Freedom - (2008)    

Ambrose Bierce

for medium voice and piano


Freedom, as every schoolboy knows,
Once shrieked as Kosciusko fell;
On every wind, indeed, that blows
     I hear her yell.

She screams whenever monarchs meet,
And parliaments as well,
To bind the chains about her feet
     And toll her knell.

And when the sovereign people cast
The votes they cannot spell,
Upon the lung-impested blast
     Her clamors swell.

For all to whom the power's given
To sway or to compel,
Among themselves apportion heaven
     And give her hell.

[ 4 pages, circa 1' 45" ]

Ambrose Bierce


The reference to Polish general Tadeusz Kościuszko, who assisted United States military efforts during the American Revolution, and after whom a county in Alabama is named. The anglicized name of the township omits the "z;" Bierce's spelling follows the "American" version. (The Alabama County, Kosciusko, was originally named Red Bud Springs for one of three natural springs that were present in the city.) His brilliant service as an engineer during the American Revolution had largely made  possible the stunning American victory at Saratoga in October, 1777— the victory that turned the tide of war in the colonists’ favor. His planning and building of the defenses at West Point had rendered impregnable that most crucial of American strategic positions. And it was his mastery of logistics and terrain that on more than one occasion prevented the British from capturing a retreating American army. Kościuszko is reported to have said, "I look upon America as my second country.” In the struggle for Polish independence, he was captured and imprisoned by the Russians.



The text speaks with a clear, loud voice, with Bierce's choice of verbs like "shriek" and "yell," and nouns like "clamor" and "blast." For this a setting was suggested with forceful, driving accompaniment and some dissonant contrast between the reigning C minor and a spicy E-flat minor chord in its midst over a scalar bass line emphasizing the natural minor.



As Bierce created a four stanza poem, the obvious choice for a song form was chosen. The second strophe for this second stanza begins in similar fashion, minor changes to better reflect the scansion being made.



The contrasting bridge breaks the triple rhythm with a 6/8 feel in the vocal line over a driving longer scalar line in the accompaniment.



The score for Freedom is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.