Program Notes: The Ludlow Lullabies

The Ludlow Lullabies [1989]
for violin and piano

During the northern summer of 1988, as I was driving through the state of Colorado, I came upon a curious and moving historical monument in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, about 110 miles south of Colorado Springs, which was to become my base for several years.

Ludlow is now a ghost town, not even a speck on the map, though it is the location of a remarkable incident, marked by the monument with the following inscription :

On April 29, 1914, the State Militia unleashed an unwarranted attack of
striking coal-miners and their families living in a tent colony at this site...

The attack was the fateful climax of miners attempting to achieve freedom from
oppression at the hands of coal company officials [working for the Rockefeller
family]. Miners worked unduly long hours under hazardous conditions for
meagre pay, and were forced to live in company-owned camps, buy from
company-owned stores and educate their children in company-dominated schools...

On September 23, 1913, miners struck in protest, calling for recognition of
the United Mine Workers Union. Eventually, the alleged peace-keeping militia
infiltrated with company gunmen, leading to the Ludlow Massacre.

Eleven children and two women suffocated in a cellar beneath a tent when
flames engulfed the shelter overhead. Militia rifle and machine gun fire claimed the
lives of at least five strikers, and two young passers-by...

For me, the most remarkable feature of this monument was the figure of a mother clutching a small child to her breast. Local folklore has it that one of the martyred mothers sang lullabies to her children as militia bullets hissed above them.

The Ludlow Lullabies, then, is a musical monument to those martyrs of Ludlow. It is not based on any know lullaby or folktune. It contrasts two kinds of music: the plaintive and disembodied lullaby-music counterposed against a more vigorous, motoric music, a contrast which symbolises the human vs mechanistic aspects of the incident. The work closes with an extended moment of farewell, the kind of abschied that is the signature touch of Gustav Mahler, the composer of an earlier Kindertotenlieder, which laments not only the death of children but, by extension, on a universal level, the loss of innocence.

Inside the piano, a high B-flat pitch has been plugged by the insertion of a screw between the strings, yielding the sound of a bell. This is the phantom schoolhouse bell which tolls plaintively across the desolate, windswept fields of the charred ghost town that was once Ludlow.

This work was written for Elizabeth Holowell and Robert Constable, two good friends from Newcastle, Australia, for their North American concert tour in October 1989. They gave its first performance on October 19, 1989, at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where I was Visiting Professor at the time.

Copyright Vincent Plush, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA - 1st October 1989