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Work

Frederic Rzewski

Frederic Rzewski Composer

(4) North American Ballads, for piano   

Performances: 1
Tracks: 4
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Musicology (work in progress):
  • (4) North American Ballads, for piano
    Year: 1978-79
    Pr. Instrument: Piano
    • 1.Dreadful Memories
    • 2.Which side are you on?
    • 3.Down by the Riverside
    • 4.Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues
Rzewski is an American composer and pianist who write large-scale, exceptionally difficult and powerful-sounding pieces for piano. This four-movement set is makes virtuoso display pieces from protest songs, mostly from the labor movement. The songs are presented in complex polyphonic textures, often with clashing modern harmonies. The folk songs, in short, are not prettified, but possess a strength meant to suggest the power of union solidarity. The first movement, "Dreadful Memories, " comes from the 1931 Kentucky coal mine strikes, where it was sung by Aunt Molly Jackson. "Which Side are you on?" also comes from the same Kentucky tradition: It was sung by Mrs. Florence Reese in "Harlan County, U.S.A, " a filmed documentary of a later coal strike. "Down by the Riverside, " an old popular tune, has been used as a protest song with various new words in various different contexts; here Rzewski fits it out with some of the most amazing harmonies. Finally, in a compositional tour de force Rzewski concludes with "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues." This was inspired by the dramatic film "Norma Rae, " about union organizing in a Southern Cotton mill. It imitates the memorable sound effect used in the film to portray the remarkable din of the machinery in the mill, usually covering all but a few scraps of tune. At the end, this wild noise rockets into the treble register of the piano in a burst of exuberance. This notable composition proves that the age of the effecte virtuoso piano piece is not yet over.

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