The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The murdered civil rights leader has become a character in opera, oratorios and musicals as well as popular songs | January 15, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the holiday to celebrate the 89th birthday of Martin Luther King (below), the American civil rights pioneer who was born on this day in 1929, won the Nobel Peace Prize and was assassinated in 1968, when he was 39.

For more biographical information, here is the Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.

There will be many celebrations, including the 38th annual one at noon in the State Capitol of Wisconsin in Madison, which will be broadcast live and recorded by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).

Music is always an important art of honoring King. There will be spirituals and gospel choirs.

But King himself has become a musical, and dramatic, figure.

Maybe you knew that.

The Ear didn’t.

So here are some links to sample from YouTube, which has many of King’s speeches and much of the music done to honor King over the years.

MLK is a character is the opera by Philip Glass called “Appomattox,” which deals with civil rights from The Civil War onwards and was commissioned and performed by the Washington National Opera.

Here is part of it in rehearsal:

And in performance:

And here is the one-hour video called “I Have a Dream”:

Do you know of any other musical works in which Martin Luther King Jr. actually figures and plays a role?

What piece of classical music would you choose to honor King?- Perhaps the poignant aria “Give Me Freedom” from Handel’s opera “Rinaldo” (performed in the YouTube video at the bottom) or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy” finale about universal brotherhood.

Let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


3 Comments »

  1. I’ll vote for George Walker’s “Lilacs” — that was first (and I believe only) composition by a Black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize in Classical Music. He set it for Voice and Strings, and used various texts drawn from Whitman’s prose poems as the text. An excellent composer and pianist, if relatively unknown (perhaps to be expected!).

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — January 15, 2018 @ 8:01 am

  2. Nice story Jake… there is a Joseph Schwantner piece that celebrated MLK that I find very compelling. We performed this with the Marin Symphony, and Noah Griffin as the narrator several years ago on the weekend of MLK Day… it was very moving… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Schwantner:_New_Morning_for_the_World;_Nicolas_Flagello:_The_Passion_of_Martin_Luther_King

    Comment by Peter Rodgers — January 15, 2018 @ 6:37 am

  3. I LISTENED TO HIS “I HAVE A DREAM” SPEECH…

    …WHEN I WAS EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD.

    Comment by Terry Baer — January 15, 2018 @ 12:34 am


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