The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: For Labor Day 2012, you must hear this – Frederic Rzewski’s “The People United Will Never Be Defeated.” | September 3, 2012

ALERT: The 36th annual Labor Day Concert TONIGHT by three generations of the Karp Family (below) HAS BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO ILLNESS. No other details are available.

By Jacob Stockinger

Labor Day this year falls in a presidential election year.

Is it too much to hope for facts, not insults and lies?

Is it too much to admit that most of us are just ordinary people, not small business people or billionaires disguised as so-called “job creators”?

Is it too much to hope that racism and narrow thinking prevail over an unthinking use of the word “freedom”?

Is it too much to realize that freedom still comes with a social compact that provides a government to keep us from anarchy and despair?

Anyway, here is what seems to be becoming a Labor Day tradition for The Ear: A performance by supervirtuoso pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin (at bottom) of the work by American composer Frederic Rzewski (below). It is the mammoth andy creative work, “The People United Will Never Be Defeated,” which takes its title from a populist chant and traverses 36 variations over almost an hour.

Last year, I got to hear it live performed by University of Wisconsin virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor. It is really moving when done live.

But the recorded version is also impressive and moving.

Do you have a favorite piece of classical music or opera to share to celebrate Labor Day? Let The Ear and his followers know by leaving a Comment and a link to YouTube, if possible.

Happy listening and Happy Labor Day!



  1. Well, I’ve heard a lot about “The People United’…” for many years now; but, until now, have never listened to it. Only one word… WOW!!!!!

    I’ll also bring to your attention a more recent work that is in the same vein as People United: the jazz pianist Fred Hersch wrote “24 Variations on a Bach Chorale” in 2002 – the Chorale originally being “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”, but what he knew (and I think we know) as “Because All Men Are Brothers”, recorded by both The Weavers and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Like Rzewski, he takes you all over the map in the music world, although Hersch’s efforts are more jazz-oriented and far less virtuosic than Rzewski’s. Also, it’s only projected at 24 minutes long — not 57! I would imagine there’s a recording available, although I don’t know of it.

    Thanks for sharing this link, Jake! Most appreciated.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — September 3, 2012 @ 9:34 am

    • Hi Tim,
      And thank you for sharing your suggestion, which I have never heard until you wrote in, even though I know of Fred Hersh.
      It intrigues me.

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 3, 2012 @ 9:58 am

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