Happy Fourth: The People United

(White Flag, 1955, Jasper Johns)

(Flag, Barbara Kruger)

The United States is a revolutionary country, the first nation ever established on ideas, ideas that in themselves were revolutionary. Even though the founding documents themselves violated these ideals, both by what they said (blacks were counted as 3/5 of a person and allowed to be held as slaves) and by what they left out (no voting rights for women), these documents also included the means to resolve the contradictions.

America has been looked upon by people around the world as a symbol of our aspirations toward freedom, and theirs, even when we are failing our stated ideals. One of these failures was our sponsorship of the Chilean coup in 1973. During the unrest preceding the coup, television producer Sergio Ortega turned a popular protest chant "The people united will never be defeated" into a song, a powerful cry for freedom.

American composer Frederic Rzewski composed an epic set of 36 variations on the song in 1975. The resulting piece is one of the great solo piano works of the 20th century. The dizzying array of styles and techniques that Rzewski uses in this work become metaphors for both the desire for freedom and the multiplicity of American life. Contrary to what we are generally taught, America is not the only home of freedom in the world, but we were among the first to express the meaning of freedom in our nationhood, even when we betray those ideals at home and abroad. So, my listening list for today consists of Frederic Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Bonus track: Bruce Springsteen, "Bring 'Em Home".

Last year's July Fourth listening list is here.

Jerry Bowles and commenters' lists here.

Alan Theisen is thinking of fireworks.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for your post about Rzewski's great variations. On Monday, I listed "The People United. . ." as one of my suggestions for Sequenza 21's July 4th playlist. Your article presents cogent arguments supporting the importance of this music and the importance of the ongoing idea of "revolution."