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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
From Julius Eastman’s remarks to the audience before the premieres of Crazy Nigger, Evil Nigger, and Gay Guerrilla in January 1980 during his composer-residency at Northwestern University:
“Now, there was, there was a little problem with the titles of the piece. There were some students — and one faculty member — who felt that the titles were somehow derogatory in some manner, being that the word ‘nigger’ is in it. These particular titles: the reason I use them is because — in fact, I use — there is a whole series of these pieces, and they’re called the Nigger Series. Now, the reason I use that particular word is because, for me, it has a — what is, what I call — a basic-ness about it. That is to say, I feel that — and in any case, the first niggers were, of course, field niggers, and upon that is really the basis of what I call the American economic system: without field niggers you wouldn’t really have such a great and grand economy that we have. So, that is what I call the First and Great Nigger: field niggers. And what I mean by niggers is that thing which is fundamental, that person or thing that obtains to a basic-ness, a fundamental-ness, and eschews that thing which is superficial, or — what can we say — elegant. So that a nigger, for me, is that kind of thing which is: attains himself or herself to the ground of anything, you see. And that’s what I mean by nigger — so, there are many niggers, there are many kinds of niggers. There might be — there are, of course, ninety-nine names of Allah but then there are fifty-two niggers. And so, therefore, we are playing two of these niggers.“
- Focus on Minimal Music by Julius Eastman in Munich
- 25th February 2022
- Julius Eastman’s works will be highlighted at the Lenbachhaus München with several concerts in March 2022, performed by Münchener Kammerorchester and Kukuruz Quartett. Each performance will be livestreamed on the Lenbachaus website