Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), an escaped slave, became the greatest African-American leader of the 19th century. A close friend of John Brown, Douglass is the central figure in this powerful new cantata by Kirke Mechem. The Sacramento Symphony previewed an earlier version of three of the movements on its 1991 Martin Luther King Day concerts, which the Sacramento Bee called "a sensational success ...beautiful writing for the chorus."
The work begins with new music to the text of John Brown's favorite hymn, "Blow Ye the Trumpet," a choral piece whose inspiring and solemn words prophesy both the day of jubilee and the martyr's death that Brown knew would hasten the destruction of slavery. The centerpiece of the suite is "Dan-u-el," a rousing piece in the rhythmic style of the black spiritual. Already published as an octavo, "Dan-u-el" has become one of the most acclaimed new American choral works, receiving worldwide performance.
In the suite's second movement, Douglass sings of the sorrows of the slave. In the fifth, he describes American slavery to an English audience, using all his powers of ridicule, pathos and mimicry. This leads directly into a finale that brings the cantata to a great climax, Douglass and the chorus singing a portion of the Declaration of Independence: "All men are created equal."