Music Monday: Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Zingers aside, tho, it’s hard not to get the sense from looking at Rzewski’s list of works that he has longstanding left-wing and anti-statist views. In addition to The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, for example, he has also written pieces about the 1971 Attica prison uprisings and a version of the Antigone story that emphasizes the title character’s role as a principled resister of an unjust government. So even if he’s deliberately fuzzy about them in interviews, I suspect that there are genuine leftist views lurking there in the background. Born in 1938 in Westfield, MA, Rzewski was not wanting for a traditional education. He attended Phillips Academy followed by Harvard and Princeton, where he studied with Roger Sessions, Milton Babbitt, and other modernist luminaries on their respective faculties. In 1960, he went to Italy to study with Luigi Dallapiccola and also to further his career as a contemporary pianist (he’s been playing since he was five years old, and has worked to a place of ferocious, if controversial ability (he sometimes improvises cadenzas in the middle of Beethoven piano sonatas, which some people are . . . less than excited about.).). While there, he was one of the co-founders of Musica Elettronica Viva, one of the first groups to experiment with live improvisation using electronic instruments, a group that is still active today, some fifty years later.

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