I Had Five Long Years

Composer: 
Matthew Davidson
Duration (min): 
9

This single movement work is structured as follows: [A – variation1(a) – var2(a) – B – var1(b) – var2(b) – var2(c)– var1(c) – C]. Capital letters refer to themes, “var” refers to the different variations upon those themes. Although there is only one continuous movement, it is divided into three sections with the aforementioned contrasting variations. “A” is a transcription of a prison work song ‘I had five long years’ recorded at the notorious Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana in 1959 by Harry Oster (released on Folk-Lyric Recording Co., Louisiana Folklore Society). The original singer was James Russell and some other inmates.

To appreciate the anguish and bitterness behind these prison songs, one must become familiar with the outrageous conditions to which inmates were subjected during its worst years. “B” is a transcription of the railroad song, ‘John Henry’ as sung by Rich Amerson, a transient from Alabama as recorded by Harold Courlander in 1956 for Folkways Records. “I ain’t proud to be poor, but I ain’t too poor to be proud,” he was recorded as saying. Its treatment is also indicative of early jug band recordings of the 1920s which I enjoy. “C” is a transcription of the ‘Bayou Teche Waltz’ as played by Columbus Fruge, a Cajun accordion player and singer recorded in the 1920s. As stated previously, each transcription is dealt with in a set of two variations. Variation 1 is a polytonal variation to be played exactly as written. Variation 2 is an optional improvised section which can either be played exactly as notated or partially as notated and/or completely improvised thereupon.