R is for Rzewski

Frederic Rzewski is a composer I’ve known about for a long time. As a percussionist one of the first pieces I ever heard was  To The Earth and I absolutely loved it. I am big fan of compositions for percussion (or really any instrument) that involve speaking. I soon discovered he had another percussion solo which was written for Al Otte. This piece was a larger and more conceptual “Opera” for solo percussionist entitled, The Fall of the Empire. 

Through these initial two pieces my interest in Rzewski grew and I began to search for more of his music. I quickly learned (as anyone who searches for more music by him will also learn) that Rzewski scans and posts all of his music for free on IMSLP. If his intentions for doing this are not fully understood it’s also interesting to note that he publishes them under “Copyleft” instead of copyright.

Rzewski is a fairly prolific composer and an accomplished performer. He has been part of the experimental music scene for many decades. One of my favorite projects of his is his piece The Road which he calls “a novel”  for piano. This piano solo is in many different movements/parts and lasts roughly eight hours in total. I’ve never listened to the entire piece (which Rzewski doesn’t expect anyone to do) but, the movements or “Miles” as Rwzeski calls them that I have heard are really interesting.

Last spring I was lucky enough to perform several of the movements from The Fall of the Empire on my final undergraduate recital at Hartt. I performed the movements: prologue,  Global Warming, The Ground, and Sabbath. I learned so much from playing that piece. Compositionally, Rzewski uses some really interesting tools (such as separating the rhythm of the text and the instruments so they form a canon). From a performance standpoint it was one of the most challenging pieces I have performed. This is due to the theatrics involved. It’s important to show off each character in each movement but overdoing them can be distracting or ruin the satirical nature of the piece. It’s also challenging at times to make the text clearly audible over the percussion instruments, which is extremely important since the text is what the piece is centered around.

I still hope to perform The Fall of the Empire in its entirety someday. I think it will happen sooner rather than later.

Recommended Listening/Viewing:

The Fall of The Empire

Coming Together

The Road

To The Earth

Pocket Symphony

Spots

Les Moutons de Panurge

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