Julia Frances Smith ( January 25, 1905 – April 18, 1989) was an American composer, pianist, and author on musicology.
She was born in Denton, Texas.
She graduated from University of North Texas College of Music (1930) and then continued with graduate studies in piano and composition at the Juilliard School with Reuben Goldmark and Frederick Jacobi from 1932 to 1939, earning a diploma. She simultaneously studied at New York University earning a master's degree in 1933 and a PhD in 1952. From 1932 to 1939, she served as pianist for the Orchestrette Classique of New York, a women's orchestra. During this time, she also gave concerts of mostly American music in Latin America, Europe, and throughout the United States. As a performer, she became particularly associated with the works of Aaron Copland. From 1941 to 1946, she taught at the Hartt School, where she founded the department of music education. She collaborated with composer Cecile Vashaw on The Work and Play String Method, an instructional series for violin, viola, cello, and bass. She joined ASCAP in 1945.
As a composer, Smith is best known for her operas and orchestral works, which have all been performed. Her music incorporates elements of jazz, folk music and 20th-century French harmony. Her compositional style has an appealing directness and although tonal, makes interesting use of dissonance. Among her works are The String Quartet, which uses irregular metres and driving rhythms, and the operas Cynthia Parker and Cockcrow, which employ folk music within a generally conservative tonal idiom.
Cynthia Parker was Smith's first opera. She had long been determined to write an opera on a Texas story, and that of Cynthia Parker was a gripping one. Kidnapped by Native Americans, Parker was raised by Comanche, eventually marrying a chief and raising three children of her own. She was found by Texas Rangers and returned to white society, but was unhappy there and eventually committed suicide. Smith plays up the differences between Native and settler cultures by using stereotypical "Indian" tropes for the Comanche and familiar and popular folk music for the white colonists of the American West.
Smith was the recipient of several commissions and awards and was active in several music organizations, especially the National Federation of Music Clubs, for which she chaired the Decade of Women Committee (1970–79). As a writer her publications include Aaron Copland: his Work and Contribution to American Music (New York, 1955) and a Directory of American Women Composers (Chicago, 1970), of which she was the editor.
She died in New York City. Many of her manuscripts, including those of her operas, are held by the Music Library at the University of North Texas in Denton.
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