Cornelius Cardew, Thälmann Variations and We Sing For The Future! and Frederic Rzewski, Songs of Insurrection

Piano concert
8 pm
Staatstheater Kassel (Opernfoyer), Friedrichsplatz 15, Kassel

Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, concert, Megaron, The Athens Concert Hall, Athens, documenta 14, photo: Fotis Plegas

In the late 1960s, American composer and pianist Frederic Rzewski befriended experimental composer Cornelius Cardew, one of the founders of the renowned experimental music ensemble Scratch Orchestra. By the early 1970s, Cardew had become a Communist who applied his political views to his compositions. Remarking on the profound influence of Cardew on his work, in a 1997 interview with The New York Times, Rzewski commented, “Cardew wrote pieces that were convincing demonstrations of what could be done by using a tonal language with which large numbers of people were familiar to communicate advanced political ideas.” This influence, combined with Rzewski’s experiences as a member of Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV) starting in 1966 in Rome, led to Rzewski writing compositions that increasingly reflected his political concerns.

Written by Cornelius Cardew in 1974 as a homage to Ernst Thälmann, Secretary General of the German Communist Party, the Thälmann Variations commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of his death in Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944. While the Thälmann Variations were based on a popular German Worker’s Movement song (Ernst Thälmann-Lied, 1934), We Sing For the Future!, a solo piano piece written in 1981, was part of his ongoing effort to politicize Britain and convey the struggle faced by young people in an imperialist world. In December 1981 Cardew was mysteriously killed by a hit and run driver in London—some speculate it was related to his political involvement.

The piano concert Songs of Insurrection by Frederic Rzewski consists of seven movements and is based on international revolutionary songs from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The compositions include Die Moorsoldaten (The Song of the Deported) written by prisoners of the Börgermoor concentration camp, a new interpretation of the American civil rights hymn Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, and Oh Bird, Oh Bird, Oh Roller, the most famous folk sound to emerge from the 1894 Korean Peasant Rebellion of Donghak. These politically-charged compositions, paired with Rzewski’s often lightning-fast performances, carry listeners on a journey through the history of uprisings.

Cornelius Cardew was born in 1936 in Winchcombe, England, and died in 1981. From a young age, he was a standout pianist and improviser. After seeing a series of performances given by John Cage and David Tudor in 1958, Cardew began to develop his own experimental compositions, going on to become a leading composer of the British avant-garde scene in the 1960s and 70s and a founding member of such influential groups as AMM and The Scratch Orchestra. By the late-1970s Cardew had moved away from experimental compositions, replacing them with works that emphasized his politics. Cardew’s work Treatise, an elaborate graphic score, composed without reference to any system of rules governing the interpretation, is on view at documenta Halle and Neue Galerie.

Frederic Rzewski was born in 1938 in Westfield, Massachusetts. A highly-respected composer and pianist, Frederic Rzewski was part of a post-war and avant-garde experimental music scenes and is recognized both for his innovative works as well as his strong political convictions. A founding member of the groundbreaking improvisational collective Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV) in Rome, Rzewski’s pieces often bridge the gap between classical music and avant-garde jazz.

Cornelius Cardew: Thälmann Variations and We Sing For The Future!
Frederic Rzewski: Songs of Insurrection

Performed by Frederic Rzewski, piano

Entrance: 15 € / 10 € reduced. Tickets are available at Staatstheater Kassel or documenta 14 ticket shops.

Posted in Public Exhibition

Cornelius Cardew

Treatise is a graphic score, com­posed without reference to any system of rules governing the inter­pretation. It was begun in 1963 and is still incomplete; the hundred pages that are ready at present…

Historical Positions

Thälmann Variations and We Sing For The Future! / The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

by Cornelius Cardew and Frederic Rzewski

The People United Will Never Be Defeated! is a set of 36 variations on the melody of the Chilean popular song “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayún (1973). The song…


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