Top Five Pieces For The 99 Percent

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The future of two-month-long Occupy Wall Street movement, which inspired demonstrations against the American capitalist system, is uncertain after police cleared protestors out of out Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning. While expensive concert tickets and exclusive galas might suit the upper crust, many composers might have sympathized with the protestors’ populist ideals (others veered even further left toward a Marxist revolution). Here are our top five works for the Occupy Wall Streeters:

1. Verdi: "Va, pensiero"

Scholars may disagree whether Verdi intended his famous chorus “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco to be an Italian nationalist anthem; but it’s been a rallying cry among his proud countrymen since the opera’s successful premiere. Italians, then living under Austrian rule, saw parallels of their own struggles in this chorus of displaced Hebrew slaves yearning for their homeland. The call to sing “Va, pensiero,” even resonates today: during a Nabucco performance last spring, Riccardo Muti invited the Rome Opera audience to sing along in an encore to show support for national arts funding.

2. Copland: Into the Streets May First

Aaron Copland saturated his compositions with populists sounds and idealist subjects in works such as Fanfare for the Common Man and A Lincoln Portrait. However, those works are tame compared to the choral work Into the Streets May First. Copland set Alfred Hayes’s poem of the same title to music and published the final piece in the Marxist magazine The New Masses. The somewhat dated lyrics are sympathetic to the OWS cause, imploring listeners to “shake the midtown towers” and proclaiming “down with the bourgeoisie.”

3. Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra

Bela Bartok wrote his Concerto for Orchestra, during World War II while in self-imposed exile from his native Hungary and dying of leukemia. Yet the work expresses his optimism in the resilience of men, as well as his hope for “peace and brotherhood for the world.” One of Bartók’s masterpieces, the Concerto embraces myriad musical influences from Gypsy dances to even 12-tone excerpts, and distributes solos to practically every instrument in the orchestra. “The Concerto might be a tribute to the pluralism that Roosevelt’s American in its ideal form embodied,” writes Alex Ross in The Rest in Noise. It “is a portrait of democracy in action.”

4. Andriessen: Worker's Union

A protest organizer might find parallels between his work and Louis Andriessen’s Worker’s Union. The 1975 piece for a “loud-sounding group of instruments” Andriessen writes, “is difficult to play in an ensemble and to remain in step, sort of thing like organizing and carrying on political action.” The Dutch composer achieves this intent by giving the musicians specific rhythms to play, but the musicians must choose the pitches. The result, writes the LA Phil’s publicity coordinator Jessie Rothwell, is “like Steve Reich with his hand in a meat grinder.”

5. Gay: The Beggar's Opera

One of the earliest works to appeal to the masses rather than the elite, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera  satirized rarified Italian operas making inroads into England. Gay pilfered tunes from popular folk music and his contemporary composers and patched together a ballad opera about the thieves, murderers and prostitutes of the under classes. Between the antiheroes, the popular tunes and a scathing critique of the then-British prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, The Beggar’s Opera became wildly popular. About two centuries later it inspired the equally popular musical social commentary in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera.

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Comments [15]

George Damasevitz from New York

It is interesting to speculate on how Beethoven might have felt about some of the responses here. The 99% and the one percent were both his kind of people. Brotherhood of Man- remember? For the one percenters who feel that Classical music is their exclusive domain, I offer my deepest sympathy as you are clearly afflicted with delusional racist bias. I might suggest as a treatment that you spend a few hours in occupiers' shoes and empathize with your fellow humans.

Dec. 02 2011 08:58 PM
Fred from Kew Gardens

Well it IS American capitalism (equals greed). It's not Scandinavian capitalism or German capitalism.

The Washington-Wallstreet weasels have "earned" the public's ire. To be outraged by the protesters and not by policies that began with the Reagan administration suggests a total lack of understanding.

(Boris Godunov: Czars, starving peasants, corruption, power and ambition!)

Nov. 18 2011 08:05 PM
Bernie from UWS

Well, a few commenters representing the 1% have found your Web post. It's amazing how they come out of the woodwork, even in a progressive and tolerant place like NYC. I guess web comment boards are their last refuge.

Nov. 18 2011 08:05 PM
Craig Heard from New York, NY

Why don't you play "Minnie the Moocher". This is far more appropriate for this group of losers.

Nov. 18 2011 07:43 PM
erick from NY

Just curious, did WQXR have anything positive to say way back on 9/12/09 when over 1,000,000 Americans from all walks of life converged (peacefully) in Washington to protest the actions (mainly the seizure of our medical care system and payoffs to large unionized corporations) of the Obama administration?
To those who campers who are interfering with the livelihood of NYC business owners I ask, why don't you occupy the neighborhoods of the entrenched, self-serving politicians (both parties) that continue to drive the economy and our country into the ground? And the actions of the current "occupier" of the Whitehouse whose actions and innactions of the past three years prove him " unfit to be the ruler of a free people." See; Declaration of Independence.

Nov. 18 2011 08:31 AM
Michael Meltzer

WQXR's opening description of the demonstrations as "against the capitalist system" as opposed to "against greed" is an example of extending your attention into inappropriate areas you know too little about.
The key roles in the capitalist system were, traditionally: you built it, you sold and serviced it, or you moved it from here to there - all production/distribuion oriented.
Making money on your money was the fringe, a sideline.
The sideline has been allowed to become a colossus. Wall streeters, at least at one time, had a saying, "Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered." On the heels of the Real Estate Debacle and the government bailout of the perpetrators, it is the pigs who are the targets, and hopefully, a return to fundamentals rather than doomed-to-failure Marxism is the goal.
It is nice to support the romanticism of a populist movement, be careful not to go further than that, you are not equipped!

Nov. 17 2011 02:53 PM
William Deitenbeck from Florida

Give us a break! Those "occupy" losers probably don't even know what classical music is.

Nov. 17 2011 02:11 PM
Marie from nyc

In order to enjoy life, man must work and be free to do so. Unfortunately some of this freedom is now taken away by political default. However, USA is not Russia in revolitionary times. Very sad that the opportunity is killed by some who consider Wall Street to be the enemy. Wall Street produced opportunities such as Jobs and wealth, why kill it? Alas, tis blindness in our educated people , we can do better than hanging in the streets.

Nov. 17 2011 10:54 AM
Ken Laufer from New York

Good for WQXR!!! Bravo! Other great pieces are Frederic Rzefski's "The People United Will Never Be Defeated" and other piano works by this radical (whose name I did not spell correctly!)

Nov. 17 2011 10:40 AM
SoCalled Progressive from NJ

Good for WQXR for recognizing the importance and legitimacy of this new movement... always good to go on record in favor of the direction the future will take. However, one mistake in the article is that the movement has stated very clearly it is anti-greed, not anti-capitalist. I don't know why it's not anti-capitalist, but that's just my silly opinion, just like I think time will show that's a necessity but I can be wrong.

But as to the music, I absolutely think that Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture should be in there somewhere. Yet somehow I think most young people prefer rap and jazz to real music, unfortunately. Gee, listen to me: a young(er) radical leftist who likes classical music.

Nov. 17 2011 08:33 AM
Silversalty from Battle of Brooklyn site

It used to be that all of America was a "free speech zone." Now our various governments set up small prisons and require people that want to voice their concerns to go into those fenced off areas, usually far from sight and sound. The "Occupy Wall Street" people weren't actually at Wall Street. Perhaps more fittingly they were at Liberty Street. Wall Street has been occupied for years with men openly carrying assault rifles. The first time I saw that my thought was that the stock exchange should be moved to Governor's Island. Why require average people to be evaluated (given the "once over") by hired guns (true even if they're NYPD, considering the donations given to the department by wealthy corporations)?

Not surprisingly, if you're conservative and have authoritarian views, you're allowed to go to non-conservative gatherings with assault rifles. In contrast those that don't care for a police state government that protects and feeds the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the country, must not even use wood poles to hold their posters during parades. Too dangerous. Only cardboard tubes.

As for any vagrants and unstable violent individuals at the Zuccotti Park site, most were actually encouraged to go to and even brought to the park - by the NYPD. It was just part of the tactic to define the place as unsanitary and unsafe. You know. The NYPD and their slogan of "CPR" - courtesy, professionalism and respect - Bologna.

Abe Lincoln described America as a nation "of the people, by the people, for the people." That's not even close to being true anymore, if it ever was.

Oh, and don't look for help from Barack Obama. His "hope a dope" routine may work again but the assault on Social Security and Medicare are coming straight from him. Not just name brand Republicans. The deficit concern? Amazing how no one considers letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire, which would do more to reduce the deficit than any of the measures considered. If Obama had allowed those tax cuts to expire a couple of years ago then all the histrionics about the deficit never could have happened. He alone, with presidential veto power, could make that happen. Yet it's never even mentioned. Just cuts to "entitlements."

Nov. 16 2011 06:34 PM

When the problem is very important, should be allowed and it is needed to protest in every place. Is the only way to be heard.

Nov. 16 2011 01:04 PM

Freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to selfishly occupy a park to the detrriment of the neighborhood residents and businesses. It's high time the mayor evicted them.

Nov. 16 2011 09:24 AM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

Not all the protestors are vagrants. They should be protesting in front of all the big financial groups that took taxpayer money and did nothing to help out the economy. They should also protest the politicians who have been in the pockets of all the corporations who have exported our jobs to nations that treat their workers as slaves. Protest is as American as apple pie.

Nov. 15 2011 11:40 AM
Tom Kokis

Why are you idolizing vagrants, nihilists and bored youth?

Nov. 15 2011 10:34 AM

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