Strut (1989) for string orchestra is inspired by the great black American Paul Robeson (1898-1976). Robeson was perhaps the most passionately outspoken advocate of American racial equality in his time. Although trained as a lawyer, Robeson was widely admired for his acting, on stage as Shakespeare's Othello and in films such as "The Emperor Jones" (1932) and "Showboat" (1936), and in concert as a singer of black American spirituals. At the height of his career, in the 1940's, he devoted his energy to the National Negro Congress and labor unions, using his international celebrity to openly criticize the Ku Klux Klan and segregations laws around the world. Fluent in many languages, Robeson believed that the pre-Stalin philosophy of the Soviet Union would improve the condition of all oppressed people. He was kept under close surveillance by J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. because of "subversive" acts like singing Communist songs alongside "Old Man River" in concerts. His passport was revoked from 1950 to 1958, forcing his film and concert career to a virtual standstill. In 1958 he revived his musical activities abroad, but illness forced him into early retirement.
The buoyancy and fearless fiddling of Strut reflects the visionary optimism of the Harlem Renaissance. From 1920 until about 1930, the Harlem Renaissance marked an unprecedented outburst of creative activity in all fields of Afro-American art in which Paul Robeson was a central figure. Imagining a youthful and optimistic Robeson strutting down 125th street in Harlem in the 1920s, I have created various rhythmic motives themes and vibrant syncopations that are woven into a lively and complex rhythmic tapestry.
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