Miniature Overture

William Grant-Still

Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

Date of Composition: 1965
Duration: 2 minutes

William Grant Still (1895–1978) came of age in the early twentieth century at a time when composers were trying to establish a uniquely American identity. For Still, that sometimes meant embracing traditional music from his African American heritage and seamlessly juxtaposing inspired references within frameworks cemented by his solid classical training. Over the course of his career, he composed more than 200 works, from operas and ballets to symphonic, chamber, and solo compositions.

Along the way, he opened doors for other Black artists with a string of notable “firsts”:

  • – first Black composer whose symphony was performed by a professional U.S. orchestra (Symphony No. 1,“Afro-American,” Rochester Philharmonic, 1931);
  • – first to have an opera premiered by a major company (Troubled Island, New York City Opera, 1949, 10 years after completion);
  • – first Black composer whose opera appeared on a major U.S. television network (A Bayou Legend, 1981, 40 years after completion);
  • – first Black man to conduct a major U.S. orchestra (Los Angeles Philharmonic, 1936);
  • – and first Black conductor of a major orchestra in the deep south (New Orleans Philharmonic, 1955).

In 1999, Still was inducted posthumously into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

One of Still’s later compositions, the little-known Miniature Overture was commissioned for the October 1965 inaugural concert of the Greater Miami Philharmonic Orchestra (now the Florida Philharmonic). At just around two minutes long, the work stands as one of the composer’s shortest compositions. In this case, the saying “good things come in small packages” could not be more apt.

© Dr. K. Dawn Grapes, 2023