for Winds by This Composer