On "Mississippi Sawyer" - (2018)   

for piano


The Library of Congress's entry and audio of the tune for fiddle notes: " 'Mississippi Sawyer' is one of the most widely distributed Southern fiddle tunes in America, being known today not just in the South but in all regions of thecountry. It appears in Knauff, Virginia Reels (1839), vol. 4, #4, entitled 'Love from the Heart.' Curiously, the same collection has the earliest appearance of the title 'Mississippi Sawyer,' but it is to a quite different tune.


"The title refers to a frightening phenomenon during floods on the Mississippi. Great trees would be wrenched from the bank by flood waters and would be dragged underwater in the raging torrent, only to impale themselves in the bottom and rise like monsters from the deep to threaten the paths of boats struggling to navigate the flood. This was the dread Mississippi sawyer. Folklorist Roger Welsch once suggested that the rocking of the fiddle bow required to play this tune simulated bobbing along in a Mississippi river flood.


"Sets of 'Mississippi Sawyer' may be found in Ford, Traditional Music of America, p. 32; Brown, The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore vol. 5, 413-414 'Mississippi Lawyer'; Adam, Old Time Fiddlers' Favorite Barn Dance Tunes #8; Ruth, Pioneer Western Folk Tunes, p. 13. A related tune is 'Downfall of Paris,' for which see O'Neill's Music of Ireland #1562, Thomas and Leeder, Singin' Gatherin', p. 59." The Fiddlers Companion collects and shares much more information on fiddle tunes, should interest be sparked.


Given that the fiddle was for generations a folk instrument used in many traditions, stemming originally from European sources, the popularity of such folks tunes was in part the ease with which they could travel. Variations of fiddle tunes are also found for dulcimer and banjo and in various combinations with regional stylistic varieties abounding.  The notion of reinterpreting this tune for piano, along a classical scheme of sorts, fits with the survey of other essays on tunes as have inspired such small sketches. That an individual or small ensemble could make such energetic and joyous music even in those more difficult, less prosperous times than today in the West is a testament to the universal power of music.


The notion of cross-tuning of strings and modal colors suggested also some "wrong note" colors flavor this reinterpretation of the tune for solo piano.



3 pages, circa 3' 00" - an MP3 demo is here: 


The score 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 score.


On "Mississippi Sawyer"