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Activism Through Music

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Frederic Rzewski

While many activists flock to New York to make their voices heard, performing artists often help to fuel social movements by spreading music and art that tell the stories of the repressed and less fortunate. This week on Cued Up we explore music rooted in political and world affairs.

Perhaps one of the most opinionated and politically outspoken composers of today is Frederic Rzewski. As a young student, Rzewski's professor stressed the importance of engaging politics and art, and to always speak through music. Rzewski took to that idea, and embraced the works of outspoken artists, particularly the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. Rzewski's masterpiece, Variations on The People United Will Never be Defeated, has become a standard in the contemporary piano repertoire. The theme originates from a song by Sergio Ortega who was a part of the New Chilean Song movement. Members of the movement faced exile and torture in Latin America for their progressive ideas and relentless efforts to be heard. We hear Rzewski's Variations performed by virtuoso pianist Marilyn Nonken in a live recording from (Le) Poisson Rouge.

Additionally, we'll hear works by other socially conscious composers. Caleb Burhans composed his Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville, WI as a tribute to his suffering hometown, hit by the economic crisis. Composer Kevin Puts paints a picture of war scenes and soldiers gearing up for battle in And Legions Will Rise, and Rzweski sets variations to the Irish anti-war song 'Shul aroon' in Bring Them Home.

Here's Frederic Rzewski performing his Variations on The People United Will Never be Defeated ...