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


  1. It’s really a great and helpful piece of info. I am happy that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by do hcg drops work — February 8, 2013 @ 11:18 am

  2. The piece is Frederic Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues composed, I gather, in 1979.

    Here’s a little history via URLs:

    And finally, I heard this first just a couple of years ago performed by a mighty fine young pianist, Michael Kirkendoll ( at the finals of the American Pianists Association fellowships in Indianapolis.

    It was quite a refreshing change from the usual three B’s.

    Once you’ve heard it, you’d never ever have to visit a cotton mill to know what it’s like.

    Here’s another piano recording:

    As for Rzewski:

    Comment by Michael P. Scott — September 6, 2010 @ 11:36 am

    • Thank you, so much, Michael for all the detail.
      It is powerful and evocative music.
      I believe Rzewski also did some big piano variations on “The People United Can Never Be Defeated,” which would also be an appropriate choice for Labor Day, don’t you think? It’s great you reminded me of his work. I don’t know why I overlooked I earlier.
      Thanks too for all the links to extra information.

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 6, 2010 @ 11:40 am

  3. The first music that came to mind for me too were the Copland and Verdi’s Anvil Chorus. I also thought of Alberich in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, trying to forge the Rheingold into something useful (not a bad metaphor for what workers – at least manufacturers – do).

    But then what really struck me on this Labor Day is the “labor” of music. Musicians actually do “work,” dontcha know? And so do composers, for that matter. We may think of them as artists, but just like most of us, they “work” at their art.

    So let’s hear it for the “musical” laborers who bring us so much pleasure, so much sorrow and joy, so much feeling and wonder – who transport us and transform our lives.

    Comment by Marius — September 6, 2010 @ 11:11 am

  4. I’m so happy that Jacob remembered the Worker’s Chorus from SHINING BROW. The recording is available from Naxos, and you can get it at Amazon. Here’s a link!

    Comment by Daron Hagen — September 6, 2010 @ 8:55 am

    • Hi Daron,
      Oh yes, I remember it very well. It moved me deeply.
      And I still think the opera deserved the Pulitzer Prize. You were robbed. It was do good and so American and so original.
      I also still think that the Workers’ Chorus and some other selected scenes — but that one in particular –should be available on YouTube from one of the many staged productions or at least from the Naxos recording with some still images from various productions or maybe your favorite production.
      Thanks for taking the time to read the post and to reply. I really appreciate the Naxos reference and am sure other readers will too.
      I’ll also note for other readers that Naxos is releasing your Piano Trios this month,. I look forward to listening to that recording.
      Hope all is well and that you’ll continue to follow the blog and post comments.

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 6, 2010 @ 9:25 am

      • Dear Jake,

        I can’t thank you enough for the kind mention of BROW, and also for the plug for the piano trios. If someone puts up such a U-Tube montage I won’t fight it!

        Warmly yours,

        Comment by Daron Hagen — September 6, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

      • HI Daron,
        And I can’t thank you enough for composing BROW.
        It was, as you can tell, a very memorable experience for me.
        Let’s see what we can do about getting the workers scene on YouTube.
        Glad you like the idea.
        Hope all is well.

        Comment by welltemperedear — September 6, 2010 @ 10:10 pm

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  7. Here ya go:

    Comment by Michael P. Scott — September 6, 2010 @ 12:27 am

    • Hi Michael,
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to reply.
      It’s a great post, a good match of images and music.
      But I’ll confess: I don’t know what the music is or where the video comes from.
      Can you provide specifics? I would appreciate it and I’m sure other readers would too.

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 6, 2010 @ 9:16 am

  8. Don’t forget “The Internationale,” the great anthem originally commissioned for the International Workingmen’s Association, composed by Pierre Chretien De Geyter. There was a rousing version of it with full orchestra in the film “Reds.”

    Most labor music is folk music, like Pete Seeger’s “This Land Is Your Land,” “Union Maid” and “You Can’t Scare Me (I’m Stickin’ to the Union).” And then we move on to country standards like “Take This Job and Shove It,” which you don’t hear too often nowadays.

    Comment by Ron McCrea — September 6, 2010 @ 12:20 am

    • Hi Ron,
      All good choices.
      All classics.
      But not classical, which is what the blog is about and why they weren’t mentioned in the post.
      Classical music related to working is much harder to find, it seems. Or so I have found.
      Anyway, happy labor and memories of working.

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 6, 2010 @ 9:18 am

      • OK, if it has to be classical then I submit Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony No. 45, in which the musicians go on strike in a final movement walkout.

        It was a protest of working conditions. The musicians had been kept at Prince Nikolaus’s summer palace in Eszterhaza longer than promised and wanted to return to their homes in Eisenstadt. Haydn’s message worked: The court moved back to Eisendtadt the next day.

        That’s what we call “concerted action,” pun intended.

        Comment by Ron McCrea — September 6, 2010 @ 9:58 am

      • Hi Ron,
        Well, now this time it is indeed an excellent choice, an outstanding example for classical music related to work.
        I generally don’t like program music, but this piece is different. It is one of my favorite Haydn works and my favorite symphonies of all time.
        It has real feeing in it and is quite contagious in its themes and verve.
        And what a great wind-down ending by attrition.
        A clever choice written up cleverly and insightfully.
        Thanks for adding to my Labor Day.
        Listening to Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony on Labor Day could become an annual tradition for me.
        So thanks.

        Comment by welltemperedear — September 6, 2010 @ 10:09 am

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