In honor of Labor Day, and therefore of the labor movement and the fact that the single biggest contributor to the America that exists is the American worker, here’s a piece that pays tribute to one of the fruits of all that labor: the automobile.
Frederick Shepherd Converse was an American composer who lived from 1871 to 1940, spanning the shift from Romanticism to Modernism. As such, he is known for a handful of works, the best known is the tone poem The Mystic Trumpeter.
The piece before us today is Converse’s tone poem Flivver Ten Million. The word “flivver” was a slang term for Ford automobiles back in the days of the Model T and shortly afterward, and Converse gave his piece the subtitle A Joyous Epic Inspired by the Familiar Legend “The Ten Millionth Ford is Now Serving Its Owner. Quite a long title for such a short work (it’s only twelve minutes!), but there it is. The work does seem redolent of the enthusiasm of 1930s America for the coming of the automobile, and as we all know, the shift to being an automobile culture shifted America in ways that we are still grappling with to this day.
Even though the work is a single movement, Converse divided Flivver Ten Million into sections:
1. Dawn in Detroit (sunrise over the city)
2. The Call to Labor (the auto workers report to work)
3. The Din of the Builders (factory workers)
4. The Birth of the Hero – He Tries His Metal (the car wanders off into the great world in
search of an adventure)
5. May Night by the Roadside – America’s Romance (love music via solo violin)
6. The Joy Rider’s – America’s Frolic (happy have a great time music)
7. The Collision – America’s Tragedy (poignant, sad intonations)
8. Phoenix Americans – The hero, righted and shaken, proceeds on his way with
redoubled energy, typical of the indomitable spirit of America (great fun)
As an added bonus of civic pride, this performance is a recording of the Buffalo Philharmonic, conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Here is Flivver Ten Million by Frederick Shepherd Converse.