The People United Will Never Be Defeated!
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.
The score essentially breaks down into 39 parts, one of which is an optional improvisation. The sections are labeled in the score as follows:
- 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
- Optional Improvisation
- Thema: (reprise)
A performance of the composition takes about 50 minutes, and longer if the performer chooses to improvise.
- Murray, Edward. "Frederic Rzewski", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed July 25, 2005), (subscription access)
- Wolff, Christian. Program notes by to Ursula Oppens Recording: Vanguard Classics CD OVC 8056.
Further reading 
- Bhagwati, Sandeep. 1992. "Von der Schönheit der Vielfalt in der Einheit: Notizen zu Frederic Rzewskis 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated'—36 Variationen über ein chilenisches Volkslied". Melos: Jahrbuch für zeitgenössische Musik 51:130–71.
- Sherr, Larry. 1985. "Vereinigung der Vielfalt: 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated!' von Frederic Rzewski". MusikTexte: Zeitschrift für Neue Musik, no. 11:38–48.
- Wason, Robert. 1988. "Tonality and Atonality in Frederic Rzewski's Variations on 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated'". Perspctives of New Music 26, no. 1 (Winter): 108–43.
- Frederic Rzewski (composer and piano), The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, recorded 1986, published 1990 by HAT HUT RECORDS LTD., Switzerland, hat ART CD 6066.
- Frederic Rzewski (composer and piano), The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, in Piano Works, 1975-1999, published 2002, Nonesuch 79623-2.
- Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 Variations on a Chilean Song. Ursula Oppens, piano. Vanguard Classics CD, OVC 8056.
- Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 Variations on a Chilean Song. Marc-André Hamelin, Hyperion Records CDA67077 (GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE).
- Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 Variations on a Chilean Song. Stephen Drury, piano. New Albion NA063. More info.
- Frederic Rzewski Plays Rzewski VAI DVD 4440, Video recording from the 2007 Miami International Piano Festival more info.
- Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 Variations on "¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!". Kai Schumacher, piano. Wergo WER67302. (fono forum magazine, pick of the month) More info.
- Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 Variations on a Chilean Song. Ralph van Raat, piano. Naxos 8.559360.
- Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 Variations on a Chilean Song. Thomas Schultz, piano. Wooden Fish Recordings (no number).
- Frederic Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 Variations on a Chilean Song. Yuji Takahashi, piano. ALM ALCD-19.
- Frederic Rzewski, "The People United Will Never Be Defeated". Christopher Hinterhuber, piano. paladino music pmr 0037 (2012) More info
- Zen-On Music Company Ltd publishes the score to The People United Will Never Be Defeated.