RZEWSKI Frederic, Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues

As a composer and pianist, Frederic Rzewski’s (pron. Shev-skee) career was marked by works that tackled social issues head on, with a style that was often deliberately confrontational, violent and called on immense physical demands from performers.

The Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues was a song that workers would sing and whistle in the 1930s, whilst at work in a textile factory in South Carolina. The original song opens with the verse:


Ol’ man seargent sittin’ at the desk
The damn ol’ fool won’t give us no rest
He’d take the nickels off a dead man’s eyes
To buy a Coca-Cola an’ a eskimo pie.


In Rzewski’s version for solo piano, the gorgeous bluesy song emerges out of the mechanical noise of the factory, which the performer has to create using their forearms as well as their hands.


© Music in the Round


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