The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music poll: What is good music for celebrating Labor Day?

September 6, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Work occupies such a huge space in our lives.

Yet  so little literature and painting and music — so little art in general — seems to focus on the world of work, which we celebrate each year with Labor Day. (The photo below by Lewis Hine is an outstanding exception.)

So I set myself the task of finding some music fitting for Labor Day that I could share with you.

Here is a link to a site where I found the comment that follows:

A lot of folk music was mentioned, but one person who replied about classical music answered: “I usually don’t listen to anything special for Labor Day. But I suppose I should. In trying to make up a list for next year, I came up with a few things–Bizet’s Carmen, the story of an honest working girl who gets in way over her head, the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore, Copland‘s Fanfare for the Common Man and Rodeo, Antheil’s Ballet mechanique, the Shostakovich 11th Symphony and, well I need to get some more Mossolov and music by other Russian Futurists of the 1920’s. Maybe Bach’s Peasant Cantata, although that is more a city slicker making fun of his country cousins, not glorifying the contribution of labor to society. Still, it tells something of the struggle of working people for respect, and so is worthwhile.”

My own answer would be the Workers’ Chorus that I heard years ago in the world premiere of American composer Daron Hagen’s opera, commissioned by the Madison Opera, about Frank Lloyd Wright. It was called “Shining Brow” (the English translation of his Welsh-named home studio Taliesin in Spring Green). I found the chorus a very moving piece that reminded on the Amish barn raising scene in the movie “Witness” (below).

But, alas, I can find no recording of that chorus on YouTube to share with you. Too bad. It should be there.

So here is another choice:

The most appealing to me  Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” It reminds that Labor Day owes so much to unions – which are so maligned today, especially by Republicans and conservatives — and to ordinary working people who need help in these days of recession and times of unemployment.

Yes, business can help them and so we should help business.

But even more important is that workers help business — as both makers and consumers — and so we should celebrate them even more.

Here is a link (YouTube has disabled embedding) to James Levine conducting the Copland Fanfare:

Do you have suggestions for music to listen to on Labor Day?

Music that celebrates workers?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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