Perpetuate Slavery Or is a musical response to the painting with this title by Alex Powers, found at the Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina. The artwork grapples with President Lincoln’s decision to engage in war with the slave-holding South, and heightens the human costs of both war and slavery. The music here portrays the complexities of the intolerable situation: unrest, slaves crying out against injustice, the weight of Lincoln’s solitary decision, the impending march of war which takes over. The end points towards a resolution which is still in process today.
Musical elements include violin tremolos, quarter tone inflections, bowing colors on the bridge and on the fingerboard, and harmonic glissandi; and piano tremolos with multiple pitches rumbling in the lowest register and later in high registers. There are also motivic references to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Southern Soldier Boy,” two songs of the period representing different sides of the conflict, but whose musical contours are almost indistinguishable. At the very end, there are faint references to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was composed for a celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in 1900 and has become a unifying anthem for the African-American experience.
Perpetuate Slavery Or is one in a series of three compositions for violin and piano titled “Carolina Gallery,” each responding to a work of art by an artist with South Carolina ties. The other two artists are Philip Mullen, whose painting “Women in the Country,” is on permanent display at the Koger Center for the Arts at the University of South Carolina, and Christian Thee, whose “Orientation Room” greets visitors at the Columbia Museum of Art. The compositions are commissioned by William Terwilliger for the Opus Two Duo, William Terwiliger, violin and Andrew Cooperstock, piano, and funded by the Office of the Provost at the University of South Carolina.
Violin bowings and fingerings suggested by William Terwilliger.