There’s an okay interview in The Telegraph about Frederic Rzewski, a not-so-well-known American composer who I discovered some time ago. The piece is, in fact, a poorly disguised promotion for a new recording of Rzewski’s best-known composition, an hour-long marathon for solo piano entitled The People United Will Never be Defeated. It’s an extraordinary piece, a massive set of variations on a hauntingly memorable Chilean protest song. The cumulative effect of the work is astonishing (though not, perhaps, for the faint-hearted).
Rzewski (pronounced, despite the ‘R’, zheff-skee) is a wonderful maverick who I thought was a well-kept secret, and it’s interesting to see his name crop up in the mainstream media. His music might not be to everybody’s taste, but I’ve decided to provide a couple of musical teasers here to go with the Telegraph article and to give some idea of what his music is like. The People United is very much a cumulative experience, and because of this it’s difficult to do it justice with a couple of short excerpts, but I’ve chosen first the Chilean protest-song theme, and then Variation No. 13 (one of the more accessible in the set). The third music example is No. 3 of a set of four North American Ballads which, like The People United, date from the late ’70s. All musical examples are from Marc-André Hamelin’s recording for Hyperion. Be warned: Frederic Rzewski may well be included in a presentation some time!
The People United Will Never Be Defeated. Theme
The People United Will Never Be Defeated. Variation 13
North American Ballads, No. 3, Down by the riverside