Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938)


The Man

     -prolific US composer/pianist from MA

     -resident of Belgium, taught Conservatoire Royal de Musique 1977-2003

          guest taught Yale, U of Cincinnati, SUNY Buffalo, CA Inst., Mills, UCSD

     -studied with Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, Randall Thompson (Harvard)

           Milton Babbitt (Princeton), and Luigi Dallapiccola (Rome)

     -cofounded Musica electronica Viva in Rome 1966; still active pianist


The Music

     Best known political works:

          Coming Together (1971) - open instr + speaker, ca 20 min

          People United Will Never Be Defeated (1975) - solo piano, ca 30 min

          North American Ballads (1978-79) - solo piano, 4 mvts, 35 min

          De Profundis (1992) - for 'speaking pianist', ca 30 min


The Politics

     Compiled from his 'Nonsequiturs' collection:


     Arist's Responsibility

        -to relate work to an overall political context

          -be aware of tradition/disciplines & the technical/social forces

          -to combat elitism wihtout making artistic comprimises

          -choice to "continue a parasitic existence" or to service the people and popular movement 

                 "instead of dallying in the servants' quarters of the ruling class."  


     Art and Artist as Symbol

        -artists are highly skilled craftsmen, basically unproductive, so why do we need them?

          -"The discoveries of classical tradition represent major acquisitions of the human intellect."

          -their refusal to submit to the 'reality principle' - symbol of non-alienated creative work

          -"Their work provides a model for the creative negation of an oppressive reality."

          -the politics of a concert hall -- the social context of an audience, performer and composer


     History of Politics in Music

           -Plato and Augustine - music as social force

           -Middle Ages and early Renaissance, composers used music of their time in church setting

           -Masses and motets based on popular tunes, e.g. "L'homme arme" anti-war song from 100-Years War 

​           -Ars Nova, birth of opera, Protestant choral music of 17 C, all possible due to infusion of popular elements

         -Beethoven, Chopin and Wagner, conditioned by forces of society, expressed ideas as well as emotions

           -Verdi an example of popular success while being revolutionary artistically and socially

           -Pre WWII - Hans Eisler, Prokofiev and Shostakovitch, work on political themes

            -1930's US - Composers Collective & Workers Music League: Henry Cowell, Marc Blitzstein, Ruth Crawford Seeger

            -Cold War - most composers became abstract with the exception of Nono, Pouseur and Cage

            -1960-70's -  political composers Christian Wolff (US), Cornelius Cardew (UK), Louis Andriessen (Netherlands)

           -politicization of jazz, folk, rock threatens the White establishment