Magazine article Gramophone

J Wolfe: Anthracite Fields

Magazine article Gramophone

J Wolfe: Anthracite Fields

Article excerpt

J Wolfe

Anthracite Fields

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street / Julian Wachner;

Bang on a Can All- Stars

Cantaloupe (F) CA21111 (60' * DDD)

Anthracite Fields is the Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio for choir and six-piece amplified ensemble (specifically the Bang on a Can All-Stars) by New York composer Julia Wolfe. Its subject is early-20th-century coal mining in Pennsylvania, where Wolfe grew up in the 1960s. The text comes from accident indexes, newspaper ads and political speeches. Anthracite is the purest form of coal, the diamond in the rough that is dirty, loud and dangerous to mine--Wolfe's music is never shy about its symbolism. She visited pits and museums and retired miners for her research and their claustrophobia and hard graft is writ plain in the score. This is social history in music, which I suspect ticked several boxes for the Pulitzer judges.

There are five movements. 'Foundation' is dark and gritty, with clanging eruptions and men chanting the names of miners injured in the pits. The singing is rough, static and relentless: if you drew its contours, you'd get blocks of single colour. …

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