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The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (1975) is a piano composition by American composer Frederic Rzewski. It is a set of 36 variations on the Chilean song ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayún. The piece received its world premiere on February 7, 1976, played by Ursula Oppens as part of the Bi-Centennial Piano Series at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall.

The song on which the variations is based is one of many that emerged from the Unidad Popular coalition in Chile between 1969 and 1973, prior to the overthrow of the Salvador Allende government. Rzewski composed the variations in September and October 1975, as a tribute to the struggle of the Chilean people against a newly imposed repressive regime; indeed the work contains allusions to other leftist struggles of the same and immediately preceding time, such as quotations from the Italian traditional socialist song "Bandiera Rossa" and the Bertold Brecht-Hanns Eisler "Solidarity Song."

In general, the variations are short, and build up to climaxes of considerable force. Many pianists consider the technical demands of this work to be among the most severe of any well-known work of the 20th century. The 36 variations, following the 36 bars of the tune, are in six groups of six; composer Christian Wolff has suggested that in each group, the first five represent the fingers of the hand, with the sixth representing the closed fist. The pianist, in addition to needing a virtuoso technique, is required to whistle, slam the piano lid, and catch the after-vibrations of a loud attack as harmonics: all of these are "extended" techniques in 20th-century piano writing. Much of the work uses the language of 19th-century romanticism, but mixes this language with pandiatonic tonality, modal writing, and even serial techniques.

As in the Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, the final variation is a direct restatement of the original theme, intended to be heard with new significance after the long journey through the variations.

Rzewski dedicated the composition to Ursula Oppens, who commissioned it as a companion piece to Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, and who recorded it in 1979; her recording was named "Record of the Year" in that year by Record World, and received a Grammy nomination.

The score essentially breaks down into 39 parts, one of which is an optional improvisation. The sections are labeled in the score as follows:

  • Thema "With determination"
  • Variation 1: "Weaving: delicate but firm"
  • Variation 2 "With firmness"
  • Variation 3 "Slightly slower, with expressive nuances"
  • Variation 4 "Marcato"
  • Variation 5 "Dreamlike, frozen"
  • Variation 6 "Same tempo as beginning"
  • Variation 7 "Lightly, impatiently"
  • Variation 8 "With agility; not too much pedal; crisp"
  • Variation 9 "Evenly"
  • Variation 10 "Comodo, recklessly"
  • Variation 11 "Tempo I, like fragments of an absent melody — in strict time."
  • Variation 12
  • Variation 13
  • Variation 14 "A bit faster, optimistically"
  • Variation 15 "Flexible, like an improvisation"
  • Variation 16 "Same tempo as preceding, with fluctuations; much pedal / Expansive, with a victorious feeling"
  • Variation 17 "L.H. strictly: R.H. freely, roughly in space"
  • Variation 18
  • Variation 19 "With energy"
  • Variation 20 "Crisp, precise"
  • Variation 21 "Relentless, uncompromising"
  • Variation 22
  • Variation 23 "As fast as possible, with some rubato"
  • Variation 24
  • Variation 25
  • Variation 26 "In a militant manner"
  • Variation 27 "Tenderly, with a hopeful expression: cadenza"
  • Variation 28
  • Variation 29
  • Variation 30
  • Variation 31
  • Variation 32
  • Variation 33
  • Variation 34
  • Variation 35
  • Variation 36
  • Optional Improvisation
  • Thema: (reprise)

A recording of the composition takes about 50 minutes, and longer if the performer chooses to improvise.

References

  • Program notes by Christian Wolff to Ursula Oppens Recording: Vanguard Classics CD OVC 8056
  • Edward Murray: "Frederic Rzewski", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed July 25, 2005), (subscription access)

Recordings

  • Frederic Rzewski (composer and piano), The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, recorded 1986, published 1990 by HAT HUT RECORDS LTD., Switzerland, hat ART CD 6066
  • Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 Variations on a Chilean Song. Ursula Oppens, piano. Vanguard Classics CD, OVC 8056
  • Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 Variations on a Chilean Song. Marc-André Hamelin, Hyperion Records CDA67077 (GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE).
  • Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 Variations on a Chilean Song. Stephen Drury, piano. New Albion NA063. More info
  • Frederic Rzewski Plays Rzewski VAI DVD 4440, Video recording from the 2007 Miami International Piano Festival more info

External links

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