Twenty years on, Cardew's music still provokes controversy. Even amongst his many admirers, his later 'political' music in particular creates unease and perhaps misgivings. The relation of the music to its 'programme' and to the lofty aims it purports to serve is problematic enough, so let us remind ourselves what Cardew himself wrote about this music in the seventies:
"I have discontinued composing music in an avant-garde idiom for a number of reasons: the exclusiveness of the avant-garde, its fragmentation, its indifference to the real situation in the world today, its individualistic outlook and not least its class character (the other characteristics are virtually products of this). We Sing For The Future is a composition based on a song. The song is for youth, who face bleak prospects in a world dominated by imperialism, and whose aspirations can only be realised through the victory of revolution and socialism. In the framework of a solo piano piece lasting about 12 minutes, something of this great struggle is conveyed. The music is not programmatic, but relies on the fact that music has meaning and can be understood quite straightforwardly as part of the fabric of what is going on in the world.
"I wrote the Thälmann Variations in 1974 to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Ernst Thälmann, Secretary of the German Communist Party from 1927. In 1933 he was imprisoned by the Nazis and in 1944 he was executed in Buchenwald concentration camp. The theme of the variations is the Thälmann Song (1934) which is still popular today in the German Workers' movement. The variations are grouped into three large sections."
Clearly, by announcing his political agenda Cardew's intention was to raise the stakes. In all his work, ethical, ?extra-musical? considerations were put to the fore; these were the standards by which his music was to be judged and were at the root of the fundamental changes in his music-making in the seventies. More mundanely, his musical options were a consequence of what he perceived as political necessity, i.e., the imperatives of the Party Line.
Rzewski's interpretations of these two works are wholly admirable, the performances compelling, and the two improvisations towards the conclusion of We Sing For The Future -- an unexpected bonus -- are quite magnificent. He stretches the boundaries of style and musical language drawn up by Cardew without rupturing them, and, at the end of the improvisations, Cardew's music is ushered back, seamlessly and convincingly. In the second improvisation we are reminded of the great Bach/Liszt transcriptions; there can be no higher praise. Cardew would certainly have approved the inclusion of the improvisations and would have relished the verve and boldness of Rzewski's playing.
--from the notes by John Tilbury
ReviewsAs a pianist, Rzewski's fierce yet flexible rhythm, scintillating fingers, and immense personality make these works vividly alive and meaningful. His improvised cadenzas toward the end of We Sing for the Future jack up the expressive stakes several notches. This is a treasurable and important release. Composer/pianist John Tilbury provides excellent, informative annotations. - Jed Distler