Joe Hill Fantasy (1992-93), baritone, didjeridu, winds, Brazilian rainstick, piano, digital synthesis. Title Page | First Page
- In 1901 at the age of nineteen, Swedish-born Joel Emmanuel Hagglund came to the US. By 1910, he was an active member of the West Coast chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World, nicknamed the Wobblys. Joe Hills ability as a lyricist and amateur songwriter turned the Wobblys into a singing organization. His songs, including Casey Jones, and The Preacher and the Slave, became known among unionists as he sang them on the street, at union meetings, and on picket lines as well. His popularity was such that the Wobblys famous Little Red Songbook, of 1913 contained no less than thirteen of his songs.
Hill was arrested in Salt Lake City, in 1914, on a murder charge. He was executed by a firing squad in 1915 despite intervention by President Wilson, the Swedish government, protests of an unfair trial by the AFL, and uprisings throughout this country and even Australia. Whether Joe Hill was guilty or not is still a matter of debate, but it has been suggested that he was framed because he was a militant trade unionist and a well-known Wobbly. Nonetheless, his status as a great labor unionist and a martyr is legion. On the day before his execution, Hill sent a wire to the Wobbly leader in Chicagothe words became famous: "Dont waste time mourning. Organize!"
Joe Hill Fantasy was commissioned by baritone and new music advocate Thomas Buckner. It belongs to my series of musical portraits based on songs of labor heros and political figures, including John Henry and Mother Jones (recorded in NYC on compact disc by Buckner). It uses two songs as the basis for the stochastic generation of musical material by the computer: Joe Hill, by the late Earl Robinson, and The Preacher and the Slave, by Hill himself. The programming was done with MAX, an object-code language. The musicians interact with the material produced by the computer, using the fabric of the songs as reference points. The piece is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Robinson.
John Henry (1986), piano solo [Edition V, Verlag pläne GmbH, Dortmond (Essen)]. Title Page | First Page of Score
- John Henry was a legendary steel drivera man who strikes a steel drill with a hammer into rock so that a hole is made for inserting explosives. His story originated around 1872 when workers were digging the Big Bend Tunnel on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. The famous ballad of the same name is used in its entirety as the basis for the piece.
Mother Jones (1985), soprano and piano [Edition V, Verlag pläne GmbH, Dortmond (Essen); recorded: Lovely Music, Ltd., New York, #LCD 3021]. Title Page | First Page of Score
- Mary (Mother) Jones, who lived for a full century from 1830 to 1930, devoted fifty years to fighting for coal miners and the rest of the working class. She was particularly active in unionizing the coal mines of West Virginia where, only a few years after her death, the hundred thousand workers became solidly organized. The Death of Mother Jones soon became a well-known folk song among labor forces, though its authorship remains unknown. This song is the basis for Mother Jones, where its hymn-like tune and simple text comprise the middle section.
McKinley (1983), violin, piano and percussion. Title Page | First Page of Manuscript
- McKinley was written at the request of pianist Yvar Mikhashoff for the 1983 North American Music Festival in Buffalo. It draws from three railroad folk songs (from The Long Steel Rail, a compendium published by the University of Illinois Press) that pertain to the death of President William McKinley, who was assassinated in Buffalo during the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. The songs, White House Blues, Canonball Blues, and Mr. McKinley humorously depict the events related to the railroad travel following the shooting. Mr. McKinley, in fact, was made popular in the teens by none other than D. H. Lawrence, who was known to have sung the tune at social gatherings with shocking jocularity. This inspired me to set Mr. McKinley as a repetitive chorale for the middle section of the work.
Beethoven in SoHo (1980), 2 pianos and electric bass. See Instrumental Music.
Schoenberg in Italy (1973), soprano, narrator, ensemble, and cafe patrons. Scenario | First Page of Score
- This theater piece is based on a text by Alfredo Cassella of the same title, that had appeared in Modern Music (November, 1924). As Lejaren Hiller had just celebrated his 49th birthday in February, 1973, I chose a text to set from his birth year. Hence, the piece was composed early in March, and dedicated to Hiller. Cassella's article reports on the reception of his tour of ten recent performances of Pierrot Lunaire in Italy. He proceeds to analyze the responses and compare/contrast Italian music to the second Viennese school. Schoenberg in Italy is dedicated to Lejaren Hiller.
The premiere took place in November, 1973 at Baird Music Hall in Buffalo with Morton Feldman as Alfredo Cassella, soprano, Sylvia Dimiziani; and pianist Julius Eastman among the musicians. It was subsequently produced at the Oakland Museum (with Philip Lorenz as Casella), and in Fresno and Chicago with equally colorful participants. The following passages are from the original program notes:
Probably no country has had as strong an influence on the musical development of Western Europe as Italy. The dominance of Italian cultural thought is evinced in European writings throughout history.
(Disciple): Master, to what am I to direct especial diligence?
(Master): To the three basic Italian disciplines that will shape your artistic future: wine, women and song. [from a treatise by Odo of Cluny, ca. 935, translation by M. Lanza, 1958.]
Italy has excelled not only in artistic ventures, but in all other fields, and to this day produces, among others, the worlds best cooks, tailors, navigators, actors and barbers (the American flag, after all, was patterned after the red and white striped Italian barber pole). These diversified talents, combined with the Latin temperament, brought about a self-sustaining trait in Italian culture. As a musical spectator, the Italian never fails to become emotionally as well as intellectually engaged in a performance. When the focal point of music shifted northward, they adhered to their sunny operatic tradition, but remained anxious to voice their approval of foreign developments.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. [Arnold Schoenberg, commenting on the behavior of the audience after a concert of his music in Venice, 1924.]
Yes, the Italian way of life has touched the lives of everyone. Even those unfortunates with no Italian blood find themselves reaching out for a piece of La Dolce Vita:
I emphatically denounce all allegations that I have received kickbacks from the toll on the Appian Way as damned, vicious lies! [Spiro T. Agnew, in an address to the Sons of Italy in America, at a defense fund-raising dinner, Chicago, October, 1973.]
I could get Andy Warhol to repaint this whole ceiling for you. [Morton Feldman in the Sistine Chapel, from Conversations with Paul VI, 1968.]
When I discovered this text from Modern Music, Nov., 1924, I immediately saw its theatrical possibilities and the need to cast a role for its author, Alfredo Cassella. --- P. Gena, November, 1973.