Ruth Crawford Seeger: Rissolty, Rossolty
Ruth Crawford Seeger’s unique and academic style of writing stood her music apart from many of her contemporaries. After a bumpy time after the Depression in the 1930s, Crawford Seeger took a new path to link her family name to folk music. After transcribing a number of folk music for piano, Crawford Seeger wrote her only orchestral work, Rissolty, Rossolty. It came from a commission by CBS for Alan Lomax’s folk music radio programme.
Instead of just showcasing some folk tunes, Crawford Seeger took some of the original melodies and created some complex and sophisticated polyphony within the orchestra. The playful opening theme is initiated by the strings and clarinets. The bouncy rhythm is light and cheeky in character, with the whirling winds adding a touch of the whimsical.
As the tunes begin to interweave, different instruments step into the forefront to present their tune. From a solo fiddle to a solo horn, the melodies are evenly spread across sections. The tempo begins to pick up, which adds lots of excitement to the rustic theme being played by the violins. The folk tunes, now thoroughly mixed up, are coming from all angles of the orchestra, with the trumpets stating their tune above the rest. The unusual ending has the woodwind play a fragment of the opening melody once before the sudden end. Crawford Seeger did this to adhere to folk music tradition of not formalising endings.
Unlike most of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s works, Rissolty, Rossolty is a playful and accessible work that is over far too soon.
Ⓒ Alex Burns