Sunday, November 13, 2011

Music for change

"Music must flow. It must be a thread from no one knows just where. 
It must not be a problem in mathematics."

On today's date in 1933, Ruth Crawford Seeger's String Quartet debuted in New York. Often deemed the most significant American female composer of the 20th century, Seeger (who was the mother of folk musicians Mike and Peggy and the stepmother of Pete) left her mark both on classical and folk music. With Aaron Copland and Henry Cowell, she was a key member of the 1920s musical avant garde. In the 20s she collaborated with Carl Sandburg on folk song arrangements, and in the 1930s she worked with song collectors John and Alan Lomax. The Depression sparked a lifelong commitment to social change, a legacy that she passed on to all of her children. Seeger would be far better known had the twin exigencies of raising a big family and her tragic early death from cancer not prevented her from leaving a body of work commensurate with her gifts. Still one can marvel at what she did leave, including her masterpiece, the string quartet.
We recommend American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 5 and Folk Songs for Young People by Pete Seeger, as well as the book "To Everything There is a Season": Pete Seeger and the Power of Song. We also have (and love) brother Mike's True Vine. Below are the third and fourth movements of the quartet.

Further reading: Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Virtual Autobiography, by Judith Tick. Remembrances by Peggy and Mike appear here as well.

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