UNLOCKED arises out of my interest in the magnificent collection of American folksongs in the Library of Congress, Washington, collected by John and Alan Lomax in the 1930s. A significant proportion of the songs were collected from prisoners - mostly black prisoners in Southern jails. The piece is made up of freely composed cello 'fantasias' inspired by five of these songs:
No.1 (Make Me A Garment) is based on a song sung by a prisoner in Florida who was found by the Lomaxes in the tuberculosis ward and could only whisper his song.
No.2 (No Justice) is a set of variations, using extended playing techniques,grownig out of a simple prison song from Georgia (original title 'Oh we don't get no justice in Atlanta').
No 3 (The Wind Blow East) comes from fragments of a chorus heard in the Bahamas - it represents the prisoner's dream of a better life.
No.4 (The Keys To The Prison) is based on an original song sung by a 15-year old (Cajun) girl in French. In the song, a boy in prison sings to his mother, 'Hey mom, I've got the keys to the prison and I'm going to escape'. She says 'How come, when the warders have the keys hanging round their necks ?' and so it goes on. The music composed around it is very fast and agile, and for me represents the prisoner's fantasy that the prison doors are suddenly wide open, and the guards have all gone.
No.5 (Trouble,Trouble) is a transcription/arrangement of a blues sung by a prisoner in Alabama.
UNLOCKED was written for Ulrich Heinen, and first performed by him in Birmingham, England in May 1999.
© Judith Weir