Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938)



The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (1978)

36 variations on a Chilean Song "El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido".


Thema "With determination"
Variation 1 "Weaving: delicate but firm"
Variation 2 "With firmness"
Variation 3 "Slightly slower with expressive nuances"
Variation 4 "Marcato"
Variation 5 "Dreamlike frozen"
Variation 6 "Same tempo as beginning"
Variation 7 "Lightly impatiently"
Variation 8 "With agility; not too much pedal; crisp"
Variation 9 "Evenly"
Variation 10 "Comodo recklessly"
Variation 11 "Tempo I like fragments of an absent melody — in strict time."
Variation 12
Variation 13
Variation 14 "A bit faster optimistically"
Variation 15 "Flexible like an improvisation"
Variation 16 "Same tempo as preceding with fluctuations; much pedal / Expansive with a victorious feeling"
Variation 17 "L.H. strictly: R.H. freely roughly in space"
Variation 18
Variation 19 "With energy"
Variation 20"Crisp precise"
Variation 21 "Relentless uncompromising"
Variation 22 "very expressionate"
Variation 23 "As fast as possible with some rubato"
Variation 24
Variation 25
Variation 26 "In a militant manner"
Variation 27 "Tenderly with a hopeful expression: cadenza"
Variation 28
Variation 29
Variation 30
Variation 31
Variation 32
Variation 33
Variation 34
Variation 35
Variation 36


Composed By – Frederic Rzewski
Engineer – Allan Tucker
Lyrics By – Quilapayún, Ortega*
Piano – Ursula Oppens
Producer – Joanna Nickrenz


Recorded under the supervision of the composer.
36 variations on a Chilean Song "El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido".
Recorded at Vanguard's 23rd Street Studio, New York.


The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (1975) is a piano composition by American composer Frederic Rzewski.

The People United is a set of 36 variations on the Chilean song "¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!" by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayún, and received its world premiere on February 7, 1976, played by Ursula Oppens as part of the Bi-Centennial Piano Series at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall. Rzewski dedicated the composition to Oppens, who had commissioned it as a companion piece to Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, and who recorded it in 1979; her recording was named "Record of the Year" in that year by Record World, and received a Grammy nomination.

The song on which the variations is based is one of many that emerged from the Unidad Popular coalition in Chile between 1969 and 1973, prior to the overthrow of the Salvador Allende government. Rzewski composed the variations in September and October 1975, as a tribute to the struggle of the Chilean people against a newly imposed repressive regime; indeed the work contains allusions to other leftist struggles of the same and immediately preceding time, such as quotations from the Italian traditional socialist song "Bandiera Rossa" and the Bertolt Brecht-Hanns Eisler "Solidarity Song."

In general, the variations are short, and build up to climaxes of considerable force. The 36 variations, following the 36 bars of the tune, are in six groups of six. The pianist, in addition to needing a virtuoso technique, is required to whistle, slam the piano lid, and catch the after-vibrations of a loud attack as harmonics: all of these are "extended" techniques in 20th-century piano writing. Much of the work uses the language of 19th-century romanticism, but mixes this language with pandiatonic tonality, modal writing, and even serial techniques.

As in the Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, the final variation is a direct restatement of the original theme, intended to be heard with new significance after the long journey through the variations.



Attica / Coming Together / Les Moutons de Panurge (1973)

1. Coming Together

Bass – Richard Youngstein
Producer – Mike Sahl
Vibraphone – Karl Berger
Piano, Electric Piano – Frederic Rzewski
Synthesizer – Alvin Curran
Written-by [Text] – Sam Melville
Viola – Joan Kalisch
Trombone – Garrett List
Engineer – Eddie Korvin
Voice [Speaker] – Steve Ben Israel
Saxophone [Alto] – Jon Gibson


2. Attica

Trumpet [Piccolo] – Alvin Curran
Bass – Richard Youngstein
Voice [Speaker] – Steve Ben Israel
Vibraphone – Karl Berger
Written-by [Text] – Richard X. Clark
Viola – Joan Kalisch
Trombone – Garrett List
Piano – Frederic Rzewski
Engineer – Jan Rathbun
Saxophone [Alto] – Jon Gibson


3. Les Moutons de Panurge

Xylophone – Anne Otte
Vibraphone, Glockenspiel – Christopher Braun
Percussion [Nabimba] – Richard Kvistad
Percussion – Blackearth Percussion Group
Percussion [Almglocken] – Garry Kvistad
Engineer – Steven Ovitsky



From Group 180, recorded 1980

1. Coming Together

Bass – Tamás Tóth
Bassoon – László Vörös
Celesta – András Soós
Cello – Klára Schnierer
Clarinet – Ferenc Simon
Engineer [Balance] – István Zakariás
Flute – Tibor Szemző
Narrator – Péter Forgács
Oboe – János Kálnai
Other [Technical Management] – János Krajcsovics
Photography – György Hegedűs
Piano – Kinga Székely
Producer [Recording] – István Mártha
Saxophone – Mihály Dresch
Synthesizer – Béla Faragó
Trombone – László Gő
Viola – Ferenc Körmendy


2. Attica

Recorded At – Blue Rock Studio
Composed By, Liner Notes – Frederic Rzewski
A and B1 composed in 1972 and recorded April 20, 1973 at Blue Rock Studio in NYC.
B2 composed in 1969 and recorded at the University of Northern Illinois DeKalb, Illinois, May 10, 1973.


Rzewski's "Coming Together" is unquestionably one of the great Minimalist masterpieces, and this first recording of it is absolutely incredibly amazing. It's ridiculous that it's never been re-released.

"Coming Together" is an extremely simple piece. It's really nothing more than a short text read over a repetitive, fast sequence, much of which is played in unison. But the overall effect it creates is of a very slow build up of tension to an incredible climax after 19 minutes.

The text comes from a letter written by Sam Melville, who was an inmate at Attica prison, and was one of the leaders of the 1971 Attica riots, where Melville was killed.

The music starts with the piano playing fast rhythmic notes while most of the other instruments playing longer tones over this foundation. Gradually the other instruments start to play faster until they're all playing in a fast, tense unison.

The lineup on this recording is pretty amazing. Rzewski himself plays piano. Jon Gibson, who has worked with the big four minimalist composers (Young, Riley, Reich and Glass) as well as being an excellent composer himself, plays alto sax. Composer Alvin Curran, also of Rzewski's MEV group, plays synthesizer. Garrett List, whose beautiful LP Your Own Self will probably be the next thing I'll feature on this blog, plays trombone. Karl Berger play vibes, and has played on some classic ESP jazz recordings as well aso working with Don Cherry. Violist Joan Kalisch has played on recordings by Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane, and Richard Youngstein has worked with Paul Bley. The reading is done by stage actor Steve Ben Israel, who was a member of New York's Living Theatre.

The other pieces on the album are "Attica" and "Les Moutons de Panurge". "Attica" has the same lineup as "Coming Together", though Curran plays piccolo trumpet rather than synth, and is sort of a companion piece, with the text coming from a quote from former Attica prison inmate Richard X. Clark. It's much slower, calmer and droning than "Coming Together".

"Les Moutons de Panurge" is a classic piece of process music, whereby the performers are supposed to play a very long melodic line through a process of adding one note at a time (playing the first note, then the first and second notes, and so on). The interesting bit of the piece comes in the instruction that if the performers forget where they are in the piece (which should happen pretty easily), they are to continue playing but not try to find their way back together again. The piece is played here by the Blackearth Percussion Group.

This LP was recorded in 1973 and released on the excellent Opus One records - all the covers of LPs on the label were meant to respond to black light! Trippy.

Notes by Aaron Oppenheim, The Incessant Noise



A Visit With Frederic Rzewski (January 19, 1989)

Charles Amirkhanian and Russ Jennings are joined in the KPFA studio by Frederic Rzewski, an American composer and performer, who has spent much of his adult life living in Rome and Brussels. Rzewski was a founding member of the radical, electronic, music group, Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV), and the composer of a famous set of piano variations based on Sergio Ortega protest song “El Pueblo Undio Jamas Sera Vencido”. He is known for both his remarkable virtuosity as a performer, improviser and composer, as well as his committed involvement in leftist politics. How he resolves these in his work is a challenge which he has pursued with thoughtfulness and inventiveness of an uncommon sort. In this program he introduces a number of his pieces and talks about how his political views have influenced his work


Frederic Rzewsk Interview (January 9, 1989)

Charles Amirkhanian interviews one of the most important American composer/performers of the past quarter century, Frederic Rzewski, who has lived in Rome and Brussels during that period. The composer of a famous set of piano variations on Victor Jara's “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido”, Rzewski discusses his recent music and artistic tastes. Rzewski is known for both his remarkable virtuosity as a performer, improviser and composer, and his committed involvement in left politics. How he resolves these in his work is a problem which he has concluded with thoughtfulness and inventiveness of an uncommon sort.