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Baldwin-Wallace College

The Use of Variation Form in Frederic Rzewski’s The People

United Will Never Be Defeated!

by

Keane Southard

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the

Degree of Bachelor of Music

Music Theory Senior Project

Dr. Cleland

Spring, 2009
Copyright © 2009 by Keane Southard

All rights reserved

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Dr. Feldman, who began as my advisor for this project up until the day he

passed away from ALS.

Thanks to Dr. Cleland for his guidance and support as my other advisor for this project.

Thanks to Frederic Rzewski himself for being kind enough to meet with me and for letting me

interview him, which has enriched the content of this paper as well as my understanding of his

work immeasurably.

And thanks to Diane for her patience and support.

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Table of Contents
List of Charts and Examples……………………………………………………………………....6

Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………12

CHAPTER 1: Background on Rzewski
Biography……………………………………………………………...…………………13
MEV……………………………………………………………………………………...15
Improvisation…………………………………………………………………….............17
Political Views…………………………………………………………………………...18

CHAPTER 2: The People United Will Never Be Defeated
Background on The People United Will Never Be Defeated…………………………….22
Formal Construction……………………………………………………………………..23
Thema……………………………………………………………………………………30
Set I
Variation 1…………………………………………………………………….....40
Variation 2……………………………………………………………………….42
Variation 3……………………………………………………………………….48
Variation 4……………………………………………………………………….50
Variation 5……………………………………………………………………….52
Variation 6……………………………………………………………………….54
Set II
Variation 7……………………………………………………………………….60
Variation 8….…………………………………………………………………....62
Variation 9……………………………………………………………………….64
Variation 10……………………………………………………………………...66
Variation 11……………………………………………………………………...70
Variation 12……………………………………………………………………...73
Set III…………………………………………………………………………………….79
Set IV…………………………………………………………………………………….80
Set V……………………………………………………………………………………...82
Variation 25……………………………………………………………………...83
Variation 26……………………………………………………………………...85
Variation 27……………………………………………………………………...88
Variation 28……………………………………………………………………...90
Variation 29……………………………………………………………………...94
Variation 30……………………………………………………………………...96
Set VI
Variation 31…………………………………………………………………….110
Variation 32…………………………………………………………………….116
Variation 33…………………………………………………………………….122
Variation 34…………………………………………………………………….128
Variation 35…………………………………………………………………….137
Variation 36…………………………………………………………………….145

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Recap of Theme………………………………………………………………………...151

Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………...154

Appendix A Second Structure…………………………………………………………………158
Appendix B Interview with Frederic Rzewski…..……………………………………………..162
Appendix C “Bandiera Rossa” Text and Translation………...………………………………..169

Bibliography……………………………………………………………………………………171

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List of Charts and Examples
Chart
1. Recapitulation Relationships…………………………………………………………….27
2. Key Scheme……………………………………………………………………………...29
3. Rhythmic Scheme of the Theme………………………………………………………...39
4. Harmonic Tones in Variation 2, m.9-12…………………………………………………45
5. Musical Languages in Variations 1-5……………………………………………………53
6. Variation 30, Measures allotted for each Variation Recapitulated………………………96
7. Recapitulation Relationships, Key Scheme, and Variation Lengths…………………...155
Example
1. Theme, m.1-36………………………………………………………………………..35-36
2. Theme, m. 5-6, Descending Diatonic Bass line………………………………………….37
3. Theme, m.33-34, Descending Chromatic Bass line……………………………………...37
4. Theme, m.5-16, Harmonic and Cadencial Analysis……………………………………..38
5. “Basic Rhythm”…………………………………………………………………………39
6. Variation 1, m. 1-12, Bass line (shown in circles) and Melody (shown in squares)
Analysis…………………………………………………………………………………..41
7. Rhythmic Cells of the First Half of Variation 2…………………………………………42
8. Melody and Bass line comparison, Variation 2………………………………………….43
9. Variation 2, m. 1-8, Melody (shown in rectangles) and Bass line (shown in circles)
Analysis…………………………………………………………………………………..44
10. Rhythmic Cells of Variation 2 Melody…………………………………………………..45
11. Variation 2, m.9-12, m2/P5 Motive……………………………………………………...46
12. Theme, m. 9-12, m2/P5 Motive………………………………………………………….47
13. m2/P5 Motive and Hexachord 6-20……………………………………………………...47
14. Variation 3, m. 1-4, [045] Pitch Set Analysis……………………………………………49
15. Theme, m.13, Melody and Variation 3, m.6, Bass Melody Comparison
Theme,m.13,melody……………………………………………………………..49
Variation 3, m. 6, Bass melody…………………………………………………..49
16. Variation 4, m.13-16, Melody Through Accents………………………………………...51
17. Variation 4, m.17-20, Melody (shown in squares) and Bass line (shown in circles)
Analysis…………………………………………………………………………………..51
18. Variation 4, m.21, Basic Rhythm………………………………………………………...52
19. Variation 5 and Theme Melody Comparison…………………………………………….53
20. Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 6
Variation 6, m.1-2……………………………………………………………….55
Variation 1, m. 1-2………………………………………………………………55
Variation 6, m. 3-4………………………………………………………………55
Variation 1, m 15-16…………………………………………………………….56
Variation 6, m 5-6……………………………………………………………….56
Variation 2, m. 5-6………………………………………………………………56
Variation 6, m.7-8……………………………………………………………….57
Variation 2, m.17-18…………………………………………………………….57
Variation 6, m.9-10……………………………………………………………...57
Variation 3, m.5-6……………………………………………………………….57
Variation 6, m.11-12…………………………………………………………….58

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Variation 3, m.15-16…………………………………………………………….58
Variation 6, m.13-14…………………………………………………………….58
Variation 4, m.1-2……………………………………………………………….58
Variation 6, m.15-16…………………………………………………………….59
Variation 4, m.13-14…………………………………………………………….59
Variation 6, 17-20……………………………………………………………….59
Variation 5, m. 1-4………………………………………………………………59
21. Variation 7 and Theme Comparison……………………………………………………..61
22. Variation 7, m.21-24, Melody (shown in rectangles) and Bass line (shown in circles)
Analysis…………………………………………………………………………………..62
23. Variation 8, m 1-4, [045] Pitch Set Analysis…………………………………………….63
24. Variation 8, m.13-16, Use of Basic Rhythm……………………………………………..64
25. Variation 9 and Theme Comparison……………………………………………………..65
26. Variation 9 and Theme Comparison……………………………………………………..66
27. Variation 10 Melodic (rectangles) and Harmonic (circles) Analysis………………...67-69
28. Variation 11 Analysis…………………………………………………………………...71
29. Variation 11 Composite Rhythm as Written in 4/4……………………………………...72
30. Variation 11 Composite Rhythm Re-Written in 5/4……………………………………..72
31. Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 12
Variation 12, m. 1-2……………………………………………………………..73
Variation 7, m. 1-2………………………………………………………………74
Variation 12, m. 3-4……………………………………………………………..74
Variation 7, m. 15-16……………………………………………………………74
Variation 12, m. 5-8……………………………………………………………..75
Variation 8, m. 9-12……………………………………………………………..75
Variation 12, m. 9-12……………………………………………………………76
Variation 9, m. 9-12……………………………………………………………..76
Variation 12, m. 13-16……………………………………………………….76-77
Variation 10, m. 1-4……………………………………………………………..77
Variation 12, m. 17-18…………………………………………………………..77
Variation 11, m. 10-11…………………………………………………………..78
Variation 12, m. 19-20…………………………………………………………..78
Variation 11, m. 21-22…………………………………………………………..78
32. “Bandiera Rossa” Melody……………………………………………………………….80
33. Variation 24, m. 17-18…………………………………………………………………...81
34. Variation 25, m. 15-16, Analysis of m2/P5 Motive……………………………………..84
35. “Soldaritätaslied” Melody……………………………………………………………….85
36. Variation 26, Theme and “Soldaritätaslied” Melody Comparison ……………………...86
37. Variation 26, m.21-28, Descending Chromatic Bass line (in circles)…………………...87
38. Variation 27, m.1-4, m2/P5 Motive and Descending Chromatic Bass line Analysis…...88
39. Theme, m. 13-15, Quarter note Walking Bass line……………………………………...89
40. Variation 27 and Theme Comparison……………………………………………………90
41. Variation 28 and Theme Comparison……………………………………………………91

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42. Variation 28, m.27-42. Theme Melody (in circles) and Descending Chromatic Bass line
(in rectangles)…………………………………………………………………...........92-93
43. Comparison of Variation 28 and J.S. Bach Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, Prelude in C
Major
Variation 28, m. 49-52…………………………………………………………...93
J.S. Bach, Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, Prelude in C major, m.1-4…………94
44. Variation 29 and Theme Comparison……………………………………………………96
45. Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 30
Variation 30, m. 1-4……………………………………………………………...98
Variation 25, m. 1-4……………………………………………………………..98
Variation 30, m. 5-8……………………………………………………………..99
Variation 25, m. 29-32…………………………………………………………..99
Variation 30, m. 9-16…………………………………………………………..100
Variation 26, m. 21-28……………………………………………………..100-01
Variation 30, m. 17-21…………………………………………………………101
Variation 27, m. 1-4……………………………………………………………101
Variation 30, m. 22………………………………………………………….....101
Variation 6, m. 21-22…………………………………………………………..102
Variation 30, m. 23…………………………………………………………….102
Variation 27, m. 17 (beginning of cadenza)…………………………………...102
Variation 30, m. 24-28…………………………………………………………103
Variation 27, m. 56-61…………………………………………………………103
Variation 30, m. 29-38…………………………………………………………104
Variation 27, m. 75-84…………………………………………………………104
Variation 30, m. 39-40…………………………………………………………104
Variation 27, m. 105-106………………………………………………………105
Variation 30, m. 41-44…………………………………………………………105
Variation 27, m. 115-116………………………………………………………105
Variation 30, m. 45-52…………………………………………………………106
Variation 26, m. 29-36…………………………………………………………106
Variation 30, m. 53-64…………………………………………………………107
Variation 27, m. 85-93…………………………………………………………108
Variation 30, m. 65-68…………………………………………………………108
Variation 29, m. 11-14…………………………………………………………109
46. Transition Phrase Comparison
Variation 30, m.69-72…………………………………………………………..109
Variation 12, m. 21-24………………………………………………………….109
47. Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 31
Variation 31, m. 1-2…………………………………………………………….110
Variation 1, m. 1-2……………………………………………………………...111
Variation 31, m. 3-4…………………………………………………………….111
Variation 1, m. 15-16…………………………………………………………...111
Variation 31, m. 5-6…………………………………………………………….111
Variation 7, m. 21-22…………………………………………………………...112
Variation 31, m. 7-8…………………………………………………………….112
Variation 7, m. 13-14…………………………………………………………...112

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Variation 31, m. 9-10…………………………………………………………...112
Variation 13, m. 9-10…………………………………………………………...113
Variation 31, m. 11-12………………………………………………………….113
Variation 13, m. 19-20………………………………………………………….113
Variation 31, m. 13-14………………………………………………………….113
Variation 19, m. 1-3…………………………………………………………….114
Variation 31, m. 15-16………………………………………………………….114
Variation 19, m. 13-15………………………………………………………….114
Variation 31, m. 17-19………………………………………………………….114
Variation 25, m. 5-7…………………………………………………………….115
Variation 31, m. 20……………………………………………………………..115
Variation 25, m. 29-30………………………………………………………….115
48. Variation 31, m.21-24 Analysis………………………………………………………...116
49. Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 32
Variation 32, m. 1-2…………………………………………………………….116
Variation 2, m. 1-2……………………………………………………………...117
Variation 32, m. 3-4…………………………………………………………….117
Variation 2, m. 13-14…………………………………………………………...117
Variation 32, m. 5-8…………………………………………………………….118
Variation 8, m. 7-10…………………………………………………………….118
Variation 32, m. 9-10…………………………………………………………...118
Variation 14, m. 5-6…………………………………………………………….119
Variation 32, m. 11-12………………………………………………………….119
Variation 14, m. 19-20………………………………………………………….119
Variation 32, m. 13-14………………………………………………………….119
Variation 20, m. 1-2…………………………………………………………….120
Variation 32, m. 15-16………………………………………………………….120
Variation 20, m. 15-16………………………………………………………….120
Variation 32, m. 17-18………………………………………………………….120
Variation 26, m. 21-22………………………………………………………….121
50. Variation 32 m.21-24 Analysis……………………………………………………...121-22
51. Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 33
Variation 33, m. 1-2…………………………………………………………….122
Variation 3, m. 1-2……………………………………………………………...123
Variation 33, m. 3-4…………………………………………………………….123
Variation 3, m. 15………………………………………………………………123
Variation 33, m. 5-6…………………………………………………………….123
Variation 9, m. 1-2……………………………………………………………...124
Variation 33, m. 7-8…………………………………………………………….124
Variation 9, m. 21-22…………………………………………………………...124
Variation 33, m. 9-10…………………………………………………………...124
Variation 15, m. 5-6…………………………………………………………….125
Variation 33, m. 11-12………………………………………………………….125
Variation 15, m. 23……………………………………………………………..125
Variation 33, m. 13-16………………………………………………………….126
Variation 21, m. 13-14………………………………………………………….126

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Variation 33, m. 17-18………………………………………………………….126
Variation 27, m. 1-2…………………………………………………………….127
Variation 33, m. 19-20………………………………………………………….127
Variation 27, m. 57-58………………………………………………………….127
52. Variation 33 m.21-24 Analysis………………………………………………………...128
53. Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 34
Variation 34, m. 1-2…………………………………………………………….129
Variation 4, m. 1-2……………………………………………………………...129
Variation 34, m. 3-4…………………………………………………………….129
Variation 4, m. 13-14…………………………………………………………...129
Variation 34, m. 5-8…………………………………………………………….130
Variation 10, m. 1-4…………………………………………………………….130
Variation 34, m. 9-10…………………………………………………………...131
Variation 16, m. 7-8…………………………………………………………….131
Variation 34, m. 11-12………………………………………………………….132
Variation 16, m. 18-19………………………………………………………….132
Variation 34, m. 13-14………………………………………………………….133
Variation 22, m. 1-2…………………………………………………………….133
Variation 34, m. 15-16………………………………………………………….133
Variation 22, m. 13-14………………………………………………………….133
Variation 34, m. 17-20………………………………………………………….134
54. Comparison of Recapitulations of Variation 28 in Variation 34 and 30……………….135
55. Variation 34, m. 19, and Variation 26, m.1 Comparison
Variation 34, m. 19……………………………………………………………..135
Variation 26, m. 1………………………………………………………………136
56. Variation 34 m.21-24 Analysis…………………………………………………………137
57. Variation 35, m. 17-18 and Variation 21, m.9-10 Comparison
Variation 35, m. 17-18…………………………………………………………138
Variation 21, m. 9-10…………………………………………………………..138
58. Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 35
Variation 35, m. 1-2…………………………………………………………….139
Variation 5, m. 1-2……………………………………………………………...139
Variation 35, m. 3-4…………………………………………………………….139
Variation 5, m. 13-14…………………………………………………………...140
Variation 35, m. 5-6…………………………………………………………….140
Variation 11, m. 13-14………………………………………………………….140
Variation 35, m. 7-8…………………………………………………………….141
Variation 11, m. 21-22………………………………………………………….141
Variation 35, m. 9-10…………………………………………………………...141
Variation 17, m. 3-4…………………………………………………………….141
Variation 35, m. 11-12………………………………………………………….142
Variation 17, m. 16-17………………………………………………………….142
Variation 35, m. 13-16………………………………………………………….143
Variation 23, m. 1-4……………………………………………………………..144

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59. Variation 35 m.21-24 Analysis………………………………………………………...145
60. Variation 36 Analysis……………………………………………………………….147-49
61. Recap of Theme m.41-43, Diatonic Sequence…………………………………………152

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Introduction

The composition that has brought Frederic Rzewski the most attention, fame, and

recognition has been his hour-long set of thirty-six variations called The People United Will

Never Be Defeated! for solo piano. In 1990, Art Lange wrote the following regarding the work:

‘It is not often that one is fortunate enough to witness the unveiling of a musical
masterpiece, simply because there aren’t many being written today. Yet Frederic
Rzewski’s epic solo piano composition, The People United Will Never Be
Defeated, certainly fills the bill.’ I wrote that, reviewing a recital by The People
United…’s dedicatee Ursula Oppens, in 1978 (three years after the work’s
completion; this was its Chicago premiere). Now, some 12 years later, I’m able
to add another criterion to its masterpiece status: the test of time. The music has
lost none of its ability to mesmerize us with its invention, or move us with its
integrity.1

This work is a landmark in variation form, perhaps being itself a kind of new “variation”

on traditional variation form. It has been performed numerous times throughout the world, has

been recorded at least eight times. A performance of Rzewski performing the work himself has

even been released on DVD.2

While the work can be explored and looked at in relationship to its extra-musical and

political associations, which can greatly enhance the appreciation of this work, extra-musical

aspects will only be briefly touched upon in this essay in order to focus on how the work

functions successfully as a piece of music without the justification of extra-musical or

programmatic elements. More specifically, this essay will focus on Rzewski’s use of variation

form, including how the theme is used and what elements are employed and developed within

the variations.

1
Art Lange, Program notes for Frederic Rzewski The People United Will Never Be Defeated! performed
by Frederic Rzewski, Hat ART CD 6066, 1990, quoted in Richard Koloda, “The Piano Music (Post 1974) of
Frederic Rzewski.” (MM Thesis, Cleveland State University, 1996), 202.

2
Frederic Anthony Rzewski, perf. Rzewski Plays Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated!,
DVD, directed by Tony Adzinikolov. (Pleasantville: Video Artists International, 2008).

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Chapter 1: Background on Rzewski

Biography

Frederic Anthony Rzewski (pronounced Zhev-skee) was born on April 13, 1938 and

grew up in Westfield, Massachusetts. He began playing the piano at the age of three and began

composing shortly thereafter. At age four, he began studying with Charles Mackey of

Springfield, Massachusetts, who taught him piano and a little bit of composition. Mackey

exposed Rzewski to music by Shostakovich and Schoenberg, as well as leftist politics.3 At the

age of sixteen, Rzewski entered Harvard where he studied composition with Walter Piston,

orchestration with Claudio Spies, counterpoint with Randall Thompson, and piano with Gregory

Tucker.4 By this time he was already an exceptional pianist, although he hardly practiced and

preferred instead to compose, and had made friends with composers Christian Wolff and David

Behrman. Wolff introduced Rzewski to the music of John Cage, with whom Wolff was a good

friend, being already established as a composer of avant-garde music. They sponsored concerts

at Harvard of avant-garde music in a time when “the Harvard Music Department [was] where

3
Frederic Rzewski. “I am in the habit of trying to relate my work to the world around me” interview by
Vivian Perlis, 2 December 1984, Nonsequiturs: Writings & Lectures on Improvisation, Composition, and
Interpretation, edited by Gisela Gronemeyer and Reinhard Oehlschlagel. (Cologne: MusikTexte, 2007): 158-160.
4
It is interesting to note that Rzewski describes the Harvard Music Department as “not especially
interesting…Thompson was the best teacher there was as far as I could see. He certainly was the best teacher that I
had there. I studied modal counterpoint with him, and that was a very lucky thing, because I think the important
thing in counterpoint is that you have a teacher who genuinely likes counterpoint. And he loved it. He knew
Palestrina backwards and forwards. He was able to inspire in the students a certain passion for things like species
counterpoint, which is after all not that easy to do. But the other people, although some of them I felt quite close to,
like Claudio Spies, with whom I studied orchestration, and I found him a very interesting teacher –I even wrote a
piece which I dedicated to him, a trio for flute, trumpet, and piano. A kind of neo-Stravinskian piece. And then
there were some interesting professors of history. Nino Pirotta was there for a while teaching Baroque and Post-
Baroque music, and also Shigeo Kishibe from the University of Tokyo, who gave a very interesting course in
Japanese music. So those were interesting courses. [Walter] Piston’s composition seminar was not terribly
inspiring, because lots of times Piston didn’t even come to class, and when he did come to class he didn’t say very
much. Of course that was his nature, anyway. He was a very nice man, but I don’t think we learned a great deal in
that course.” Ibid., 162-64.

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Stravinsky and neoclassicism ruled. No one in Harvard was listening to Schoenberg and

Webern”.5

After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard, he went to graduate school at Princeton

where he studied with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt from 1958-60.6 Then he traveled to

Rome, Italy on a Fulbright Scholarship to study with Luigi Dallapiccola, but ended lessons very

soon after. Rzewski recalls

But with Dallapiccola I made a serious mistake. When I first showed up there he asked
me what I wanted to do. And I made, I think, a fatal mistake, which was to say to him
that what I wanted to do was orchestration. This was the area where I felt I was weakest,
and I wanted to concentrate on orchestration rather than on composition. And I think I
gave the impression that I was not interested in what he had to say about composition.
At first he agreed, he said fine, we’ll work on orchestration, and we did do several
lessons of orchestration, but then one time I missed a lesson because I had gone to visit
some friends in London, and when I came back from London I found a letter saying that
Maestro Dallapiccola felt that I was not the kind of student that he wanted, needed to
work with, and would I please go somewhere else. And I realized that I had made a
serious mistake simply in –I must have given the impression of arrogance, because I
probably was rather arrogant at that time. And now, it’s one thing I’ve always regretted,
because I certainly could have gotten a lot from that man if I had approached him
correctly.7

Rzewski remained in Rome for the next few years. He began to make his name as a performer

while becoming the pianist for the Italian flautist Severino Gazzelloni. He began performing and

recording many works by contemporary composers such as Boulez, Stockhausen, Bussotti,

5
Ibid., 166.
6
“If I found the Harvard Music Department not terrifically inspiring, I think the Princeton Music
Department was even less so…. The lessons with Sessions consisted mostly of anecdotes, which were quite
interesting, but there wasn’t a great deal of time to go into the actual technique of composition. And with Babbitt I
think this was even more the case. My lessons with Babbitt consisted often of discussions of baseball or Broadway
musicals.” Ibid., 168-70.
7
Ibid., 170.

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Kagel, Cage, Feldman and Wolff. He even gave the premieres of Stockhausen’s Klavierstuck X

and Plus-Minus in 1962 and 1964 respectively.8

In 1963, Rzewski was invited by Elliot Carter, who was also a former student of Walter

Piston, to be part of the Ford Foundation artist-in-residence program and live in West Berlin for

two years. While there he met fellow composer Alvin Curran, with whom he would later found

the group Musica Elettronica Viva. During this time he began teaching, first at the Cologne

Courses for New Music in 1963, 1964, and 1970, as well at the Center for the Creative Arts at

the State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1977 he was offered the position of Professor of

Composition at the Royal Conservatoire de Liege in Belgium, where he remained until retiring in

2003. In the past thirty years, he has been invited to teach for short periods of time at several

institutions around the U.S. and Europe, including the Hochschule der Kunste in West Berlin, the

Yale School of Music, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, the Royal

Conservatory of the Hague, the Hochschule fur Musik in Karlsruhe, Germany, and the California

Institute of the Arts.

MEV

In 1966, while living in Rome, Rzewski founded Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV) along

with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum. The group was dedicated to playing live electronic

music combined with improvisation in concerts or “happenings”. Jazz proved to be a huge

influence, and jazz musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, John Coltrane,

8
Harold C. Schoenberg’s review of a performance of Klavierstuck V describes Rzewksi’s playing, “He
then turned to Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ‘Klavierstuck 10.’ For which he dusted the keys of the piano with talcum
powder and wore a pair of white workman’s gloves with the fingers cut off. This permitted him to make all kinds of
glissandos with his palm. What with the glissandos, forearm and fist tone clusters, pregnant pauses and whatnots,
there was a good half hour of esthetic commotion. Mr. Rzewski bespattered and weary, took his bows.” Harold C
Schoenberg, “Music: Frederic Rzewski at the Piano.” New York Times 21 August 1963, 39, quoted in Koloda, 11.

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and Anthony Braxton all performed with MEV on occasion. Another large influence was John

Cage and his understanding of music as a process and not a product.9 MEV worked to

incorporate the audience and non-musicians and also to break down some “outdated” musical

traditions, such as notated music and the standard concert format. Incorporating the audience

into the music-making is an early example of the unification theme later apparent in The People

United. The following are Rzewski’s instructions for one of MEV’s pieces which the audience is

to participate:

We are all ‘musicians’. We are all ‘creators’. Music is a creative process in
which we all can share, and the closer we can come to each other in this process,
abandoning esoteric categories and professional elitism, the closer we can all
come to the ancient idea of music as a universal language…We are trying to
catalyze and sustain a musical process, moving in the direction of unity, towards
a sense of communion and closeness among all individuals present…The
musician takes on a new function: he is no longer the mythical star, elevated to a
sham glory and authority, but rather an unseen worker, using his skill to help
others less prepared than he to experience the miracle, to become great artists in a
few minutes.10

MEV’s goal was to bring music down from the elitist status of the cerebral composer, such as is

exemplified in his former teacher Milton Babbitt’s essay Who Cares if you listen? 11 to

something that can create social change and harmony between ordinary people. This dissolution

of the traditional classical music concert was an attempt to free the performer and audience in

9
Patricia Ann Keyes, “The People United: An Analysis of Frederic Rzewski’s Variations for Solo Piano
and Examination of Selected Compositions from 1960-2003” (DMA Diss., Boston University. Ann Arbor: UMI,
2006), 51.
10
Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1999,) 130, quoted in Keyes, 53.
11
Milton Babbitt, “Who Cares If You Listen?” High Fidelity Magazine viii (1958): 38, quoted in Laura
Melton, Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! An Analysis and Historical Perspective,
(DMA Diss., Rice University. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1998), 7.

16
order for a primitive, universal musical language to emerge.12 This is the same view Rzewski

maintains while writing The People United. Before they disbanded in 1970, the group played

over 200 concerts and these experiences greatly affected Rzewski’s later compositions.

Improvisation

In addition to composing fully written-out works, Rzewski is an incredibly skilled

improviser, and often inserts improvisations into works he performs, and this interest greatly

affects his compositional method. His interest in improvisation came from both the classical

tradition of improvising composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, and also from jazz.

Christian Wolff writes:

One can also say that improvisation and composition are for Rzewski
inextricably combined. And, partly because composed, written pieces often have
space for improvising with nothing or only the most general suggestions
indicated for the player, this interaction of what’s improvised with what’s written
and their co-existence are themselves what the music is really about, what we
should be listening to. This is not just a formal or procedural matter either. One
can see it as the expression of an ideal and a dilemma of human living. No
music, no genuine human action or feeling is without spontaneous impulse. The
capacity and space for such impulse make up our human freedom. On the other
hand, improvised spontaneity is always on the brink of arbitrariness and chaos or
absurdity. The drama of that dilemma is the drama of Rzewski’s music.13

Rzewski himself talks about improvisation and composition:

Stravinsky once remarked that composition was simply improvising with a
pencil. Lately, I’ve been trying to get into a state of mind where I can write off
the top of my head, just slapping down ideas on paper as they appear. What
passes today for legitimate composition today seems to be a much more
formalistic endeavor, an attempt to emulate the procedures of science.14
12
Keyes, 54.
13
Christian Wolff, CD liner notes for Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated!
performed by Ursula Oppens, Vanguard Classics VSD-71248, 1993.
14
Joshua Kosman, “Improvising with a Pencil: The Piano Music of Frederic Rzewski.” Piano and
Keyboard 161 March/April, 1993: 36, quoted in Keyes, 60.

17
He believes his interest in improvisation and modern music is really just an extension of the

classical tradition. He writes:

The classical tradition is a dynamic one of innovation. I consider the practice of
performing music that is 150 to 200 years old to be an aberration of this
tradition…I consider people like myself composer/performers, to be the true
inheritors of this tradition.15

Every time I play classical music, someone comes up and complains about it
afterwards. A while back I played the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto with the
New Hampshire Symphony. This was one of the last pieces written by
Beethoven that he played himself, and we also know that he did a lot of
improvising. There are certain places in the Fourth where there are spaces for
cadenzas – at least five; One in the first movement, once in the second, and at
least three places in the third. There are written-out cadenzas, but we know that
Beethoven sometimes played very, very long improvisations. And one can easily
imagine that he probably extended them when performing. So I decided to do
that: Improvise all five cadenzas and really play some long improvisations. But
people got very upset. There was as much improvised music as there was of
Beethoven’s written music in that performance.16

In many of his compositions, including The People United, he inserts spots for optional

improvisations, understanding that many concert musicians are not trained or comfortable with

improvising, but leaving the option there for those who want to.

Political Views

As early as his undergraduate years, Rzewski’s music has been inseparable from his

politics and has consciously used his music as a vehicle for social change. Because of this, he

has been labeled a “political composer”. Patricia Ann Keyes explains that “because Rzewski has

15
Annette Moreau, “From Outside In; They Call Him Fred the Red, But His God Was Beethoven.”
Independent, November 20, 1993, quoted in Keyes, 15-16.
16
Lillian Tan, “Rzewski Fuses Jazz with Classical Music to Create Consciousness-Raising Concerts.”
Keyboard Magazine 11 (December 1985): 16-85, quoted in Keyes, 61.

18
long taken an active interest in leftist politics – and has often reflected that interest in his music –

he has inevitably acquired the tag of a ‘political’ composer”.17 Rzewski himself does not adhere

to this label, saying:

I did not publish a book called Stockhausen Serves Imperialism, and I have never
sat down in front of a tank. But somehow even my limited involvement in
human life in general in my music, or in attempting to associate these things, has
brought me the stamp of being ‘Fred the Red’. It’s not relevant to understanding
my music. I happen to be interested in life and the relationships of music to life.
I am not inspired by abstractions.18

Keyes sees this reluctance to be labeled a political composer as an attempt to keep the focus on

the artistic appeal of his music instead of politics.19 Stephen Drury, who has performed and

recorded The People United, supports this claim, and says that “He [Rzewski] doesn’t want to

get locked in a box. His works are not agitprop, which might be useful socially but tends to be

uninteresting artistically. He’s first of all a composer with a social conscience, but he’s

interested in writing good music”.20 His belief that music can inspire social change is strong and

he believes all artists should take hold of its power in opposition to Babbitt’s artistic elitist

position. Rzewski writes:

Of course music is a political force. It’s a very powerful political force. Music
influences millions of people. If a composer comes to grips with this fact, this
tremendous potential force that is in this form of art, then there is a possibility of
really doing something to change the situation, perhaps on a small level at first,
but nonetheless important. I think it’s very necessary today to begin to think of

17
Keyes, 73.
18
Morreau, 53.
19
Keyes, 74.
20
David Weininger,“Rzewski: Composer, Pianist, Iconoclast, Full of Eclectic Invention. His Work
Doesn’t Fit Into a Box” The Boston Globe. June 19, 2005, quoted in Keyes, 74.

19
music as not simply a form of art for art’s sake but a form of spiritual expression
that potentially influences masses of people.21

However, he also realizes the limitations that one artist can do to change the world through their

art:

The important thing is to get past the notion that an individual can, with his own
resources, make any significant progress on solving a problem which is social in
nature. This is one of the biggest hurdles that artists have to overcome, the idea
that art alone can solve problems that really need other forms of action. Art can
help: it can be useful in solving human problems. It always has been and it
always will be, but only as long as it recognizes its own limitations.22

In addition, while he often uses compositional styles that are less complex in order to be

understood by a wider audience, he refuses to write lesser quality music while rejecting more

complex and intellectual styles of composition.

It is possible to say, however, that such things as counterpoint, chromatic
harmony, serialism, the techniques of electronic music, all basically discoveries
of the classical tradition in evolution, represent major acquisitions of the human
intellect, objective leaps forward in its drive to understand and interpret both
nature and its own relation to nature. It would be foolish to sacrifice such things
on the grounds that they originally developed in the service of this or that ruling
class in various stages of history, just as it would be foolish to scrap this electric
typewriter on which I now am writing, merely because its original reason for
being was to generate profits for IBM! This typewriter is a beautiful machine,
and I need it. Similarly, the masses of people need beauty, and they need it in its
most advanced, most complex, most difficult form.23

Politically, Rzewski is usually labeled as a Marxist. Without a doubt we can at least

conclude that Rzewski’s political beliefs are well on the left side of the political spectrum.

21
Joe Goldberg, “The Art of Political Process, Frederic Rzewski,” WaxPaper, 5/7 (1979) 21, quoted in
Keyes, 75.
22
Ken Terry, “Frederic Rzewski and the Improvising Avant-Garde.” Downbeat (Jan. 11, 1979) 40, quoted
in Keyes, 76.
23
Rzewski, “All artists are compromisers”, Nonsequiturs: Writings & Lectures on Improvisation,
Composition, and Interpretation, 204.

20
With regards to his political motivation behind The People United Will Never Be Defeated!,

Rzewski writes,

During the time I was living in New York (1971-76), I became more and more
concerned with the question of language. It seemed to me there was no reason
why the most difficult and complex formal structures could not be expressed in a
form which could be understood by a wide variety of listeners. I was also
concerned with what appeared to me to be a crisis in theory, not only in music
but in many different fields, including science and politics: the absence of a
general theory to explain phenomena and guide behavior. I explored forms in
which existing musical languages could be brought together. A series of
variations for solo piano, The People United Will Never Be Defeated! was the
main expression for these ideas at the time.24

Overall, Rzewski believes that creating art is always an act of defiance against social oppression.

Artists are in fact able to turn into some kind of reality (even if only in a partial
and imperfect way) the age-old dream of what life would be like in a non-
repressive society based on an economy of abundance, in which people would be
free both from need and from domination, and able to pursue their inborn
creative impulses, without having to alienate their labor in the service of an
external authority….This explains the continuing need for art and artists: Their
work provides a model for the creative negation of an oppressive reality.25

24
Frederic Rzewski, CD liner notes for Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated!
performed by Frederic Rzewski, Hat ART CD 6066, 1990, quoted in Melton, 4-5.
25
Rzewski, “Music and Political Ideals”, Nonsequiturs: Writings & Lectures on Improvisation,
Composition, and Interpretation, 192.

21
Chapter 2: The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Background on The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

The impetus for the creation of The People United Will Never Be Defeated! came from

Rzewski’s friend, and concert pianist, Ursula Oppens. She asked him to write a work for her to

premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. for the Washington Performing Arts

Center’s U. S. Bicentennial Celebration on February 7, 1976.26 She was working on the Diabelli

Variations of Beethoven at the time and perhaps this stimulated Rzewski to write a large-scale

set of variations to either rival or accompany this piece.

The Chilean Revolutionary song “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido”, written by

Sergio Ortega in 1973, serves as the theme of Rzewski’s variations (the English translation of the

song’s title is “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”). Laura Melton describes the

political context in during which the song was written.

From 1970 to 1973, Salvadore Allende was in power in Chile, commanding the
first freely elected Marxist regime in the West. This was a difficult three-year
period in Chile with a complex network of political and economic problems that
resulted from Allende’s attempt to nationalize many of Chile’s domestic and
foreign-owned industries, primarily the copper industry. He also raised wages,
improved social services and began land redistribution programs, all of which
helped the lower class and angered the middle and upper classes. Also unhappy
were American businesses and corporations such as ITT and Anaconda Copper.
Chile was soon without foreign capital which caused shortages and enormous
inflation, which led to strikes, demonstrations, and counterdemonstrations
dissolving Allende’s coalition. This led to a coup in September of 1973 when
Augusto Pinochet took over. The ironic twist to the to the political nature of the
piece becomes clear when one considers the CIA’s successful attempt to
destabilize the Allende regime by channeling millions of dollars to the opposition
via the press, politicians, businessmen and trade unions.27

26
Of the premiere, Rzewski says “I got there late because the train broke down from New York, so I
missed the first part of the concert. I think she [Oppens] played Beethoven Opus 110. I heard my piece, I think. I
don’t remember now.” Frederic Rzewski, interview by author, 21 June 2008, tape recording, University of
Cincinnati, Cincinnati. (See Appendix B for complete transcription of the interview. Subsequent references to this
interview will include the page number of the appendix.)
27
Melton, 9.

22
Ever since, the song has become world famous and is an anthem for the Chilean resistance.

Keyes points out the irony between the subject matter of the song and the premiere of Rzewski’s

work:

For a piece that draws its primary inspiration from a leftist chant that was used to
support Salvador Allende’s socialist government, it is remarkable that the
premiere went ahead. One supposition is that the organizers of the Bicentennial
celebration in Washington were unaware of the political nature of the thematic
materials used for the variations. Whatever the reasons for its inclusion in the
celebration, Rzewski certainly must have enjoyed making a political statement in
this context.28

Formal Construction

The People United is cast as a theme, thirty-six variations, and recapitulation of theme.

In order to musically represent the concept of unification, Rzewski chose a form that would

represent this. He chose his own Second Structure, a free improvisation piece he performed

several times as a member of MEV in the 1970’s, as a model for the variations. The “piece”

simply consists of a text which describes a musical form. Rzewski explains:

This was a form which in my group, MEV, we used a number of times as a kind
of form to keep in our heads in the course of a free improvisation. Since it was
free improvisation, this form, although it perhaps provided some kind of a
platform for an impro, it never developed in as strict a way as one could imagine.
So that’s why I decided to make a written out version of it…It was a rather
rigorous application of the model that you find in that text.29

The following is taken from the text of Second Structure, which details six stages that each

“represent some particular way of dealing with time”30:

28
Keyes, 108.
29
Rzewski, interview by author, 160.
30
Ibid.

23
1. Simple events
2. Rhythms
3. Melodies
4. Counterpoints
5. Harmonies
6. Combinations of all these.31

The first five points above are different and contrasting elements, while the sixth synthesizes all

the elements together. As a musical form, Rzewski chose this for setting the song because the

musical form itself represents the idea of unification. Rzewski does this by using many different

styles within the variations and bringing them closer together. Rzewski comments on his

tendency to use diverse styles and elements in his music and how they can be used together:

Such attempts to integrate traditional musical language with the analytic
techniques of contemporary practice are considered by some to be suspect, if not
outright regressive, coming as they do after the total “tabularasification”
undertaken by the serialists. I consider the very interesting possibility that
entirely new ground may be broken in the synthesis of newly acquired techniques
with older traditions, and this on both sides of the equation: first, because new
technologies (such as electronics), as well as new composing techniques make it
possible to subject traditional material to a series of transformations, in such a
way that it is perceived in a quite new fashion; and second, for the (less apparent
but no less important) reason that similar technical advances in areas outside of
music (such as communications) have altered our consciousness of these same
traditions, and have brought us into close contact with similar traditions in areas
of the planet that, only a few decades ago, remained relatively remote and
unknown. Such a process of synthesis, both within and outside the universe of
music, has made it possible to move out of the confining dogmatism of serial
thinking—what Pousseur calls the “symmetrical negation” of tradition into a kind
of musical thinking that is both broader (embracing a variety of traditions of
diverse social and geographical origin) and deeper (moving freely back and forth
through history) than any previous framework for a musical creation. It becomes
possible, for the first time, to speak seriously of a possible “world music,”
turning the ancient utopian idea of music as a “universal language” into a reality.
And this, not as in the work of some composers (like Stockhausen, in Cardew’s
view), as the forceful integration of diverse cultures into a Western model, but
rather as a gradual and harmonious confluence, under peaceful and mutually
satisfying conditions. Already a new generation of musicians is emerging,

31
Frederic Rzewski, CD liner notes for Frederic Rzewski’s Rzewski Plays Rzewski: Piano Works, 1975-
1999 performed by Frederic Rzewski, Nonesuch 79623-2, 2002. (See Appendix A for complete text of Second
Structure.)

24
equally at home in both written and improvising traditions, for whom the notion
of “composition” will take on hitherto unknown aspects.32

While it is interesting to discuss how each variation fulfills the descriptions of the previously

mentioned stages, this would entail an analysis outside the scope of this essay.

The idea of combining several diverse elements that characterizes this form actually

comes from another work, Plus-Minus of Karlheinz Stockhausen, written in 1963. Rzewski

describes this work as “not really a piece. It’s kind of a formal scheme for a composer to use to

write a piece and has this idea of there are a number of elements and then a final element which

involves a combination of all those things”.33 Rzewski also performed in the world premiere of

this work.

Rzewski takes the form set forth in Second Structure and employs it in two different

dimensions. The six stages of Second Structure are used on a micro and macro level. The work

contains a total of thirty-six variations, which are broken down into six sets of six variations

each. In this way, each set is a complete form, where five variations are contrasting and use the

material from the theme in different ways, while the sixth of each set recapitulates and

synthesizes the material of the previous five by drawing them closer together.

In the same way, the six sets themselves embody the form, where the first five sets each

have their own character emphasizing different musical elements of the theme and the sixth

recapitulates and synthesizes. The first variation of the final set recapitulates the first variation

of each previous set, the second variation recapitulates the second variation of each previous set,

etc. Following this pattern, the thirty-sixth and final variation is both a recapitulation of the sixth

32
Rzewski, “Melody as Face: On The Interpretation of Perceived Phenomena”, Nonsequiturs: Writings &
Lectures on Improvisation, Composition, and Interpretation, 140.
33
Rzewski, interview by author, 161-162.

25
variation of each set, which were themselves recapitulations, and of the previous five variations

of the sixth set, which were also recapitulations as well. In other words, what we have in the

final variation is a recapitulation of all of the previous variations into one, or more correctly, all

of the material and characters of the twenty-five “original” variations, or of all the variations not

including the recapitulation variations. The following chart shows these relationships:

26
Chart 1 Recapitulation Relationships

27
The idea of six stages was introduced to Rzewski by the Living Theatre, of whom he

collaborated often with in the 1970’s, who got it from the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism.34

This form is also similar to the poetic form of the sestina, in which there are six stanzas

of six lines each. Each stanza uses the same six words that end each line but in different

combinations. The poem then ends with a three-line envoi that, in a way, recapitulates the

previous material by using all six end words in a condensed form. This form was created by 12th

century troubadours in France and likely developed separate from the previously mentioned

Jewish source.35

While the theme contains thirty-six measures, each variation contains exactly twenty-

four, except for the variations in the fifth set, where “it’s supposed to go haywire”36 and the

variations vary from fourteen measures (not including repeats) to 116 measures (not including

repeats). This consistent structure of twenty-four measures and similar phrasing preserves the

coherence throughout this long work and makes Rzewski’s use of vastly different compositional

methods and languages as clear as possible. This consistent structure also helps to maintain the

clarity in the most diverse and enigmatic variations (outside of Set V, of course) such as

Variations ten and eleven, as we will examine later in this essay.

The key scheme of the variations is also carefully planned out and significant to the form.

The theme itself is in D minor, and so is the first variation. Each subsequent variation is then in

the minor key a perfect fifth higher than the previous one (even though several variations can be

34
Ibid, 162.
35
Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms (New
York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), 21-23.
36
Rzewski, interview by author, 161.

28
considered pantonal,37 each variation beings, ends, and has at least some tertian harmonies that

correspond with the harmonic progression of the theme). This goes on around the complete

circle-of-fifths over all twelve minor keys for the first twelve variations, or first two sets. The

next twelve variations, or two sets, are all in D minor, and the final twelve go around the circle-

of-fifths one more time by rising fifths.

Chart 2 Key Scheme

Variation 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Key Dm Am Em Bm F#m C#m G#m D#m Bbm Fm Cm Gm

Variation 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Key Dm Dm Dm Dm Dm Dm Dm Dm Dm Dm Dm Dm

Variation 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36

Key Dm Am Em Bm F#m C#m G#m D#m Bbm Fm Cm Gm

In this way, there is a tripartite structure that takes advantage of the fact that there are twelve

different pitches on a piano and that this is a multiple of six and a factor of thirty-six. This

creates a tonal balance throughout the whole composition, where the journey through all twelve

minor keys in twelve variations is followed by a stable plateau of twelve variations in the

original key of D minor, then travels once again around the twelve minor keys to come back to

the original tonality of D minor for the recapitulation of the original theme once again. This key

scheme also relates directly to the harmonic material of the theme, where a circle-of-fifths

progression is used in the B phrase, which will be shown and discussed later.

37
This author prefers to use the term “pantonal” where others would use the, I believe, incorrect term
“atonal”.

29
Thema

As previously mentioned, the theme is the Chilean revolutionary song “El Pueblo Unido

Jamas Sera Vencido” (The People United Will Never Be Defeated) composed by Sergio Ortega

in 1973. As a response to the political turmoil, this song became popular throughout South

America as a chant for unity against political oppression. Ortega describes the inspiration behind

the composition of the song.

One day in June, 1973, three months before the bombing by Pinochet’s
military coup, I was walking through the plaza in front of the palace of finance in
Santiago, Chile, and saw a street singer shouting, “The People United Will Never
Be Defeated” –a well-known Chilean chant for social change. I couldn’t stop,
and continued across the square, but his incessant chanting followed me and
stuck in my mind.

On the following Sunday, after the broadcast of the show “Chile Says No
to Civil War,” which I directed for Channel 9, we went with a few artists to eat at
my house outside Santiago. Upon arrival I sat down at my piano and thought
about the experience in the plaza and the events at large. When I reproduced the
chant of the people in my head, the chant that could not be restrained, the entire
melody exploded from me: I saw it complete and played it in its entirety at once.
The text unfurled itself quickly and fell, like falling rocks, upon the melody. In
their enthusiasm some of my guests made suggestions that were too rational for
the situation I was composing in. Out of courtesy I pretended to accept, but
arranged myself to leave the text in its symptomatic landscape.38

The text is as follows:

38
Sergio Ortega, CD liner notes for Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated!,
performed by Stephen Drury, New Albion NA 063, 1994.

30
De pie, cantar que vamos a triunfar Arise, sing, for we will triumph
Avanzan ya banderas de unidad Flags of unity advance
Y tu vendras marchando junto a mi Come marching with me and behold the
Y asi versa tu canto y tu bandera florecer Blossoming of your song and your flag
La luz de un rojo amanecer The light of a red dawn
Anuncia ya la vida que vendra Announces the life to come

De pie, luchar el pueble va a triunfar Arise, fight, the People will triumph
Sera major la vida que vendra The life to come will be better
A conquistar nuestra felicidad Let us win our happiness
Y en clamor mil voces And in a clamor a thousand voices
Mil voces de combate se alzaran diran cancion Of combat rise and recite
de libertad A song of liberty
Con decisional patria vencera With decisiveness the nation will be
victorious
Y ahora el pueblo que se alza en la lucha And now the People rise in the fight
Con voz de gigante gritando adelante With a giant’s voice they cry

El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido The People United Will Never Be Defeated
El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido The People United Will Never Be
Defeated39

Two days after its completion, the song was performed in public by the Chilean musical

group “Quilapayun” and they later made a recording. The song was also popular in Italy, where

many Chilean exiles where living as well, and Melton believes that it was while Rzewski was

living in Rome in the early 1970’s that he probably heard the tune for the first time.40 However,

Rzewski writes himself that “I first heard Sergio Ortega’s song at a concert given by the Chilean

group Inti-Illimani at Hunter College in the fall of 1974.”41 After first hearing the song, Rzewski

“walked out onto the street singing the melody, and it never left [him] from that time on.”42 The

piano piece was then written in September and October of 1975.

39
Ibid., Translation by Elena Hammel and Maria Letona.
40
Melton, 15.
41
Rzewski, liner notes to Rzewski Plays Rzewski.
42
Ibid.

31
While Rzewski chose to use this song in part because of his belief in the message of the

song and political associations with it, he also considered the actual musical content of the song.

He comments, “This tune, you’ve heard it before, it’s like the famous Paganini theme on which

Rachmaninoff and Lutoslawski and so on wrote variations. That’s the other thing, it’s a theme

that immediately suggests variations.”43 Rzewski also talks about the properties and amazing

ability of a melody, such as this, to retain its character:

Certain trends in twentieth-century music would reduce all categories of sound
and silence to one level. In my opinion, however, those elements of a sound
complex which are perceived as “tunes,” as melody, are linked to a separate
faculty for recognizing specifically human sounds, as distinct from sounds in
general; they are analogous to those elements of a complex visual image which
are selectively perceived as together forming a recognizable human figure or
face. Melody would be, therefore, for the art of music what the human form,
especially the human face, would be for the visual arts. Because of this special
quality of “timelessness” (in the case of melody) or “spacelessness” (in the case
of the face) –that is, the ability of the recognized figure to stick together, to retain
its identity even when removed from a context, from the rest of time or space—it
should be possible to subject both types of figure, melody and face, to a
considerable degree of abstraction and distortion, without losing recognizability:
more than would be the case with ordinary noises or shapes…44

Melton summarizes Rzewski’s reason for using the song, “it satisfied his political

beliefs, it stings the bicentennial celebration by celebrating a government that the American

government helped to overthrow, it is an inspiring song musically and it is highly accessible,

satisfying one of the main facets of his musical philosophy.”45

He later obtained the recording of the song by the group Quilapayun and notated the

theme from listening to and transcribing it. Rzewski explains, “I just transcribed it from the

recording, which is actually, I heard it as being in a triple rhythm…When I later saw the actual
43
Rzewski, interview by author, 160.
44
Rzewski, “Melody as Face”, Nonsequiturs: Writings & Lectures on Improvisation, Composition, and
Interpretation, 138.
45
Melton, 19.

32
score I saw it was dotted-eighth and sixteenth.”46 In addition to changing the rhythm of the

theme, Rzewski also changed the key to D minor, while he says the original is in A minor,

although the recording by Quilapayun is in G minor.47

The recording by Quilapayun begins with three two-measure statements of the title of the

song, simply chanted without exact pitches. The accompaniment, acoustic guitars and drum to

emphasize the rhythm, enter on the third statement of the chant. The voices then begin singing

the tune in four-measure phrases, in the form of ABBABBCD which is then repeated with

different words where D is the non-sung chant. After the repeat, the chant is sung a few more

times by some while the tune is sung on the syllable “la” until the end.

In Rzewski’s piano piece, the entire theme spans thirty-six measures, which is broken

down into nine four-bar phrases. The fact that the theme lasts thirty-six measures parallels the

macro-structure of thirty-six variations. This phrase structure can be analyzed as

(Ch)ABB(ABB)’C(Ch)’ where “Ch” stands for the chant. All of these four-bar phrases can be

further broken down into groups of two two-bar phrases. For the chant, which is sung by

Quilapayun without exact pitches in the recording, Rzewski uses the same rhythm while adding

pitches in octaves from the melodic material of the “ABB” sections. The pitches from the first

two-bar phrase are very similar to the first two-bar phrase of “A” with a couple added notes. The

ABB section presents the written-out-swung melody in the right hand with a slow stride-like

(alternating bass notes and chords in a higher register) left hand in quarter notes at a mezzo-forte

dynamic level. In the (ABB)’ section, the dynamic level is boosted up to forte while the right

46
Rzewski, interview by author, 159.
47
On the recording by Stephen Drury, a recording of the tune by Quilapayun is included and this is the
recording that is analyzed in the following paragraph. Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be
Defeated! performed by Stephen Drury, New Albion NA-063, 1994.

33
hand melody is raised an octave and often has added harmonic tones attached to it. The right

hand also has an extra melodic note added to each short melodic statement, as in the opening

chant. The left hand also extends its register down an octave while joining the right hand in the

quicker triplet eighth note rhythms. In the C phrase, the music begins at pianissimo and

crescendos to forte while using repeated chords. The theme then ends with a louder variant of

the opening chant, with a steady descending chromatic bass line in the left hand and accented

melody notes, often in octaves fleshed out by harmonic tones, all at fortissimo. The following

example shows the entire theme and labels the phrases.

34
Ex. 1 Theme, m. 1-3648

48
All of the examples from Rzewski’s piece come from The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: 36
Variations on “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” Music Score. (Tokyo: Zen-On Music Co., 1979.)

35
36
The structure for each of the variations of twenty-four measures in length (in other words, all of

the variations excepting Set V) correspond to the ABB(ABB)’ section of the theme.

The most striking elements of the theme, and the motives that are often exploited by

Rzewski in the subsequent variations, include the bass line, the melody, the harmonic

progression, the phrase structure including cadences, and the rhythm. With the bass line,

Rzewski specifically uses the descending diatonic motive from “A” and the descending

chromatic motive of the beginning of “(Ch’)”.

Ex. 2 Theme, m. 5-6, Descending Diatonic Bass line

Ex. 3 Theme, m.33-34, Descending Chromatic Bass line

From the melody, the most common melodic motive that is derived from the theme is a

minor second followed by a perfect fifth (m2/P5). Its significance and origins will be discussed

later.

From the harmonic progression, the circle-of-fifths sequence from phrase B is used often

in the variations, as well as in the key scheme of the variations themselves. In addition, the

phrase structure and cadences are also often maintained. The following example analyzes the

37
cadences and harmonic progression of the ABB section (which are the same for the [ABB]’

section as well excepting the final cadence) of the theme, which corresponds to the harmonic

progression in many of the variations (except those in Set V).

Ex. 4 Theme, m.5-16, Harmonic and Cadencial Analysis

Rhythmically, two aspects of the theme are used in the variations. There is a common

“basic rhythm” that underlies each of the eighteen two-bar phrases, and this basic rhythm is also

frequently used by Rzewski. There are only three different rhythms for all of the two-bar

phrases in the theme (excepting two note extensions in m.12 and m. 24, one note reduction in

m.28, and notes that are held through the rests in m.29-36): from the chant (m.1-2), “A” (m.5-6),

and “A’” (m.17-18). These are all variations on a basic rhythm taken from the occurrences of

the notes on the beats of each two-bar phrase.

38
Ex. 5 “Basic Rhythm”

In addition, the rhythmic scheme of the theme is also maintained in many variations. The

following chart shows the rhythms used is each section.

Chart 3 Rhythmic Scheme of the Theme

SECTION CHANT ABB (ABB)’ C (CHANT)’
# of 4 12 12 4 4
measures
rhythms Eighth notes Quarter notes, Triplet eighth Eighth notes Eighth notes
triplet quarter notes
and eighth
notes(swing)

What we have is rhythmic progression of slow-fast-slow, or simple-complex-simple. This

progression is used throughout many of the variations.

39
Set I
Variation 1

The first variation maintains the D minor tonality of the theme, is completely tonal and

monophonic with two pitches never sounding at the same time. The pointillistic technique of

octave displacement is employed throughout. Nearly the whole range of the keyboard is used,

from the lowest A to the highest Bb. Both the bass line and the melody are present (with some

notes being omitted), but have been combined into a single disjunct melody with huge leaps.

The following analysis shows the use of the bass line and melody in the first half of the variation.

40
Ex. 6 Variation 1, m. 1-12, Bass line (shown in circles) and Melody (shown in squares)
Analysis

Because the melody and bass line are presented in one single monophonic line, the bass line is

often syncopated instead of on the beat as in the theme. The phrase structure follows exactly the

ABB(ABB)’ section of the theme with six four-bar phrases. Rhythmically, all two-bar phrases

use the basic rhythm. More specifically, the first twelve measures and the last four use only

eighth notes, which is the same rhythm as the chant. In the fourth and fifth phrases, the rhythms

quicken to a majority of sixteenth notes, just as it does in the corresponding phrases of the theme.

41
For the last four-bar phrase, the music returns to only eighth notes, unlike the corresponding

phrase in the theme. This is the same slow-fast-slow rhythmic progression from the theme and is

also used in several subsequent variations. As the melody and bass line are retained in this

variation, naturally so are the cadences.

Variation 2

With the second variation, the music begins its first trip around the circle-of-fifths,

moving up to A minor. Like Variation one, Variation two contains twenty-four measures (a

trend that will continue for every variation until number twenty-five) and corresponds to the

same six phrases of the theme. Progressing from the monophonic first variation, the music now

moves to a two-voice texture.

This variation is characterized by its use of rhythmic cells instead of the basic rhythm. In

the first half of the variation (the first three four-bar phrases), the notes of the melody are always

presented in two note groups in the rhythm of a quarter note (often written as two eighth notes

tied over a bar-line) slurred to an eighth note. Meanwhile, the bass line and other harmonic tones

are presented in a rhythm cell of a staccato eighth note followed by an eighth-rest.

Ex. 7 Rhythmic Cells of the First Half of Variation 2

These two entities are further always distinguished by dynamics, with the melody always at a

louder dynamic than the harmonies (usually forte and piano, respectively) and by the fact that the

melody is always syncopated while the harmonies are always on the beat. The melody of the

42
theme has now been simplified and transformed to fit these rhythmic cells. The following

example compares the use of the melody and bass line in the first two phrases with the theme.

Ex. 8 Melody and Bass line comparison, Variation 2

The following example shows the use of the melody and bass line in the first two

phrases of this variation.

43
Ex. 9 Variation 2, m. 1-8, Melody (shown in rectangles) and Bass line (shown in circles)
Analysis

Like variation one, octave displacement of the theme abounds, and the melody and

harmonies nearly always alternate hands. In the first B phrase, all of the melodic seconds from

the theme are inverted into sevenths.

Also like the first variation, the second half of the variation speeds up with its frequent

use of sixteenth notes. While the rhythmic cell with the bass line and harmonies remains

constant, the rhythmic cell of the melody has evolved from the quarter note plus eighth note cell

to four sixteenth notes with the final note tied to an eighth note followed by two more sixteenth

notes.

44
Ex. 10 Rhythmic Cells of Variation 2 Melody

Both of these cells have the same duration and are syncopated. In this new cell, the pitches of

the melody from the corresponding first phrase of the variation are highlighted by accents.

It is interesting to note that the third phrase of the variation introduces the first chromatic

pitches and is the first passage where the tonal center is temporarily ambiguous in the variations.

Through the course of this phrase, the harmonic progression of B gradually becomes less and

less present until we cadence on the dominant at the end of the phrase. The following chart

analyzes this drift away from the clear harmonic progression:

Chart 4 Harmonic Tones in Variation 2, m.9-12

LOCATION M.9 M.9 M.10 M.10 M.11 M.11 M.12 M.12
OF BEATS BEATS BEATS BEATS BEATS BEATS BEATS BEATS
PASSAGE 1+2 3+4 1+2 3+4 1+2 3+4 1+2 3+4
Harmony iv (dm) VII (GM) III (CM) VI (FM) ii (bm) V (EM) i (am) V (EM)
Harmonic Root, 3rd, Root, 3rd, Root, 3rd Root, 3rd, Root, 5th Root, 3rd Root Root, 3rd,
tones 5th 5th 5th 5th
present in
passage
Number of 6 6 4 4 3 4 1 6
harmonic (including
notes in enharmonic
passage spellings)

While the harmonic progression of the theme vanishes, the stepwise motion of the melody of the

theme is still used in the melodic rhythmic cell, employing chromatic neighbor tones of the

harmonic and melodic notes.

While the second half of the variation begins with a return to the tonal writing of the

opening phrase of the variation, the second phrase of the second half turns back to chromaticism.

Here we see the first appearance of the m2/P5 motive that will play a very significant role

45
throughout the rest of the piece. It can also be identified as the pitch set [045], which also takes

into account any inversions of the intervals (major sevenths and perfect fourths). By looking at

this variation we can see how this motive, which on the surface has little to do with the theme, is

derived from melodic and harmonic aspects of the theme and why it is used so much by Rzewski

throughout these variations.

The fourth and fifth phrases of this variation, which constitute two-thirds of the second

half of the variation, display a quickening of the rhythms by arpeggiating the harmonies, just as

in the corresponding phrases of the theme itself. The second B phrase of the first half introduced

chromaticism and now the first B phrase arpeggiates these chords. What results is a minor

second, from the chromatic neighboring tones, and a perfect fifth, from the outer notes of the

harmonic triads. Looking back at the third phrase of the variation, the motive is used half

melodically and half harmonically:

Ex. 11 Variation 2, m.9-12, m2/P5 Motive

If we look back to the B phrase of the theme, we also see the origins of this motive, both

melodically and harmonically. The melody is full of upbeats that move a melodic second to the

46
downbeat. While this is happening, the bass line is dropping a perfect fifth (or inverted and up a

perfect fourth) around the circle of fifths. This can also be seen as the sevenths of each chord

resolving down to be the third of the next chord in a chain of seventh chords:

Ex. 12 Theme, m. 9-12, m2/P5 Motive

Another reason Rzewski may have used uses this motive is because when it is extended

and repeated, it creates the pitches of a 6-20 hexachord (according to Allen Forte’s

classifications),49 otherwise known as a Bartok or augmented scale, which alternates minor 2nds

and augmented 2nds.

Ex. 13 m2/P5 Motive and Hexachord 6-20

This hexachord can be used as a link between tonality and pantonality and can be employed in

both languages. It is symmetrical, repeating the m2/+2 which creates an equality between the

notes of the scale, just like in a whole-tone scale, but can also be used to create augmented,

major, and minor triads. In this way, Rzewski can easily move between tonality and pantonality,

49
Allen Forte, The Structure of Atonal Music (New Haven. Yale University Press, 1973).

47
which already has played a part through the first two variations and will continue to play a large

part in the rest of the variations.

While the uses of this hexachord in the subsequent variations can be analyzed, and have

been by others such as Robert Wason50, this author has found too many holes in the variations

when analyzed in this way and instead will analyze the same material motivically and by

identifying the pitch sets in an attempt to leave no holes.

Variation 3

While variation one was completely diatonic and variation two mixed diatonicism and

chromaticism, variation three completes the transformation to pantonality. According to the

circle-of-fifths progression of the variations, this variation should be in E minor, and, while it is

pantonal, it is most near to the key of E minor, as evidenced by beginning on an E and three of

the first four pitches contain the pitches of the E minor triad. In addition, the final three pitches

outline the triad as well. There are also a few places where the corresponding harmonies of the

theme transposed to E minor are suggested (m.16, beats 3+4: V, m. 17, beats 1+2: iv, m.22, beat

1: III)

What dominates this variation is the use of the [045] pitch set. Nearly all of the melodic

material comes from this set. This is used freely in a primarily two voice texture whose rhythms

nearly always employ eighth notes against triplet eighth notes in a three-against-two relationship.

The following analysis shows the many uses of the pitch set in only the first four measures of the

variation.

50
Robert W. Wason, “Tonality and Atonality in Frederic Rzewski’s Variations on ‘The People United Will
Never Be Defeated!’” Perspectives of New Music 26.1 (1988), 108-43.

48
Ex. 14 Variation 3, m. 1-4, [045] Pitch Set Analysis

The triplet eighth note rhythm is taken from m.17-28 of the theme, and another frequently used

rhythmic motive, a dotted-quarter note followed by an eighth note, is derived from the melodic

rhythm of m.13 of the theme, which constitutes a quarter note tied to a quarter-note within a

triplet eighth grouping, followed by a triplet eighth note.

Ex. 15 Theme, m.13, Melody and Variation 3, m.6, Bass Melody Comparison
Theme, m.13, melody

Variation 3, m. 6, Bass melody

49
This rhythm is often used in the measures that correspond to that similar rhythm in the theme. In

addition, the melodic contours are the same (moving downward by a step and leap). This occurs

in measures 5, 7, and 11 of the variation.

Like the previous variations, the second half of the variation uses quicker rhythmic

values, here sextuplet sixteenth notes, and also like the previous variations, the final four

measures return to the slower rhythms of the first half.

Variation 4

Variation four has now moved back to a mix of tonality and pantonality. It is in B minor,

according to the circle-of-fifths, and the tonality is confirmed at the beginning where four of the

first five pitches create the tonic triad (the fifth, F#, appears twice). This variation begins much

like the previous variation ends, with two-voice counterpoint in a pantonal language, excepting

the confirmation of the tonality in the first measure. Just like the previous variation, the [045]

pitch set dominates most of this variation. The first six measures are divided into two-bar

phrases, which each have an arch contour, just like the corresponding first two sub-phrases of the

theme (m.5-8).

The second half of the variation continues the trend of eight measures, two four-bar

phrases, of quicker rhythms followed by a return to the slower rhythms for the final four

measures. After the pantonal language of the first half, the second half of the variation suddenly

breaks out, after a pseudo-authentic cadence, in a clear B minor tonality, utilizing only the

diatonic notes in B minor for the next two measures. The melody from m.3-4 of the theme (from

the chant) is present, yet varied, and brought out of the texture by accents. The following

example shows a closed position rendering of the melody through the accents in m.13-16.

50
Ex. 16 Variation 4, m.13-16, Melody Through Accents

While m.13-14 are completely diatonic, m.15-16 reintroduce the m2/P5 motive. Despite the

many chromatic tones that are resulted by the use of this motive, the tonal center of B remains.

When m.17 arrives, it becomes clear that this is the B phrase as the music reaches the

subdominant harmony (E minor) in B minor. The phrase structure of the variation as ABB has

become clear, although it was totally obscured in the first half. Despite an inner voice which

uses the m2/P5 motive in rapid sextuplet sixteenth notes, the melody of the B phrase is present,

brought out my tenuto marks, as well as the bass line, brought out by accents.

Ex. 17 Variation 4, m.17-20, Melody (shown in squares) and Bass line (shown in circles)
Analysis

The harmonic progression is still apparent and audible despite the many chromatic notes. In the

last phrase, the rhythms slow back down and the texture returns to the two-voice counterpoint.

Here the use of the “basic rhythm” (see Example 5) is evident.

51
Ex. 18 Variation 4, m.21, Basic Rhythm.

Variation 5

In stark contrast to all the previous variations, where rhythmic energy had consistently

built up, variation five suddenly brings all this energy to a halt with whole note and dotted-half

note chords. The musical language has now returned to a clear tonality (F# minor) with only

very sparing uses of chromatic tones. The variation is characterized by extremes of dynamics

and loud chords played staccato while the harmonics are then quickly caught by the pedal.

From the theme, the phrase structure is maintained. The first two-bar sub-phrase is

repeated as in the theme. As the melodic motion has slowed down significantly, we see the

melody of the theme stripped down to only the first and/or second melodic intervals:

52
Ex. 19 Variation 5 and Theme Melody Comparison

In addition, the slow-fast-slow rhythmic scheme is maintained, with m. 13-20 having slightly

more rhythmic activity than the preceding and following measures.

If we look at the use of different musical languages throughout the first five variations,

we find the following:

Chart 5 Musical Languages in Variations 1-5

VARIATION # MUSICAL LANGUAGES
1 Tonal, diatonic
2 Half-tonal,diatonic
Half-pantonal,chromatic
3 Pantonal,chromatic
4 Half-pantonal,chromatic
Half-tonal,diatonic
5 Tonal, nearly entirely diatonic

53
Throughout this first set, the piece has traveled from tonality and diatonicism (Var.1) to

pantonality and free usage of all twelve tones (Var.3) and back (Var.5). The even numbered

variations serve as links between these languages, mixing them both. This shows an arch form

using harmonic language.

Variation 6

Variation six is the first of the eleven variations (#6, 12, 18, 24, 30-36) that recapitulate

material from previous variations. Following the circle-of-fifths, this variation begins in C#-

minor. Four measures are allotted to recapitulate each of the first five variations, for a total of

twenty measures, followed by a four-bar transition phrase. The addition of this transition phrase

keeps the length of the variations consistent at twenty-four measures. These four measures from

each variation are not direct quotations, however, or quotations that are simply transposed into

C# minor (in fact the variation modulates to other keys, most recognizably Bb minor). What

Rzewski does is apply the same characteristics of each variation (usually from both the first half

and second half of each variation) and rewrites them so that they retain the same characters and

are recognizable as so. This makes these appearances fresh by not being literal recapitulations

and shows that he wasn’t simply cutting and pasting (and transposing).

Within the four-measure phrases allotted for each variation, two-measure sub-phrases are

evident. For the first sub-phrase of each group, Rzewski uses the material and characteristics of

the first half of the corresponding variation, and for the second sub-phrase the second half of the

variation, where in each variation the rhythms become quicker. The following example

compares the measures of this variation with the measures in the corresponding variations that

are most similar to them.

54
Ex. 20 Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 6
Variation 6, m.1-2

Variation 1, m. 1-2

Variation 6, m. 3-4

55
Variation 1, m 15-16

Variation 6, m 5-6

Variation 2, m. 5-6

56
Variation 6, m.7-8

Variation 2, m.17-18

Variation 6, m.9-10

Variation 3, m.5-6

57
Variation 6, m.11-12

Variation 3, m.15-16

Variation 6, m.13-14

Variation 4, m.1-2

58
Variation 6, m.15-16

Variation 4, m.13-14

Variation 6, 17-20

Variation 5, m. 1-4

59
The variation closes with a four-measure transition phrase that doesn’t correspond

directly to any previous variation. This phrase is much like the C phrase of the theme (m. 29-32)

in that the basic rhythm is apparent (as well as a steady quarter note rhythm) and the whole

phrases crescendos from pianissimo to fortissimo (the phrase in the theme peaks at forte). The

m2/P5 motive is used in both voices often by parallel triads.

Set II

Variation 7

The second set of six variations begins much like the first set. Like the first and second

variations, Variation seven employs lots of octave displacement, here in a two-voice texture.

This variation is in G# minor, but often is obscured by lots of chromaticism. From the theme,

the listener instantly recognizes the basic rhythm of the theme coming in short little bursts of

syncopated and swung triplet rhythms consisting of two short bursts followed by a longer burst,

each separated by eighth rests. This occurrence of the basic rhythm repeats to round out the A

phrase and each of the two-bar sub-phrases ends on a dominant chord, as in the theme. In the

first B phrase, melodic notes of the theme are followed closely but are embellished:

60
Ex. 21 Variation 7 and Theme Comparison

In the second B phrase, three-note clusters are added in counterpoint, also switching hands and

registers. As in the previous variations, the texture thickens in the second half of the variation,

but, in this case, does not introduce quicker rhythms. Here the tonality is unclear and the melody

and harmonies/bass line are obscured as well, although a few veiled half-cadences correspond to

the cadences in the theme. As in the previous variations, the simpler texture of the first half of

the variation returns in the final phrase and many notes from the bass line and melody are

present, although they jump around and switch registers as in variation one:

61
Ex. 22 Variation 7, m.21-24, Melody (shown in rectangles) and Bass line (shown in circles)
Analysis

As the variation closes, it ends on a clear perfect authentic cadence in G# minor to confirm the

tonality.

Variation 8

Variation eight is much like variation three in that its contrapuntal lines are almost

completely composed with free melodic use of the m2/P5 motive/[045] pitch set. The following

analysis shows the use of this motive in only the first four measures of the variation.

62
Ex. 23 Variation 8, m 1-4, [045] Pitch Set Analysis

While variation three focuses rhythmically on triplet and sextuplet rhythms, variation eight uses

only even rhythms, such as quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes. Following the circle-of-fifths

progression, this variation is supposed to be in D# minor, although the variation is nearly entirely

pantonal. Despite this pantonal prevalence, several of the harmonies of the theme transposed to

D# minor are evident or strongly suggested in their corresponding place in the variation, just as

in variation three (m.10, beat 1: III, m. 10, beat 3: VI, m.12, beat 1: i, m. 12, beats 3+4: V, m. 17,

beat 1: iv, m.20, beat 1: i).

While most of the previous variations use quicker rhythms in the second half, variation

eight, like seven before it, continues the break of this trend. However, the second half of the

variation does intensify, not through the use of faster rhythmic values, but through dynamics and

density of the texture. At measure 13, the music reaches forte, while the previous measures

never were louder than mezzo-forte. We also now have a primarily four-voice texture, whereas

the first half employed only two or three voices. Like the previous variations, the final four-

measure phrase returns to the simpler and softer texture of the first half of the variation.

63
One other aspect of the theme that is also present in this variation is the appearance of the

basic rhythm. In the first four-measure phrase of the second half of the variation (m.13-16), the

basic rhythm is used in parallel perfect fifths in the right hand soprano voice and is then passed

to the bass voice two measures later also in parallel perfect fifths.

Ex. 24 Variation 8, m.13-16, Use of Basic Rhythm

Variation 9

Variation nine, unexpectedly, is tonal with the flavor of a militant march. While it is

definitely tonal, nearly all the chords are missing their third and consist of only the root and fifth.

In Bb minor, the melody is presented in long notes over a pedal Bb chord with no third that is

repeated in unpredictable quintuplet eighth note rhythms, staccato and triple-piano, for the first

three phrases. The long note melody is a simplified version of the melody of the theme and

maintains the contour of the melody.

64
Ex. 25 Variation 9 and Theme Comparison

Each note of the second phrase corresponds with the first note of each measure in the second

phrase of the theme, which descends by step. The same procedure is applied to the third phrase

except to the pickups to each measure so that the result is a melodic line up a step from the

previous phrase.

The second half of the variation begins with the melody in quicker rhythms (as per the

slow-fast-slow rhythmic scheme) while the left hand pedal is now in sustained notes instead of

staccatos. The dynamic level is also boosted up, now to piano from pianissimo, just as in the

theme. With the first B phrase of the second half, the right hand melody is a variant of the last

two measures of the chant of the theme and includes the basic rhythm.

65
Ex. 26 Variation 9 and Theme Comparison

The final phrase, like previous variations, returns to the texture of the first half. Here we

see the use of the circle-of-fifth sequence from the B phrase in the right hand which progresses in

half notes like the theme. In addition, the bass line descends down a fourth as in the A phrases.

The cadences of the most of the phrases are also identical to the theme.

Variation 10

Following the circle-of-fifths progression from between variations, variation ten should

be in F minor. However, what appears is another variation where the tonality is extremely

hidden or non-existent for most of the variation. In addition, the theme also is greatly obscured.

The texture created here is in the style of the total serialism (although, at least to my knowledge

and in all the research I have read, this variation is not serial in any way), as exemplified in the

piano works of Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, containing extreme rhythmic

complexities, unpredictable pitches and dynamics, disjunct melodies, biting dissonances, and

glissandi and clusters galore (even cluster glissandi). In fact, Pollack refers to this variation as “a

kind of Boulezian adventure.”51 While he never completely leaves the theme, this is one of the

variations where Rzewski gets “as far away from it [the theme] as possible.”52 However, despite

51
Howard Pollack. Harvard Composers: Walter Piston and his Students, from Elliot Carter to Frederic
Rzewski. (Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1992), 384.
52
Rzewski, interview by author, 161.

66
introducing this totally unrelated style and texture to this variation, “it still has key points where

if you listen closely you can see that it’s following the basic harmonic progression.”53 Because

this variation, as do all the other variations (with the exception of the fifth set), consists of

twenty-four measures and corresponds exactly to m. 5-28 of the theme, we can compare the

harmonic progression of that part of the theme with this variation but transposed to F minor.

When this harmonic analysis is applied, we find that at many points, usually on strong

beats, a note or a few pitches correspond exactly with the harmonic structure of the theme

transposed to F minor, and that notes from the melody also correspond frequently. The

following example shows where the corresponding harmonic tones (in circles) and melodic notes

(in rectangles) occur.

Ex. 27 Variation 10 Melodic (rectangles) and Harmonic (circles) Analysis

53
Ibid.

67
68
69
There are a total of twenty-five instances where the harmonies correspond and twenty

where the melody corresponds to the theme. Only thirteen of these instances do not occur on

strong beats (beats 1 or 3) and all but twelve of the occurrences are played in isolation with no

other non-harmonic pitches present. All thirteen of the occurrences off strong beats are played in

isolation. This careful placement and treatment of these elements of the theme helps them to

stick out as much as possible within this variation, although because of the extreme stylistic

difference between this variation and the theme and the preponderance of extra pitches, rhythms,

grace notes, glissandi, etc., these thematic elements are still very difficult to hear during a

performance. The final two measures have a similar texture to the C phrase of the theme, with

repeated chords that crescendo to the end of the phrase.

Variation 11

Variation eleven goes to the opposite extreme from the preceding variation, providing

maximum contrast. This variation also retains some harmonic and melodic fragments to form a

skeleton of the theme, but instead of filling in the skeleton with multitudes of unrelated musical

material, as in the previous variation, variation eleven leaves the fragments with large gaps of

silence around them. Because of the use of optional whistling, lid-slamming, and shouting in

this variation, as well as the prevalence of silence, this variation has been compared to the style

and works of John Cage.54 Following the circle-of-fifths, this variation is in C minor, which is

supported by the key signature. The following examples compare the theme transposed to C

minor with this variation. In Example 28, the notes in grey are the “fragments” of the absent

melody and are shown in the octave they appear in the variation and pitches in parenthesis are

notes that aren’t in the theme or the harmonic progression.

54
Pollack, 384.

70
Ex. 28 Variation 11 Analysis

71
It is interesting to note that, although this variation is written in 4/4 time and is the same

length, twenty-four measures, as all the previous variations, it sounds as if it is actually nineteen

measures long in 5/4 time. The following examples show the composite rhythm of the whole

variation (not including the optional whistling) as it is notated in 4/4 time, and the composite

rhythm converted to a 5/4 meter.

Ex. 29 Variation 11 Composite Rhythm as Written in 4/4

Ex. 30 Variation 11 Composite Rhythm Re-Written in 5/4

Nearly every measure of the variation in 5/4 would have pitches attacked on the downbeat

(except m.8 of Example 30) and eight of the nineteen measures have their only attack on the

downbeat, destroying the sense of four-bar phrases apparent in the theme. The 5/4 feel is

72
superimposed on the theme and fragments, which make the theme much more difficult to hear.

If the fragments came every four beats, it would be much easier to hear the theme. Rzewski

probably chose 5/4 time not only for this effect, but also because it corresponds with this being

the fifth variation of the second set, and a variation where “everything goes haywire”.55

Variation 12

Variation twelve, the recapitulation variation of Set II, is structured the same way as the

recapitulation variation of Set I (Variation six). Each of the first five four-bar phrases are written

in the style and character of the previous five variations in order, while the final phrase acts as a

transition to the next set.

Following the circle-of-fifth’s progression, this variation is in G minor, which completes

the trip through all twelve minor keys. The following example compares the measures in

variation twelve with the most similar measures in the corresponding variations:

Ex. 31 Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 12
Variation 12, m. 1-2

55
Rzewski, interview by author, 161.

73
Variation 7, m. 1-2

Variation 12, m. 3-4

Variation 7, m. 15-16

74
Variation 12, m. 5-8

Variation 8, m. 9-12

75
Variation 12, m. 9-12

Variation 9, m. 9-12

Variation 12, m. 13-16

76
Variation 10, m. 1-4

Variation 12, m. 17-18

77
Variation 11, m. 10-11

Variation 12, m. 19-20

Variation 11, m. 21-22

The transition phrase uses the sequence from the B phrase of the theme with seventh chords.

The melody of the B phrase is chromatically altered and alternates between the hands.

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Set III

While Sets III and IV constitute one-third of the thirty-six variations, I will only discuss

these sets in general. In addition, in these two sets, the usage of the theme and what elements are

used from the theme are, in general, more obvious and apparent, and in less need of attention

than the others (for example, see Variations thirteen, twenty, and twenty-three). Each of these

sets, like the first and second, contains six variations, all twenty-four measures in length, and

conclude with recapitulation variations that follow the same form as the previous recapitulation

variations. While the first two sets travelled around the circle of fifths, these two sets remain

rooted in D minor, the key of the theme.

Set III, more than either of the previous two sets, has its own distinctive character. It has

been described as being in a “jazz style”56 as several of the variations use typical jazz harmonies,

such as tall tertian chords (7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13th chords) and sound as if they were

improvised in a kind of jazz style. Two of these variations also use steady bass lines much like a

walking bass in a jazz texture (Variations fifteen and seventeen).

One notable aspect of this set is the use of another tune in these variations, “Bandiera

Rossa”, an Italian revolutionary song.57 The following is the melody of the tune.58

56
Wason, 136.
57
See Appendix C for the complete text and translation of the tune.
58
Mal Collins, Dave Hartler, and Geoff White, comps., Big Red Songbook (London: Pluto Press. 1981),
77, quoted in Melton, 45.

79
Ex. 32 “Bandiera Rossa” Melody

Why would Rzewski, in the midst of variations on one tune, introduce another? One

reason is extra-musical. During the Chilean revolution during which the tune El Pueblo Unido

Jamas Sera Vencido was written, many Chilean refugees found asylum in Italy. This inclusion

by Rzewski serves as an act of thanks for the kindness the Italians showed the refugees, but as

with everything else in this work, he has a musical reason as well. Both melodies begin with an

ascending perfect fourth and then proceed up to the third scale degree, outlining a tonic triad (a

minor triad in the theme, but a major triad in this tune). Indeed, this ascending motive, including

the second scale degree which creates a step-wise ascent between tonic and mediant, is used

extensively in the variations in Set III.

Set IV

Like Set III, Set IV has a distinct character. It has been described as the

“Scherzo/etudes”59 set, containing many fast and virtuosic passages that resemble Liszt or

Chopin Etudes. This set is also unique in its continuity between variations, as variations

59
Wason, 136.

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nineteen and twenty-two are very similar, as well as variations twenty and twenty-three. The

entire set is nearly always either monophonic or in two voices and at a blistering tempo. This

intensity and virtuosity culminates in the climax of the whole work, where a high B-flat is

repeatedly struck for between fifteen and twenty seconds reaching a quadruple-forte while being

struck as rapidly as possible “like an alarm” eventually fading out to quadruple-piano. This is

followed by a further five to ten second fermata on a rest while the pedal is still held.

Ex. 33 Variation 24, m. 17-18

This moment is the climax of the entire piece and is the culmination of the energy built

up by these blistering and virtuosic variations of Set IV. It is interesting to note that the

placement of this climax is roughly at the golden ratio (.618). This occurs in the twenty-fourth

of the thirty-six variations, or about two-thirds of the way through, and in measure seventeen of

twenty-six within this variation (.654).

According to the Second Structure text, in the fourth stage (Set IV),

A process of compression takes place (stretto): The individual themes are
stacked up against one another more and more tightly; it is as though they were
all going on together, all the time. At the point of maximum compression, the
antinomies latent in the original material achieve their fullest expression, before a
transformation takes place in Stage 5….Stage 5 beings when the process of
compression in Stage 4 has reached an extreme point and cannot be continued;
for example when the speed, complexity, intensity, et cetera, of the structures
being improvised are such that the performer loses control; when the sense of an

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extreme state has been reached by means of intensive mental or physical activity
(ecstasy, fatigue, et cetera)…60

This tremolo is precisely this extreme point where the music cannot continue to proceed

in this direction any further. The sheer physical effort of performer and capabilities of

the instrument have been exhausted and the momentum, intensity, energy, etc., must

begin to diminish. The music must now look to break new ground, as it has exhausted

the possibilities within the rigid twenty-four measure structure of each variation, but in a

different way and through an expansion in another, at this point, forgotten dimension.

Set V

With the onset of Set V, we reach the farthest and most contrasting ideas in the entire

piece. According to the form of Second Structure,

Whatever the nature of the material introduced in Stage 5, it is totally unexpected
and appears suddenly; at the same time, it is completely different in some way
from all of the preceding material….The effect of Stage 5 should be similar to
that of reaching the top of a hill after an ascent and witnessing the sudden
appearance of a broad expanse of space, and possibly a sense of being suspended,
or of timelessness.61

As Rzewski himself explains, this is where everything “goes haywire”.62 Therefore, instead of

trying to insist that certain material is somehow related to the theme by some roundabout and

distant way, as we could stretch it to show how it is related to any other theme, I will leave some

material as unanalyzable, or at least not convincingly analyzable, as being derivative of the

theme, because Rzewski’s form itself allows for the inclusion of unrelated material. Only the

60
Rzewski, “Second Structure” Nonsequiturs: Writings & Lectures on Improvisation, Composition, and
Interpretation, 148-150. (See Appendix A for complete text.)
61
Ibid., 150.
62
Rzewski, interview by author, 161.

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material that is closely related to the theme will be identified and discussed. A possible

explanation of this introduction of unrelated material is that, after having realized all the

possibilities latent within its original material, the compression of material has given birth to new

and unrelated material, akin to the compression and subsequent expansion/creation of the Big

Bang Theory.

This is the only set in which the variation lengths and phrase structure break away from

the normal length of twenty-four measures and become unpredictable. In addition, the meter

becomes unpredictable as well. With the exception of Variation nineteen in 12/8 (3/2) and

Variation twenty-four in 12/8, all of the previous variations have been written in 4/4. Complex,

changing, and triple meters abound in Set V as well as repeat signs to provide maximum contrast

both within the set and between the previous four sets.

Variation 25

Variation twenty-five is forty-eight measures in length, which is twice as long as any

previous variation, and is in 3/4 time. It begins with staccato chords where the resonance is

caught by the pedal, a technique that was introduced in variation five. The variation remains in

D minor to begin the trip around the circle-of-fifths once again. A form of the basic rhythm

begins the variation, but is quietly interrupted by the m2/P5 motive. At the beginning, the same

phrase structure is expected (as there has been very little variation on phrasing previously and all

the previous twenty-four variations have had the same length of twenty-four measures) but this

interruption puts a halt to this notion. Another two-measure resurgence of the chords with the

resonance caught by the pedal then gives way to wandering and free usage of the m2/P5 motive,

83
but unlike previous variations where it is used melodically and contrapuntally, now it is heavily

used harmonically and less melodically:

Ex. 34 Variation 25, m. 15-16, Analysis of m2/P5 Motive

Echoes and fragments of the melody of the theme are heard, such as the melody of m.9-10 of the

theme in m.9-12 of the variation, but because of the lack of a predictable phrase structure the

fragments then dissolve into the wandering, fantasy-like texture as before. At m. 25-28, the

descending diatonic bass line from m.5-6 of the theme reappears while using the form of the

basic rhythm from the beginning of the variation. Then in the following three bars (m. 29-31)

the melody of the theme returns in the alto voice with rhythmic adjustments for the 3/4 time-

signature and embellishments of a march-like nature which foreshadow the next variation. In

addition, the chromatic descending bass line from m. 33-34 of the theme is also present.

However, the expected four-bar phrase from the theme is broken off in the fourth measure and

the dotted march-like rhythm pervade in m.32-40. The last eight measures act as a transition to

the next variation. Here harmonic and melodic usages of the m2/P5 motive are used in

combination with Wagner-like harmonic progressions within a crescendo to the beginning of the

next variation.

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Variation 26

In this variation, a second foreign tune is incorporated into the texture: Hanns Eisler’s

Solidaritätslied (Solidarity Song). According to Rzewski, this song, set to a text of Bertolt

Brecht, was written in 1932 and serves as “a reminder that parallels to present threats exist in the

past and that it is important to learn from them.”63 However, just as Bandiera Rossa was

justified both by its extra-musical associations and by its musical content, so is the Eisler tune.

The following example shows the melody and text of the tune.64

Ex. 35 “Soldaritätaslied” Melody

The key to understanding the musical connection between these two tunes is seen in

m.29-32 of this variation. The Eisler tune is present, altered slightly, in the middle voice, while a

more march-like (using dotted rhythms) version of The People United melody is in the top voice,

63
Rzewski, CD liner notes to Rzewski Plays Rzewski.
64
Hanns Eisler, “Soldaritätaslied,” from Songs on Texts by Bertolt Brecht, (Deutscher Verlag fur Musik,
Leipzig:1972), 9-10.

85
both over the descending chromatic bass line. The following example compares the theme and its

usage in these measures as well as the Eisler tune and its usage in these measures.

Ex. 36 Variation 26, Theme and “Soldaritätaslied” Melody Comparison

The first phrases of both tunes end in a half cadence on the second scale degree. In addition, by

making some slight adjustments, both can be supported by the same harmonic progression as

well as the descending chromatic bass line from tonic to dominant. These similarities make them

work beautifully in counterpoint with each other and musically justify Rzewski’s usage of this

external tune.

At the beginning of the variation, before the Eisler tune has entered, it is foreshadowed

by four two-bar phrases that each use the repeated notes and quarter note rhythm of m. 9-10 of

the tune. These march-like staccato quarter notes are reminiscent of the opening chant of the

theme. Then m.11-22 of the tune are presented, in D minor, in parallel thirds accompanied by

the descending chromatic bass line for each four-bar phrase. This is another connection that

musically justifies the appearance of the Eisler tune. At m.21, the beginning of the tune is

86
presented in the right hand, while the m2/P5 motive/[045] pitch set is used in sextuplet eighth

notes in the left hand. The descending chromatic bass line is also used in this section on the

downbeats and pick-up notes of each measure.

Ex. 37 Variation 26, m.21-28, Descending Chromatic Bass line (in circles)

Measures 29-32 have already been analyzed (see Example 36 above). The second phrase (m. 5-

10) of the Eisler tune follows, without The People United tune this time, but with the descending

diatonic bass line from the theme beneath it, now in A minor, and is adjusted to end on an

authentic cadence.

The Eisler tune is then used in a lower register but again with running triplet eighth notes

using the m2/P5 motive. This continues until the final two measures of the variation, where the

87
melody and rhythm of m. 9-10 return in diminution in the right hand and are repeated to serve as

a transition to the next variation.

Variation 27

Variation twenty-seven is by far the longest variation at 116 measures (not including

repeats and counting the cadenza as two measures). It is divided into four clear sections,

alternating between sections that are in 4/4 time, pantonal, and slow, and sections that are in

changing and unusual meters, tonal and nearly entirely diatonic, and at a faster tempo.

Measures 1-16 constitute the first pantonal section. The section is nearly entirely

constructed melodically by the m2/P5 motive. At the beginning, the right hand moves in

irregular and unpredictable rhythms while the left hand moves in steady walking quarter notes

while also using the descending chromatic bass line of the theme.

Ex. 38 Variation 27, m.1-4, m2/P5 Motive and Descending Chromatic Bass line Analysis

This steady, rising, walking, quarter note bass line actually comes directly from m. 13-15

of the theme.

88
Ex. 39 Theme, m. 13-15, Quarter note Walking Bass line

Eight measures into this section, at the halfway point, the hands switch roles as the right hand

now as steady quarter notes and the left hand has unpredictable rhythms. The rhythms grow

faster and the dynamic level louder to a climax at the beginning of the sixteenth measure and

then settle down into the next section.

At m. 17, we reach the next contrasting section and finally find the key of E minor, which

should be the key of this movement according to the circle-of-fifths progression. It begins with a

lengthy unmetered quasi-cadenza exploring the E-natural minor scale. This entire section, m.

17-84, has been described as being in a “minimalist style”.65 For most of the section, short

melodic fragments are repeated and subject to different metric treatments. Very little of this

material relates directly to the theme, but little similarities are unmistakable. In the second

measure of the cadenza (after the repeat sign) the melodies follow the contour of an arch, just as

the melody of the theme does in m. 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 17-18, 19-20, 33-34, and 35-36. This arch

shape is also evident in melody of m.23-38 and m.39-55 of this variation. The melody in m. 23

is also the beginning of the Bandiera Rossa melody changed to the minor mode.

The section from measure 85 through 93 is much like the first section of the variation.

The most notable differences are the length of the section is now halved to eight measures

instead of sixteen, and the hands trade roles every measure.

65
Pollack, 386.

89
The final section, from m. 94-116, returns to a clear tonality with an ostinato bass line in

complex meter [(6+5+6+5)/8]. In m.97, a melody is introduced that uses the pitches from the

melody at m.9 of the theme, where a rising minor second is followed by a descending perfect

fourth followed by a descending minor second. The differences in its usage in this variation are

the rhythms, because of the complex meter, and the first note of each measure is repeated.

Ex. 40 Variation 27 and Theme Comparison

In the next two measures, the minor seconds become inverted, then the original pattern is

transposed down a third in the following two. At m. 105 the ostinato bass line is then doubled in

octaves and the melody from m.97-104 is repeated with octave doublings while building in

intensity and dynamics until the end of the variation.

Variation 28

After the intense ending of Variation twenty-seven, Variation twenty-eight blasts off into

the march-like repeated staccato quarter notes from variation twenty-six. Following the circle-

of-fifths progression, the variation is clearly in B minor. At m. 7, the bass voice carries the

melody of the theme, but maintains the march-like staccato quarter notes. By showing The

People United tune in the march-like militant context of Eisler’s Soldaritätaslied, Rzewski

shows another musical connection between these tunes and a justification for their usage

together. This melody, however, remains hidden in the texture until m. 9 makes it apparent that

90
the melody has been going on. This happens because the first six measures use the bass motion

of the rising minor third from B to D, so when it happens in measures 7 and 8, it doesn’t seem

out of the character we have grown used to. It is only after we hear the more distinct and

recognizable part of the theme melody (m. 6 of the theme) that we realize it has already begun.

The melody continues in the bass voice while the soprano voice descends chromatically like the

chromatic descending bass line of the theme. At m. 22, the soprano melody suddenly becomes

twice as fast and the bass melody line does the same a measure later. The bass melody now

adds some extra non-chord tones and chromatically alters some pitches. The following example

compares this melody with the corresponding melody in the theme.

Ex. 41 Variation 28 and Theme Comparison

At m. 27, we reach a contrasting section that rounds out the variation. Instead of staccato

quarter and eighth notes, there are legato and pedaled triplet eighth notes. The soprano voice is

in whole notes and begins with the chromatic bass line. Following this, in m. 31-34, the soprano

voice has what appears to be the famous “BACH” name motive (Bb-A-C-B) that J.S. Bach used

in some of his compositions. Its usage here is transposed up a tri-tone and then is inverted and

used a major second higher. After this section, beginning at m. 39, the descending chromatic

bass line returns to the soprano voice.

While this is going on in the soprano, the other voice arpeggiates triads in a non-

functional progression. The melody of the theme is now outlined in the bass voice, with a few

alterations, and brought out by tenuto marks.

91
Ex. 42 Variation 28, m.27-42. Theme Melody (in circles) and Descending Chromatic Bass
line (in rectangles)

92
This triplet figuration continues, with a now functional harmonic progression, and fades away to

finish the variation. Another possible further Bach allusion happens in this section, where the

arpeggiation and harmonic progression of I-ii(42) is very similar to the beginning of Bach’s first

prelude, in C major, of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I. The following example compares

these excerpts and their harmonic progressions.

Ex. 43 Comparison of Variation 28 and J.S. Bach Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, Prelude
in C Major
Variation 28, m. 49-52

93
J.S. Bach, Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, Prelude in C major, m.1-466

Variation 29

Variation twenty-nine may be called the last “original” variation because the following

final seven variations are all recapitulations and use only the material and characteristics from

previous variations. It is also the shortest variation of all in terms of measures (not necessarily in

terms of duration) with only fourteen. However, each of the four phrases is repeated once, in

essence making the variation twenty-eight measures in length.

Despite its appearance, the phrase structure of this variation is very similar to the theme

and the 24-measure variations of the first four sets. The phrases are clearly delineated by the

repeat signs. The first three measures repeated constitute the A phrase, with each of the three

measures as a sub-phrase, just as in the theme. Despite being a three-bar sub-phrase, because of

the changing meters, the actual duration of the sub-phrase is fifteen eighth notes which is just

one eighth note less than the sub-phrases in the theme that are two bars of length in 4/4. The

66
Johann Sebastian Bach, The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Hartel, 1866).

94
next four measures (m 4-7) make the B phrase with its repeat serving as the second B phrase. In

the theme, these repetitions are written out and changed slightly at the end. While in this

variation these repetitions are not written out, there is one small difference between the repeat

and initial statement where the last chord in the right hand is omitted the second time around.

The second half of the variation (m. 8-14) is nearly an exact repeat of the first half, as in the

theme, but an octave lower with a slightly altered melody, slightly smoother articulation, and a

lower dynamic level. These slight changes are the opposite of what occurs in the (ABB)’ section

of the theme, where the melody jumps an octave higher and the dynamic level is increased.

The style of this variation sounds oriental in character, or at least the superficial oriental

sound western ears are accustomed to hearing. Indeed, the first two measures use only the notes

of a pentatonic scale using the pitches F#, G#, B, C#, and E. Because of this usage, the tonal

center is unclear until we have additional pitches and the circle-of-fifths sequence in the B phrase

to orient us in F# minor, which continues the circle-of-fifths progression.

The left hand uses only four pitch classes that suggest, but don’t complete, the pentatonic

scale, missing the E. This line has a kind of pedal on the C#, which is the dominant, although it

does not sound all the way through but instead is played on most downbeats and is the lowest

pitch in the line. This voice also focuses on melodic perfect fourths, which is taken from the first

melodic interval in the theme.

In the right hand melody, the contour of the melody in the A phrase is maintained from

the theme. The melody moves from the tonic up to the dominant and back down to the

supertonic by the end of the sub-phrase. This contour is also maintained in the A’ phrase from

the second half of the variation. In the B phrase, the melody from the theme is even clearer,

using nearly all the same notes but altering the rhythm.

95
Ex. 44 Variation 29 and Theme Comparison

The harmonic progression of phrase B, the circle-of-fifths sequence, is also used and followed

exactly in the B phrases of this variation.

Variation 30

Variation thirty, in C# minor, is the recapitulation variation of Set V, which is also the

first of seven recapitulation variations in a row that end the variations. Because of the irregular

lengths of the variations in this set, the standard construction that is familiar to us in the previous

recapitulation variations is not used. The space each variation is allotted to be recapitulated is as

unpredictable as their own lengths were. The following chart shows the number of measures

allotted to each variation

Chart 6 Variation 30, Measures allotted for each Variation Recapitulated

PREVIOUS VARIATIONS AND # OF MEASURES ALLOTTED IN
LENGTHS VARIATION 30
Var. 25 (48 measures) 8
Var. 26 (52 measures) 8
Var. 27 (116 measures w/o repeats) 28
Var. 28 (56 measures w/o repeats) 20
Var. 29 (14 measures w/o repeats) 4

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Despite this organization, there are three sections in this variation where the material is

not immediately identifiable as coming from the variations. Measure 22, with the right hand

having minor triads moving by the m2/P5 motive in eighth notes and the bass voice in single

quarter notes also using the m2/P5 motive, most nearly resembles the transition phrase all the

way back from Variation six (See Example 45 below for comparison).

Variation twenty-eight is supposed to be recapitulated, naturally, between the material of

Variations twenty-seven and twenty-nine, which would be m. 45-64, but the correlation is not

obvious. In m. 45-52, the steady quarter note march rhythm from the first part of variation

twenty-eight is used as well as the melody of the theme, but instead it is in the soprano voice and

the descending chromatic bass line is in the bass voice, whereas it was switched in Variation

twenty-eight. However, the use of the melody of the theme is altered, and the passage actually

more closely resembles m. 29-36 in Variation twenty-six, which first employed the Eisler tune

and the quarter note march rhythm. This passage uses the descending chromatic bass line (here

in half notes) and an ornamented theme melody in counterpoint with the Eisler tune which also

modulates to the dominant for the second phrase, but the left hand half note descending bass line

of the second phrase is identical in notes to the left hand in m.49-52 of Variation thirty (See

Example 44 below for comparison).

Even more enigmatic are m. 53-64 in Variation thirty. This passage freely uses the

m2/P5 motive in unpredictable rhythms that are never shorter than eighth notes. This is always

over an accented bass line in whole notes. This resembles absolutely nothing from Variation

twenty-eight, but instead seem much more akin to m.85-93 in the long Variation twenty-eight, as

if this part of the variation is being recapitulated a little later than it was supposed to. In this

passage a greater variety of quicker rhythmic values are used than in the recapitulation (See

97
Example 46 below for comparison). It is also interesting to note that at the end of this section in

the recapitulation, at measure 64, we find a short quote of the beginning of the Bandiera Rossa

tune that was used extensively in Set III.

Taking these oddities into account, the following example compares the measures in

Variation thirty with the most similar measures in the corresponding variations:

Ex. 45 Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 30

Variation 30, m. 1-4

Variation 25, m. 1-4

98
Variation 30, m. 5-8

Variation 25, m. 29-32

99
Variation 30, m. 9-16

Variation 26, m. 21-28

100
Variation 30, m. 17-21

Variation 27, m. 1-4

Variation 30, m. 22

101
Variation 6, m. 21-22

Variation 30, m. 23

Variation 27, m. 17 (beginning of cadenza)

102
Variation 30, m. 24-28

Variation 27, m. 56-61

103
Variation 30, m. 29-38

Variation 27, m. 75-84

Variation 30, m. 39-40

104
Variation 27, m. 105-106

Variation 30, m. 41-44

Variation 27, m. 115-116

105
Variation 30, m. 45-52

Variation 26, m. 29-36

106
Variation 30, m. 53-64

107
Variation 27, m. 85-93

Variation 30, m. 65-68

108
Variation 29, m. 11-14

The transition phrase is four bars in length, the same as all the previous recapitulation

variations. Here the circle-of-fifths sequence is used but with double-dotted rhythms at triple-

forte. Rzewski marks the passage “thunderously” to announce the beginning of the final set. The

bass voice, in octaves, uses the m2/P5 motive as well. This transition phrase is very similar to

the transition phrase in Variation twelve, the recapitulation variation of Set II.

Ex. 46 Transition Phrase Comparison
Variation 30, m.69-72

Variation 12, m. 21-24

109
Set VI

Variation 31

Variation thirty-one kicks off the final set which is composed entirely of recapitulation

variations. No new material is introduced in these variations. Instead, the different characters of

the previous variations are rewritten and combined in new ways.

Variation thirty-one recapitulates the first variation of each set, which are Variations 1, 7,

13, 19, and 25. According to the plan from Second Structure, each of the six larger sets explores

a different way of dealing with time. According to Seth Beckman, this also applies to the

variations within each set.67 According to this theory, Variation thirty-one should be very similar

to Variation six, as they are both recapitulation variations of “simple events”. A detailed

exploration and analysis of this theory is outside the scope of this essay.

Following the circle-of-fifths progression, this variation is in G# minor. It follows the

same structure as the previous recapitulation variations, totaling twenty-four measures where

four measures are allotted to material from each of the variations ending with a four-bar

transition phrase. The following example compares the measures in Variation thirty-one with the

most similar measures in the corresponding variations:

Ex. 47 Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 31
Variation 31, m. 1-2

67
Seth Victor Beckman, “The Traditional and the Avant-Garde in Late Twentieth-Century Music: A
Study of Three Piano Compositions by Frederic Rzewski (1938-).” (DMA Diss., Ball State University. Ann Arbor:
UMI, 1996.)

110
Variation 1, m. 1-2

Variation 31, m. 3-4

Variation 1, m. 15-16

Variation 31, m. 5-6

111
Variation 7, m. 21-22

Variation 31, m. 7-8

Variation 7, m. 13-14

Variation 31, m. 9-10

112
Variation 13, m. 9-10

Variation 31, m. 11-12

Variation 13, m. 19-20

Variation 31, m. 13-14

113
Variation 19, m. 1-3

Variation 31, m. 15-16

Variation 19, m. 13-15

Variation 31, m. 17-19

114
Variation 25, m. 5-7

Variation 31, m. 20

Variation 25, m. 29-30

The final phrase, the four-measure transition, condenses the first sixteen measures of the

variation, using all the material of the variation except the four measures from Variation twenty-

five. This condensation of four variations into four measures foreshadows the same tight

115
condensation of the thirty-sixth and final variation. The following example analyzes where each

of the variations are used in this transition phrase.

Ex. 48 Variation 31, m.21-24 Analysis

Variation 32

Variation thirty-two recapitulates the second variation of the first five sets, namely

Variations 2, 8, 14, 20, and 26. Climbing another perfect fifth higher in key, this variation

switches over to flats in Eb minor instead of D#. The following example compares the measures

in Variation thirty-two with the most similar measures in the corresponding variations:

Ex. 49 Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 32
Variation 32, m. 1-2

116
Variation 2, m. 1-2

Variation 32, m. 3-4

Variation 2, m. 13-14

117
Variation 32, m. 5-8

Variation 8, m. 7-10

Variation 32, m. 9-10

118
Variation 14, m. 5-6

Variation 32, m. 11-12

Variation 14, m. 19-20

Variation 32, m. 13-14

119
Variation 20, m. 1-2

Variation 32, m. 15-16

Variation 20, m. 15-16

Variation 32, m. 17-18

120
Variation 26, m. 21-22

Measures nineteen and twenty are exceptions in that they contain the Eisler tune but a part that

was not in the corresponding Variation twenty-six.

The transition phrase, like in Variation thirty-one, condenses the first twenty measures of

the variation into a four-measure phrase. Here the first four variations (2, 8, 14, and 20) are

condensed into the first three measures while the last, Variation twenty-six, is briefly suggested

by the first beat of the final measure. A short modulation follows to set up the next variation and

to finish the phrase. The following example analyzes where each of the variations are used in this

transition phrase.

Ex. 50 Variation 32 m.21-24 Analysis

121
Variation 33

Variations 3, 9, 15, 21, and 27, the third of each set, are recapitulated in Variation thirty-

three. Now we have reached Bb minor as the key for this variation. The following example

compares the measures in Variation thirty-three with the most similar measures in the

corresponding variations:

Ex. 51 Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 33
Variation 33, m. 1-2

122
Variation 3, m. 1-2

Variation 33, m. 3-4

Variation 3, m. 15

Variation 33, m. 5-6

123
Variation 9, m. 1-2

Variation 33, m. 7-8

Variation 9, m. 21-22

Variation 33, m. 9-10

124
Variation 15, m. 5-6

Variation 33, m. 11-12

Variation 15, m. 23

125
Variation 33, m. 13-16

Variation 21, m. 13-14

Variation 33, m. 17-18

126
Variation 27, m. 1-2

Variation 33, m. 19-20

Variation 27, m. 57-58

The only measures that are a bit of a change from the corresponding variations are measures 7

and 8, which maintain the quintuplet rhythm from Variation nine, but otherwise creep down in a

manifestation of the m2/P5 motive, which does not appear in Variation nine.

127
The transition phrase continues the pattern of condensation from the previous two

variations. This time all five variations are strongly suggested, with one variation in each of the

first three measures and Variations twenty-one and twenty-seven sharing half of the final

measure. The following example analyzes where each of the variations are used in this transition

phrase.

Ex. 52 Variation 33 m.21-24 Analysis

Variation 34

Variation 34 recapitulates the fourth variation of each set, which includes Variation 4, 10,

16, 22, and 28. In F minor, it follows the same structure as the other recapitulation variations.

The following example compares the measures in Variation thirty-four with the most similar

measures in the corresponding variations:

128
Ex. 53 Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 34
Variation 34, m. 1-2

Variation 4, m. 1-2

Variation 34, m. 3-4

Variation 4, m. 13-14

129
Variation 34, m. 5-8

Variation 10, m. 1-4

130
Variation 34, m. 9-10

Variation 16, m. 7-8

131
Variation 34, m. 11-12

Variation 16, m. 18-19

132
Variation 34, m. 13-14

Variation 22, m. 1-2

Variation 34, m. 15-16

Variation 22, m. 13-14

133
Variation 34, m. 17-20

(See explanation below)

Measures 17-20 are the enigmatic measures of this variation. According to the structure,

these four measures should recapitulate material from Variation twenty-eight, but the usage is

not as obvious as the other recapitulations. The sextuplet rhythms from measures 17 and 18

come from the sextuplet (divided as triplet) rhythms in m.27-56, although here they are used in a

scalar form as opposed to the arpeggios in Variation twenty-eight. The eighth note melodies in

134
the soprano and bass voices don’t seem to come directly from the variation, but are used (in

quarter notes) in a varied form in Variation thirty, the recapitulation variation of Set V, in the

spot that is supposed to recapitulate Variation twenty-eight: The following example compares

the melody in different recapitulations of Variation twenty-eight.

Ex. 54 Comparison of Recapitulations of Variation 28 in Variation 34 and 30

Measure 19 more closely resembles the first measure of Variation twenty-six, using the exact

same opening chord (an octave higher) and even march-like rhythm, than anything found in

Variation twenty-eight.

Ex. 55 Variation 34, m. 19, and Variation 26, m.1 Comparison
Variation 34, m. 19

135
Variation 26, m. 1

Variation twenty-eight uses the even march rhythm in steady quarter notes from Variation

twenty-six, but this is only apparent in the first half of m.19 in Variation thirty-four. In measure

20 there is also an appearance of the beginning of the Bandiera Rossa tune that seems to come

from Variation fourteen.

The transition phrase continues the pattern of condensation as in the previous variations.

Here all five variations are represented with Variation 4 using one measure, Variations 10, 16,

22, and 28 each taking a half-measure. The final measure uses the march-like chords from

measure 19 and well as the descending m2/P5 motive of Variation sixteen and twenty-two. The

following example analyzes where each of the variations are used in this transition phrase.

136
Ex. 56 Variation 34 m.21-24 Analysis

Variation 35

The fifth variation of the first five sets, including Variations 5, 11, 17, 23, and 29, are

recapitulated in Variation thirty-five, which is now in C minor.

All of the uses of material from the corresponding variations are obvious and

straightforward except for the phrase that corresponds to Variation twenty-nine in measures 17-

20. There seems to be very little direct relation to Variation twenty-nine with the material in

these four measures. An explanation of this may come from trying to fit a variation in changing

meters into a four-measure phrase in 4/4 time. Nevertheless, the common features seem to be, in

137
measures 19 and 20, a predominance of perfect intervals (fourths and fifths) and constantly

shifting rhythmic groupings. While these measures stay in 4/4 meter, the constant sixteenth note

motion is beamed in different groupings. The groupings proceed as 3, 5, 3, 4 in each of these

two measures. Measures 17 and 18 seem to be most akin to m. 9-10 of Variation twenty-one.

Ex. 57 Variation 35, m. 17-18 and Variation 21, m.9-10 Comparison
Variation 35, m. 17-18

Variation 21, m. 9-10

The following example compares the measures in Variation thirty-five with the most similar

measures in the corresponding variations:

138
Ex. 58 Comparison of Variations and their Recapitulations in Variation 35
Variation 35, m. 1-2

Variation 5, m. 1-2

Variation 35, m. 3-4

139
Variation 5, m. 13-14

Variation 35, m. 5-6

Variation 11, m. 13-14

140
Variation 35, m. 7-8

Variation 11, m. 21-22

Variation 35, m. 9-10

Variation 17, m. 3-4

141
Variation 35, m. 11-12

Variation 17, m. 16-17

142
Variation 35, m. 13-16

143
Variation 23, m. 1-4

The final transition phrase continues the condensing trend of the final phrase in the

previous four variations and all five of the variations are represented. What is new in this

transition phrase is that the material from the corresponding phrases overlap to some extent, the

final beat of the final measure seems to come from Variation seventeen, and there is also a very

short transition to the next variation. The following example analyzes where each of the

variations are used in this transition phrase.

144
Ex. 59 Variation 35 m.21-24 Analysis

Variation 36

After approximately fifty minutes of music, we finally reach the climactic and

cataclysmic final variation. Because it is the sixth and final variation in its set, it is a

recapitulation of the previous five variations, Variations 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35 in Set VI.

Because it is in Set VI, it is also a recapitulation of the sixth variation in each set, namely

Variations 6, 12, 18, 24, and 30. All of these aforementioned variations are, of course,

recapitulation variations themselves, making this final variation a recapitulation of the

145
recapitulations. The result is that, contained in this single variation of twenty-seven measures (in

fact, the recapitulations occur in only the first twenty measures), is a condensed version of all of

the twenty-five “original” variations into one single variation. The entire hour-long work is now,

in a way, played in approximately less than a minute, a shrinking in size of approximately fifty

times. The result is that the bulk of the original theme is heard twisting and turning through

twenty-five different and widely contrasting guises. One moment the theme is clearly

recognizable and the variation procedure is obvious and immediately apparently, but literally a

second later the theme may be lost completely, only to return seconds later. It is as if looking at

an object through twenty-five extremely different lenses, from extreme zooming to different tints

to out-of-focus distortions and supernatural dimension alterations. The amazing effect this has is

to make “sense” of the previous aurally confusing variations, where the theme seemed to be

absent altogether (even though we have found through analysis that this is not the case and that

the theme is always substantially present in the music). When these variations were a minute or

so long, they were quite temporally detached from the other variations that were “closer” to the

theme. As the temporal distance between these variations decreases, so does their apparently

wide musical and stylistic distance. The theme underlying them all has become much clearer

and, as a result, the entire composition gains a new clarity and coherence.

This variation is in G minor and the music nears the close of its second trip around the

circle-of-fifths in the piece. This is also the same key as the original recording of the tune by

Quilapayun. The recapitulation of the twenty-five variations occurs in the first twenty-one

measures. The following analysis shows were the material from each variation is used.

146
Ex. 60 Variation 36 Analysis

147
148
Following a fermata on a complete rest is six additional bars that work as a transition to the recap

of the theme, which makes this final variation twenty-seven measures in length.

The first two bars of the six-bar transition use slow triads that move melodically by the

m2/P5 motive, much like the transition phrase of Variation six. The m2/P5 motive is then used

melodically in the third bar in sixteenth notes ending with the beginning of the Bandiera Rossa

149
tune. The final three measures use the sixteenth notes rising up a perfect fourth that was

introduced in m.33-40 in Variation twenty-five.

In the final measure of this final variation, Rzewski leaves a spot for a cadenza marked

“(optional improvisation; may last anywhere up to 5 minutes or so)”. With Rzewski’s interest in

improvisation, it is not surprising to see this opportunity to improvise. Rzewski explains its

origins:

“There was no practical reason for that”, explains the composer. “I wrote ‘The
People United’ for Ursula [Oppens]. And I asked her if it would be appropriate
to include some improvising sections. At that time, she said ‘no, please don’t,
because I’ve never done any improvising and I’d rather not deal with it’. So all I
did was to leave a space for an improvised cadenza, which was optional; but I
didn’t really require any free improvising.68

This is the perfect place in the context of the piece to have such an improvisation. The

composer himself has shown what he can do to the theme in thirty-six variations lasting around

fifty minutes, and now has given the performer an opportunity to make his/her own personal, and

perhaps thirty-seventh, variation on the theme. Presently, of the seven recordings of the work

commercially available, four of them include an improvisation. It must be pointed out, however,

that Rzewski always includes an improvisation in his performances and two recordings (the other

recordings that include improvisations by Marc-Andre Hamelin69 and Ralph Van Raat70).

68
Terry, 21.
69
Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated! performed by Marc-Andre Hamelin,
Hyperion CDA67077, 1999.
70
Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated! performed by Ralph van Raat. Naxos
8.559360, 2008.

150
Recap of Theme

As in life, when one goes through a journey and experiences eye-opening possibilities

that expand his/her horizons and force him/her to grow, but later return home, the result is a

transformation in their being and view of the world. So it is with many musical forms, such as

sonata allegro, ternary form, and in a theme and variations where the theme returns at the end.

Naturally, the return of the “Thema” at the end of the work, after thirty-six vastly different

variations lasting at least fifty minutes, has changed and may even be considered a thirty-seventh

(and perhaps a thirty-eighth if an improvisation is included) variation.

The recap of the theme returns to the original home key of D minor. The thirty-two

measures of the theme (the opening chant is not brought back) are played again with several

small changes. The bass line of the first ABB phrases is dropped down an octave lower, the

weak-beat left-hand chords always have three notes instead of two, the added inner voice in the

theme in the second B phrase is constant throughout these phrases, the harmonies in general are

fuller, and the dynamic level is piano. As the (ABB)’ section follows, there are only slight

changes from the original theme, the most prominent being frequent appoggiaturas on the weak

beats in the left hand instead of all chord-tones. The C phrase and the ending chant are nearly

the same, with the biggest difference coming in the final measure of the chant on the second half

of the first beat. Instead of a repeated G octave in the left hand, it moves to an octave E to create

a ii-half-diminished seventh chord.

Instead of ending the whole work now, as may be expected because the equivalent of the

whole theme (minus the opening chant) has been played again, Rzewski extends the recap of the

theme to twice its original length. In addition, he adds a two-measure tag to finally conclude the

entire work. This makes the recap sixty-six measures in length.

151
The next thirty-two measures, like the previous thirty-two, correspond to the whole

opening theme minus the opening chant; however, this statement is more different than the

opening theme. It begins in a higher register for both hands and at a dynamic level of piano.

The harmonies are not filled in as much; at most there are three notes played at a time. The left

hand has a continuous line of chord and non-chord tones in triplet eighth notes with no rests

which continues (except for a few rests in the first B phrase, but at that point the aural effect is

no different because the right hand contains the expected pitches and makes it sound as a

continuous melodic line) through the ABB(ABB)’ phrases. Throughout the first ABB section,

the right hand alternates between the swung tune in octaves or with added chord-tones and a

single continuous line of chord and non-chord tones in triplet eighth notes with no rests, like the

left hand, while the tune is only partially present.

It is interesting to note the use of these two textures in the right hand in these three

phrases. The first A phrase has two bars of the swung tune and two bars of the continuous

triplet-eighths where the tune is obscured. The first B phrase is entirely in the swung tune and

the second B phrase has steady triplet eighth notes. This phrase also contains a diatonic

sequence where the first three bars are the same but down a step each time.

Ex. 61 Recap of Theme m.41-43, Diatonic Sequence

As we reach the (ABB)’ phrases, the dynamic level is boosted up to forte. The left hand

maintains the continuous triplet eighth note motion but spans from the lowest octave of the piano

152
up into the middle registers. The right hand has the swung theme melody again but with full

chords of three or four notes. Octave displacement, which was such an important feature of

several variations, is used in the right hand for different parts of the tune.

As we reach the final B phrase, not only do we now have octave displacement in the left

hand, but we also have substantial chromaticism for the first time in the recap of the theme. All

of the chromaticism uses triadic chords that are not found in the key of D minor, such as the

major triads on Gb, E, and Eb. This usage of triadic chromaticism is most like that used in

Variation thirteen, where major triads outside of the key of D minor, such as Eb and Db, are used

in a jazz style.

The C phrase now follows, but instead of simply repeating chords, Rzewski uses a

technique of adding notes to the chords each time to make them fuller, much like harpsichord

composers, such as Scarlatti, did in order to make the effect of a crescendo on the otherwise set-

dynamic instrument. This effect is used for the first two measures while the second two revert

back to the octave displacement to avoid repeating the repeated chords of the C phrase in the

theme.

As the final statement of the chant returns, it does so with the ultimate utilization of

octave displacement in both hands. Here the left hand descending bass line is now in eighth

notes instead of quarter notes in order to increase intensity through rhythmic diminution as well

as to provide more opportunities for octave displacement. One of the reasons Rzewski made all

these slight changes in the recap of the theme is to show how the theme as been changed by the

journey and has incorporated some of the different experiences and aspects it has been through.

These changes have become an integral part of the theme on its outside, where before these were

just possibilities latent within itself.

153
In order to create ultimate finality at the end of such a massive work, Rzewski adds a

two-measure tag on the end. After the large fortissimo final statement of the chant, he drops

down to a piano statement of the last measure of the chant in the low register. This drop in

intensity sets the listener up for the final triple-forte, staccato, and accented statement of this last

measure of the chant which finally concludes this incredible work.

Conclusion

The title of the theme, The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, and the meaning of

its lyrics illustrate and emphasize the strength and power of unification. When people come

together and are motivated to work for a common cause, there is no obstacle that cannot be

overcome. The tune is a testament to the determination of humans, not as individuals, but to the

amazing things that can be achieved through a community. The most amazing aspect about

Rzewski’s piece of music is how it demonstrates this principle, of strengthening by unification,

in a musical context. Rzewski even suggests himself, “The extended length of the composition

may be an allusion to the idea that the unification of people is a long story, and that nothing

worth winning is acquired without effort.”71 The following chart summarizes the relationships

between the variations, the key scheme, and variations lengths.

71
Rzewski, CD liner notes to Rzewski plays Rzewski.

154
Chart 7 Recapitulation Relationships, Key Scheme, and Variation Lengths

155
Many programmatic musical works, which are inspired or supposed to depict something

outside of the music, attempt to justify, successfully or not, their musical form by what they are

depicting. Many of these works cannot exist successfully without this extra-musical justification

and the listener would be lost without knowledge of the program, but Rzewski’s piece is

different. While its meaning can be greatly enhanced and appreciated on many different levels

by understanding the theme, its lyrics, the historical context surrounding the composition of the

theme, Rzewski’s background and why and when he wrote the piece, etc., The People United can

be greatly appreciated and works incredibly successfully when looked at from a purely musical

standpoint and demonstrates the idea of unification on a musical level. This is one of Rzewski’s

own goals as a composer, as he explains:

I feel a bit uncomfortable being put in this, or any kind of box. I don’t like
feeling obliged to make a political statement with every piece of music. First and
foremost as music; and then if one can enrich this musical discourse with extra
musical ideas, then so much the better.72

No matter from what angle this work is seen, its purpose is to show that neither angle,

neither compositional style, neither culture, neither race, etc., is correct or incorrect, but that they

are all connected in a deep and profound way and capable of creating beautiful and great things

while increasing the understanding amongst all. When any of these contrasting elements,

aspects, people, cultures, etc., come closer together, their similarities transcend their differences

and enhance and strengthen each other. Only when this is realized can we truly make a

difference in creating a better world for all. If other people can see this, then perhaps Rzewski’s

music can indeed help to enact social change, and maybe it has had more of an effect people than

72
Richard Steinitz, “Imperialist Piano-Thumping Was One Avant-Gardiste Description of
Frederic Rzewski This Week Because of His New Accessible Style.” Guardian. November 2, 1979,
quoted in Keyes, 75.

156
I even know. We can only hope that it will continue to inspire people, both musically and

socially, for generations to come. Perhaps Art Lange sums up the effect and meaning of the

work the best:

But for all its twists and turns, its bursts of violence and chilling absence, its
foreboding and tender hopefulness, it ends in triumph, as the theme returns, in
full glory, to offer a faith in human values, human feelings, and human rights.73

73
Lange, liner notes to Hat ART CD 6066.

157
Appendix A

Second Structure74

For Petr Kotik and Other Friends

A structure in six parts, or cycles, each of which is built in real time (improvised) using a freely
articulated sequence of six stages.
The character of each cycle generally, and of each stage within a cycle in particular, is
determined by the performer(s) in accordance with the following basic image:

Six dimensions of time
1. Present
2. Recent
3. Imminent
4. Past
5. Future
6. (All) Time

The performer moves through this cycle six times, in such a way that in the first cycle
characteristics associated with the image “Present” predominate, in the second those associated
with “Recent,” and so on, so that in each cycle the six stages are interpreted in a different way,
and macro- and microstructures are reflected in each other. The whole has the form of a 6 x 6
grid which is retained as a conceptual framework in the mind of the performer. Above and
beyond the minimum necessary determinations for a given performance, such as the approximate
duration (optimally twenty to thirty minutes) and the choice of instruments or circuitry to be
employed, as little as possible is to be fixed beforehand; the music should ideally arise in real
time from the spontaneous application of the grid in the mind to the unstructured raw material of
improvisation. The grid thus has both a generative function, providing the performer with a map
of his/her psychic terrain and a designated path with a beginning and an end, which may assist
the free exercise of fantasy; and an inhibitive function, acting as a sort of filter and suppressing
the tendency to remain in one place or to wander aimlessly.

Stage 1
Qualities associated with “present” time:
Separateness (no apparent relation between one event and the next); fragmentariness
(partial expression of an idea or mere allusion to it, rather than complete statement of it);
uniqueness (non-repeatability and non-imitability); transitoriness (brevity, speed); ubiquity (the
ability to be in many places at once: thought travelling faster than light); superficiality (wit,
dancing on and off the surface of things).

74
Frederic Rzewski, Nonsequiturs: Writings & Lectures on Improvisation, Composition, and Interpretation,
edited by Gisela Gronemeyer and Reinhard Oehlschlagel. (Cologne: MusikTexte, 2007), 144-52.

158
Guiltlessness: Approach the material in a state of innocence. Refrain from judging
yourself.
Extend yourself in many different directions at once. Keep moving from one
geographical area to another. Concretely: Dance around in space, move from one end of the
instrument to another, make some radical change in some parameter with every sound (This does
not mean: play fast.)
Explore space in an infantile, abandoned, random fashion. Play in such a way that each
event is a separate entity. Fracture the material; if an idea comes into your head express only
part of it. Repeat nothing, and do not linger on any one event or develop it in any way. Make
every sound different from the one preceding; leap from one idea to another, always landing on
new places. Some of these you may return to in the future; but don’t bother with that here.
Don’t try to remember anything; but consider that everything you perceive is registered
somewhere in your mind and may be recalled.
Generally, between any two events let there be no demonstrable relation. Act as if this
were the case, even if you do not believe it.
Let there be a long space between the end of one sound and the beginning of the next.

Stage 2
Qualities associated with “recent” time:
Recognizability (meaningful relation between an event and the immediately preceding
one); repeatability (doubling); introspectiveness (memory); freshness (observation of prominent
features); likeness (resemblance); discovery (location of a thing with respect to another thing).
Repeat something you have just done, without having intended to repeat it.
Begin to retrace your steps, at first unintentionally, then deliberately. Do not stop
exploring, do not expand on the material at all, but return to it. Thus Stage 1 continues as you
begin to introduce Stage 2: In the spontaneously generated material of Stage 1, produced without
forethought or intention, seize upon features that appear more striking or interesting, and let
these recur after a short time as echoes of themselves.
Let there be a short space between the end of one sound and the beginning of the next.

Stage 3
Qualities associated with “imminent” time:
Identity (evidence of will); reactiveness (conveying emotions: hope, despair, desire, fear,
et cetera); individuality (separation in space and time); potentiality (for example of conflict, or
growth); invention (calculation).
Continue Stages 1 and 2 as you begin to introduce Stage 3.
The mere repetitions of fragments that were characteristic of Stage 2 now become
complete thematic statements. Extend each idea for increasingly long durations, and introduce
variation. At the same time, build up a reservoir of thematic material, with the idea in mind that
you will return to this material and expand it in the immediate future. Let each “theme” have a
distinguishing characteristic, which remains constant, while others may change: one or more
fixed parameters, such as register, tonal area, timbre, degree of complexity, stylistic reference, et
cetera. Let each thematic idea develop, become a personality, separate and distinct from others.
Introduce new themes and develop their immanent potentialities, until you have several (five,
six, or more) such themes at your disposal.
Let there be contiguity between events: Let one sound begin when another ends.

159
Stage 4
Qualities associated with “past” time:
Complexity (multiplicity); conflict (interpenetration); counterpoint (polyphony).
Stages 1, 2, and 3 continue as Stage 4 is introduced. Stage 4 begins when the “themes”
of Stage 3 are expanded to the extent that they begin to encroach upon each other’s territory.
Example: Two “themes’ in Stage 3 occupy relatively narrow frequency bands that are relatively
remote from each other. The bandwidth of each is expanded until they meet. Another example:
One theme in Stage 3 is a simple tonal melody, which could be suggestive of the
“Internationale.” Another “theme” is a texture built out of angular, aperiodic structures and
complex spectra. The two are subjected to progressive transformations in such a way that they
begin to take on each other’s characteristics.
Material from the past reappears, not as simple repetition in its original form, but mixed
up together, and transformed by this mixing-up. The process of variation and development is
radicalized, carried to extremes. The separate and distinct “themes” of Stage 3 now appear in
combination, altering and altered by each other’s nature. A process of compression takes place
(stretto): The individual themes are stacked up against one another more and more tightly; it is as
though they were all going on together, all the time. At the point of maximum compression, the
antinomies latent in the original material achieve their fullest expression, before a transformation
takes place in Stage 5, in which the old themes merge and disappear, and new material is created.
Let one sound begin before the end of another sound; let there be a relation of intrusion
and overlapping between any two events.

Stage 5
Qualities associated with “future” time:
Departure (cutting loose); transformation (passage to a new state); simplicity (unity);
simultaneity (homophony); suddenness (instantaneity); duration (pause, cesura); mixture
(synthesis); consonance (simple numerical relations in frequency and rhythm).
Stage 5 begins when the process of compression in Stage 4 has reached an extreme point
and cannot be continued; for example when the speed, complexity, et cetera, of the structures
being improvised are such that the performer loses control; when the sense of an extreme state
has been reached by means of intensive mental or physical activity (ecstasy, fatigue, et cetera);
or simply when the performer decides that the moment is right to make a sudden change and
introduce entirely new material.
Whatever the nature of the material introduced in Stage 5, it is totally unexpected and
appears suddenly; at the same time, it is completely different in some way from all of the
preceding material, which is dropped for the duration. The effect of Stage 5 should be similar to
that of reaching the top of a hill after an ascent and witnessing the sudden appearance of a broad
expanse of space, and possibly a sense of being suspended, or of timelessness.
Characteristics could include: isolated single attacks, with short and long decays; long
durations; slow tempo; large distances, in time and space, between events; simultaneous attacks;
timbral mixtures (combining two distinct timbres to produce a third).
Let one sound begin together with the beginning of another sound.

160
Stage 6
Qualities associated with “time in general”:
Transitoriness; permanence. Periodicity; randomness. Beginning; ending. Direction;
force. Process; goal. Destruction; creation. Inflexibility; unpredictability. Strife;
reconciliation. Expansion; concentration.
Stage 6 is a cadenza in which the previous material is both dropped and brought back; a
concluding summary which will be followed by a new beginning. It is a dropping of formal
restraints for a duration, ending with a cadence. Stage 6 sums up the character of each cycle.
The entire cycle becomes a dash followed by a dot, in which Stages 1 through 4 form the
dash, Stage 6 the dot, with Stage 5 as the space between.
Something like sliding down the hill, into the next valley.
A transitional conclusion, preparing for the return to the present, to zero. Liberating the
imagination in order to devise a plan which, when carried out, will liberate the imagination
further.
A very condensed recapitulation of al the preceding stages; perhaps selective; surveying
what has been done, and what there is to do; perhaps containing some allusion to what is to
come. Some randomness; some repetition; some variation; some counterpoint; some space;
some plain music; whatever comes into your head, without planning (yet as part of a plan).
Possibly tranquil, or breathless, or both.
Sounds occurring with no particular co-ordination with respect to other sounds; echoing
other sounds; occurring at the ends of other sounds; occurring in the middle of other sounds,
overlapping them; beginning or ending together with other sounds; leading other sounds,
breaking a silence, causing other sounds.

Cycle 1: Sense of touch. No judgments. Exploratory. Exploring space. Random sampling,
always in a different place. “Abstract.” Zero dimensionality: points.
Cycle 2: Sense of taste. Some things chosen, other rejected. Discovering a structure. Repetitive
sequences: a ground bass? Recent = familiar. Begin with material similar to Cycle 1, Stage 5.
One dimensionality: lines (repetition of points).
Cycle 3: Sense of smell. Leading to food. Moving in a direction, drawn onward. Inventing
variations, alternative models; realizing potentialities. Following a trail. Expansion. Two
dimensionality: shapes.
Cycle 4: Sense of sight. Controlled, contrapuntal; overlooking, looking up. Three
dimensionality: objects, combinations of shapes. Depth: superimposition of different layers of
time.
Cycle 5: Sense of hearing. Perceiving across a distance. Four dimensionality: change.
Cycle 6: Sense of equilibrium. Taking initiative. Summing up. Sliding, skiing, swimming,
gliding: using the force of gravity. Imaginary multi-dimensionality.

December 1972

161
Appendix B

Interview with Frederic Rzewski
University of Cincinnati 6/21/08
By Keane Southard

Southard: My first question is, well I know you heard the tune “The People United” at a concert
but how did you notate it? Did you have sheet music or by dictation?

Rzewski: I had a recording.

S: Ok. The one by the band…

R: I believe the recording I had was by the group Quilapayun. I just transcribed it from the
recording which is…actually, I heard it as being in a triple rhythm: Ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum,
ba-bum, when actually when I later saw the actual score I saw it was dotted-eight and sixteenth.

S: So they swung it?

R: Yes.

S: Ok, is that the only thing you changed?

R: No, I also changed the tonality. The original is in A minor and I changed it to D minor for
some reason which I cannot explain.

S: And did you keep the form of the song the same when using it as the theme?

R: Yes.

S: I could probably get a hold of that recording then.

R: You probably can.

S: Do you know when that was issued?

R: 70’s, mid 70’s.

S: On LP?

R: Yes.

S: Alright. And then how did you approach the theme? Did certain aspects stick out to you as
something you could exploit in the variations?

162
R: Yes. In the jargon of popular music there is something they call the hook. It is usually a
word but it can be a musical turn also. It is some little trivial detail maybe in a particular song
that makes that song different than a thousand other songs that are like it which makes it a hit
song. You can find such things in classical composers as well, like in Beethoven’s Eroica
Symphony: bum, bum bum-bum, ba-bum, you know and then there’s that BAP BAP BAP.
That’s what I would call the hook of that particular piece. But in this case it’s where the melody
turns around and repeats: da-da-da-da-da-da-da-ba-BUM-ba-bum. That’s the hook. This tune,
you’ve heard it before, it’s like the famous Paganini theme on which Rachmaninoff and
Lutoslawski and so on wrote variations. That’s the other thing, it’s a theme that immediately
suggests variations.

S: In some of my research they have talked about how certain variations are kind of homages to
certain composers and I wanted to know if you were thinking that way, like the 10th one they call
the “Boulez” variation and the 11th one the “Cage” variation…Philip Glass…

R: No, I wasn’t thinking of that precisely, no, although perhaps you know that those composers
whom you mentioned might be archetypal examples of some particular style.

S: So you were just consciously using lots of different styles:

R: Consciously or unconsciously, yes, but partly consciously, yes.

S: Did you approach making the variations from improvisation, did you say, Ok, I know I want
to do a lot with this theme and you had some ideas in your head and then you started improvising
on them and that’s how each of these different variations came about?

R: No. The whole structure comes out of improvisation. The structure of 6 times 6 comes out of
an earlier piece I did earlier in the 70’s.

S: Is it the Second Structure?

R: That’s right. If you have that text you will see that it’s actually describing the piano piece.
This was a form which in my group, MEV, we used a number of times as a kind of form to keep
in our heads in the course of a free improvisation. Since it was free improvisation this form
maybe, although it perhaps provided some kind of a platform for an impro, it never developed in
as strict a way as one could imagine so that’s why I decided to make a written out version of it.
But the actual music was not improvised, I mean I always write at the piano, so to a certain
extent improvisation is always there, but that’s not what the music came from, no. It was a
rather rigorous application of the model that you find in that text, “Second Structure”, so that
each of the six stages represent some particular way of dealing with time, so you have points,
lines, melodies, counterpoints, chords, and combinations of all of those.

S: So did you use, of those elements, is that what you exploited of the theme, such as melodies in
the first set? Did you exploit those aspects of the theme in those certain variations?

163
R: No, the theme simply provides the raw material for the variations. And I would say the
melody is not the most important thing, it is the bass line and the harmonic structure.

S: Ok, I noticed you use the descending chromatic bass line a lot, and as a walking bass in some
variations.

R: The bass line actually, well, it’s partly Sergio Ortega’s bass line but there are also some little
changes that don’t appear in Ortega’s version and some of those ideas I actually stole from other
people like my friend Michael Sahl, a composer I’ve known for a long time and I remember he
suggested to me something I could do with the bass line.

S: One of the things that really entices about the piece is the diversity of styles and languages
you use in the variations. Sometimes it’s clear as day where the theme is and what you were
doing and sometimes it’s very hidden.

R: Yes, it disappears altogether sometimes, yes. That’s also an idea I stole from another friend
of mine Alvin Curran who back in the 60’s wrote a piece called “La Lista del Giorno” which I
remember and it has a line, there’s a certain kind of basic song on which it’s based and then
there’s a line that goes up and down and you’re supposed to improvise on the melody and as the
line goes up or down you are supposed to stay closer to the tune or go away from it. And
Stockhausen’s sixth piano piece also has a similar wavy line that describes alternate variations of
tempo and so forth.

S: So at some points you consciously just sort of did away with the theme.

R: I never do away with it, but I get as far away from it as possible. Like in the one you call the
“Boulez” variation, it still has key points where if you listen closely you can see that it’s
following the basic harmonic progression.

S: And the phrase structure, and the length of the variations, except the fifth set I believe, are all
20 bars I think. They all have the same length.

R: Yes, it’s fairly strict except in the fifth section where it goes haywire. But that’s also part of
the formal scheme. In number five of the sequence of six, it’s supposed to go haywire. That’s
what the form tells you. When you get to the fifth stage of a six stage cycle, there is a break of
some kind. So the logic that you hear, you make some kind of jump into a new thing.

S: And even though you go so far away from the theme at some points, in the summary
variations which I don’t know if you called them that originally, but in everything I’ve read they
call them summary variations…Do you think that’s the right word for those variations, the ones
that recapitulate four bars of each variation?

R: I don’t know what the word would be, but that’s also an idea I stole from Stockhausen. He
wrote a piece in the 60’s called Plus Minus which is not really a piece, it’s kind of a formal
scheme for a composer to use to write a piece and he also has this idea of there are a number of

164
elements and then a final element which involves a combination of all those things. There are no
original ideas anywhere. Ok?

S: Yes, I understand that. You just applied it to the variation form.

R: Yes. And the idea of six stages is also not original, I got that from the Living Theatre, whom
I was close to in the 60’s, who got it from the Kabbalah. It’s a concept that comes from Jewish
mysticism. Ok, go on.

S: In these summary variations, you put the different styles so close together that sometimes they
just meld into each other where you can hear the theme but, it’s sort of an illusion I find, that you
can still hear the theme but it has really disappeared, which I think is so interesting, especially
the last one where all five sets of variations are pressed into one, just turning and twisting
through all these styles.

R: Well, depending how it’s played, of course. You can play it in different ways and you can
play it in such as way as to make the formal structure as evident as possible or play it in a
different way so that you make the formal structure recede into the background.

S: And you recorded twice?

R: Oh, I recorded it more times than not.

S: How different have your own performances of the piece been?

R: Oh, I don’t remember now because I never listen to these things but I remember the first time
I recorded it in Italy, it’s an LP that’s still floating around somewhere but it’s very hard to find.

S: Is that the one that the original liner notes are with?

R: No, that was for the…actually I think I may have recorded it before Ursula did. Yes, I think
so. I think the first recording was made by me in Italy around 1977. It was done in a studio and
I was worried about whether it would fit on an LP so I played it as fast as I possibly could and
then it was all spliced together, it’s not very good, but I played it very fast, much faster than it
probably should be. And then Yuji Takahashi recorded a version which is also very fast. But
I’ve done it in every way you possibly could imagine I guess.

S: Did Ursula give the premiere of it?

R: Yes.

S: At the bicentennial…

R: Yes, at the Kennedy Center. I got there late because the train broke down from New York, so
I missed the first part of the concert. I think she played Beethoven Opus 110. I heard my piece,
I think. I don’t remember now.

165
S: I don’t know if I have more questions off the top of my head.

R: Good.

S: I just really enjoy delving into your pieces. I played your “Down By the Riverside”. The
piece was just so fun to learn.

R: Do you improvise?

S: Yes. I did an improvisation during my jury, actually, for the faculty. They let me do one. I
don’t know if anyone has ever done that before.

R: Done what?

S: For my jury at the end of the semester to be graded I did an improvisation in the piece.

R: Well, what’s so strange about that?

S: Well no one has ever done that before. They were grading my improvisation, which they are
not used to.

R: I see. Well…sorry about that.

S: (Laughs) No, I got an A, so…

R: Well everybody gets A’s. It doesn’t mean anything. Ok, good. Are you sticking around for
the concerts?

S: I may be. I have a four hour drive back to Cleveland.

R: Does it really take that much time?

S: Yes, I can only come down for the day. I work during the week in Cleveland.

R: You know who you might look up, there’s a guy named Jim Miller in Cleveland. He knows
this piece very well. As a matter of fact, he brought me to Cleveland in, I think, 1980, I played it
there.

S: You played at Cleveland State, right?

R: I think I played at the conservatory.

S: The Cleveland Institute?

166
R: Yes. At that time there was a political organization called, what was it called, I don’t
remember but it was connected with a political group called the New American Movement. If
you find this guy, Jim Miller, and of course it’s a common name and I don’t happen to have his
address and telephone number, but you might be able to find him on the internet. He’s been very
active and devoted a lot of time to promoting the music of Hanns Eisler.

S: I know you quote one of his songs…

R: Yes. This is a very nice guy. He might be able to tell you some things too which are
interesting. I remember that concert, they wanted to put it in the Cleveland Institute but the
Cleveland Institute wouldn’t promote it so they rented the hall. And the Chileans came and set
up tables and sold things. So I remember that concert very well, it was very interesting. But if
you are interested in the whole question of politics and music and so forth, this guy is sort of an
expert on that subject. And he is still political active and so forth and so on. I wish I had his
number on me but I don’t. And if you do find him give him my best regards. So you’re heading
back?

S: Yes, I figured it would be cheaper, with the gas, not to say overnight. I work during the week.
I’m actually from Massachusetts.

R: Where?

S: Northborough.

R: Where’s that?

S: It’s about an hour outside of Boston.

R: Oh, I see. I’m from western Massachusetts so I don’t know that part of the state that well.

S: And I don’t know western Massachusetts that well. But I go to school just outside of
Cleveland. I’m here for two months doing a program with my school, working with non-profit
organizations in Cleveland.

R: What kind of non-profit organizations?

S: Well, I’m working with a Hispanic education group working at a summer camp with kids,
doing educational things with them and giving them a place to go to during the summer, and with
a community development corporation and Habitat for Humanity.

R: Oh, well that’s precisely what Jim and his friends are into now, housing questions in
Cleveland.

S: Because there have been all these foreclosures.

167
R: Yes, well that’s their thing. He and another guy named Steve Kagan, they are activists. They
have some kind of program to make affordable loans and, I don’t know how it works, but that’s
precisely what they are into, the both of them, this whole question of housing which of course is
a burning issue right now. But they’ve been doing this for a long time, and in Cleveland there is
a lot of stuff like that.

S: Yes, they said when you hear the news about foreclosures it’s always “Cleveland is the worst
place”.

R: So do look this guy up. You have more reasons than one, and he could probably turn you on
to some interesting things that I don’t even know about. I wish I had his address. Well, if you
email me, and if you have trouble finding him, let me give you my email address and at least I
can give you his email, that I know. Well, you already sent me an email, so you have my email
address.

S: Well, I sent it through Mr. Hoffman and he forwarded it to you.

R: Ok, so you don’t have it. Here it is. There you go. Yes, if you are into this housing thing
definitely look up these guys. Let me write his name down. Here you go. Let me know how it
goes.

S: Ok, and if you would like I could send you a copy of my paper when it is done.

R: Sure.

S: It will probably be done April of next year.

R: Ok.

168
Appendix C

“Bandiera Rossa”

(The Red Flag)

Translation by Patricia Ann Keyes75

Avanti o popolo, alla riscossa Let us march o people, to revolt
Bandiera Rossa, bandiera rossa Red flag, Red flag
Avanti o popolo, alla riscossa Let us march o people, to revolt
Bandiera rossa trionfera Red flag shall triumph

Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Eviva il communismo e la liberta Long live communism and freedom

Degli sfruttati l’immensa schiera We are the enormous band of exploited
people
La pura innalzi, rossa bandiera Raise the red flag
O proletari, all riscossa O proletariats, to revolt
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph

Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Il frutto dei lavoro a chi lavora andra The fruits of labor will go to those who
work

Dai campi al mare, alla miniera, From the fields to the sea, to the mines
All’officina, chi soffre e spera From the factories, who suffers and hopes
Sia pronto, e l’ora della riscossa Be ready, it is the hour of revolt
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph

Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Soltanto il communismo e vera liberta Only communism is the true freedom

Non piu nemici, non piu frontiere: No more enemies, no more boundaries
Sono I confine rosse bandiere. There are at all borders the red flags
O communisti, alla riscossa O communists, to the revolt
75
Keyes, 194-95.

169
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph

Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Bandiera rossa la trionfera Red flag shall triumph
Evviva Lenin, la pace e la liberta Long live Lenin, peace and freedom

170
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