New Music at Carnegie Hall: Carnegie Hall Commissions
Commission at a Glance
Natural Things
Frederic Rzewski
Recorded on May 1, 2008
at Zankel Hall

Opus 21
Stephen Drury, Piano


Notes on the Work

In Natural Things (2007), a new work composed especially for Opus 21, Rzewski attempts to mirror the sonic realities of the real world in which spontaneous things simply happen. According to the composer, a total of 49 events—sometimes related, sometimes not—“come out of nowhere and point to nowhere” as in “a sequence of unanticipated household events: a telephone call, a child’s tantrum.”

It is fitting that this work is receiving its New York premiere on May Day (May 1), the annual holiday held around the world in support of workers’ rights, since the work is also inspired by the origins of May Day—the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago on May 1, 1886, which erupted after laborers struck seeking an eight-hour work day. In portions of Rzewski’s composition, musicians recite texts from speeches made in support of workers’ rights by a group of demonstration organizers, known as the Haymarket Martyrs, who were wrongfully sentenced to death for the massacre: for instance, “There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.” At one point in the score, one of the percussionists is asked to speak through a megaphone as though at a labor rally.