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Julius Eastman

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Evil Nigger (1979)
Work Notes
Music Sales/G. Schirmer is the source for performance materials of works by Julius Eastman. In the event performance material is unavailable, apply for a license to prepare a transcription or arrangement.
Music Sales Corporation
Works for 2-6 Players
Year Composed
21 Minutes
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Programme Note
Julius Eastman Evil Nigger (1979)
Julius Eastman's Evil Nigger (1979) was premiered on four pianos in January 1980 at Northwestern University with Eastman playing and guiding the performance. Although usually performed on four pianos, Evil Nigger can be played on any number of similar instruments, which on melody instruments would be seventeen. It opens at a blistering pace with a simple downward melodic figure that is repeated throughout the piece. There is also a continuo-like figure played in the bass that occurs throughout, which acts as a 'meeting place' at times, its entry counted off for a unison entry, as in pop music.
The initial melody and continuo figure are fairly tonal, in a minor key, until about midpoint, played against repeated strings of consonant and dissonant notes. At the midpoint of the piece, the melody is heard in all keys, creating clouds of sound, and then it thins out, beginning to slow down, with the melody and continuo figures appearing less frequently, until about three quarters of the way, long sustained pitches appear, as confrontational and unexpected as the title would have led you to believe the whole piece would be like. And then the sounds become untethered, longer and sparser, like balloons released into the air &mdah; they float off into the distance until they can no longer be heard.
— Mary Jane Leach

  • Soloist(s)
    Joanna Duda, Bartek Wąsik, Emilia Sitarz, Mischa Kozłowski, pianos
    Bôłt :
  • Ensemble
    Creative Associates
    New World Records:
  • Soloist(s)
    Jace Clayton,David Friend, Emily Manzo, Aftab, Arooj, pianos
    New Amsterdam :
The performance was introduced with an archival recording of Eastman eloquently explaining his title at the 1979 premiere. He said he felt there was, for him, an elegant fundamentalism to a term that had become disabused. Of course, he knew full well that he was asking for, and wanting, trouble.

The work in question indeed asks for trouble, and it is amazing. Written for four or more melody instruments (Eastman used pianos because that's what he had), it is a nearly indecipherable and somewhat Minimalist score with melodic lines of repeated notes and tremolos presented without instruction. The result is a work that shares many repetitious and harmonic aspects of the phase and pulse music that Philip Glass and Steve Reich were writing at the time, but Eastman adds an element of unpredictable ecstatic liberation.

It is almost as though the notes themselves are packed with helium. For an unrelenting 22 minutes, Dynasty Battles, Michelle Cann, Joanne Pearce Martin and Vicki Ray produced great piano waves that grew, crested and broke, each more exhilarating than the last. When it all ended, I had the sensation of a fundamental cause that could not be stopped.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,21/02/2018
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