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Variations on an African American Spiritual by Joshua McGhee

Variations on an African American Spiritual by Joshua McGhee

  • Variations on an African American Spiritual  (2011) by Joshua McGhee, for piano trio.  Variations on an African American Spiritual, Swing Low Sweet Chariot (Three duos and a concluding trio movement.) 

    A Spiritual-based composition, ranging in affect from deep sorrow to transcendence.

    Scored for violin, cello, and piano. Commissioned by the African American Composer Initiative. Duration: 10 minutes Suitable for programming by collegiate and professional ensembles. 

    Recorded on Cambria CD1238 “Where Freedom Rings: Compositions by Contemporary African American Composers,” Jeannie Gayle Pool, producer

    Live concert video:

    Program Notes for Variations on an African American Spiritual: McGhee was commissioned by AACI in 2011 to write a piece based on a spiritual for piano trio, using American composer Henry Cowell's Four Combinations for Three Instruments as a formal model, that is, a series of duos, concluding with a trio. The commission was given in response to McGhee’s expressed wish to explore the musical and technical challenges of writing for strings.

    Picasso Ensemble premiered the piece on January 31, 2012, at the Performing Arts Center of Eastside College Preparatory School, East Palo Alto, on a program entitled “A Musical Sojourn: Two Hundred Years of Music by African American Women and Men.”

    McGhee: " I considered many spirituals and decided upon using a very well-known one as the basis for the piece, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." I titled the work Variations on an African American Spiritual. It is not a set of variations in the traditional sense, but a rhapsodic distillation of the spirit of the spiritual, with occasional literal melodic quotes embedded in the composition or delivered as poignant violin or cello solos. The introspection of the first three movements gives way to a joyful, celebratory finale."

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