A Dangerous Man
for baritone & piano (1990)
American Composers Alliance, 35 minutes
“I don’t know of another composer who has created a special genre like this and made it her own.”
(Marshall Bialosky, Composer USA)
A Dangerous Man is a highly dramatic, staged monodrama about John Brown, abolitionist fighter in Kansas and instigator of the watershed events at Harpers Ferry in 1859, said by W.E.B. DuBois to have begun the war to end slavery. The texts include letters by Brown himself, commentary by contemporaries such as Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, Emerson and Lincoln, along with excerpts from the Kansas Slave Code, and verbatim accounts of his trial. The piece is meant as a cautionary tale with a clear message for us today.
A Dangerous Man was commissioned by the Center for the Creative Arts at Austin Peay State University and premiered there in 1992 by baritone Kenneth Lee and pianist Jeffrey Wood. In addition, the piece was performed at a festival of the Society of Composers at the University of Alabama.
See texts and page 2 of score below.
There is a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded.
I see this blood flowing now. (Thoreau)
The cry of distress of the oppressed calls me.
Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins. (John Brown)
Lincoln said of me–
“An enthusiast broods over the oppression of a people
until he fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them.
He ventures the attempt which ends in little else than his own execution.”
He died as the fool dieth.
He threw his life away.
A dangerous man.
What will he gain by it?
He is undoubtedly insane.
Served him right.
He died as the fool dieth.
He threw his life away.
A dangerous man. (Thoreau)
I, John Brown, true descendent of Peter Brown of the Mayflower Pilgrims,
vow eternal war with slavery.
I act from a principle. My aim and object is to restore human rights.
I expect nothing but to endure hardship; but I expect to effect a mighty conquest
even though it be like the last victory of Samson. (John Brown)
In 1700 it would have cost something to overthrow slavery and establish liberty;
by reason of cowardice and blindness, the cost in 1800 was vastly larger
but still not unpayable; in 1859, now is the accepted time. It will cost–even blood
and suffering–but not as much as waiting. (W.E.B. DuBois, John Brown)
Do you say that ours is a Democratic Government, and there is a more peaceable remedy? I deny that we live under a Democracy. It is an oligarchy of Slaveholders, and I point to the history of half a century to prove it.
(Rev. Thomas Higginson)
(It is vain to reason with slaveholders. One might as well hunt bears with ethics and political economy for weapons.) (Frederick Douglass)
Rather than thus consent to establish a hell upon earth I would touch a match to blow up earth and hell together.
They are the lovers of law and order who observe the law when the government breaks it. (Thoreau)
It is so strange to find oneself outside of established institutions;
to be obliged to lower one’s voice and conceal one’s purpose;
to see law and order, police and the military on the wrong side,
and find good citizenship a sin and bad citizenship a duty, that takes time. (Rev. Higginson)
I do not wish to kill nor to be killed, but I can foresee circumstances in which both these things would be unavoidable.
Whar you going?
To Osawatomie in Kansas.
Whar you from?
You’ll never live to git there.
We are prepared not to die alone.
It is believed that Osawatomie is in danger any day or night.
The place is known as an abolition nest.
(Florilla Adair, Brown’s sister)
No man’s life is safe; no kind of property secure. A guerilla war exists in Kansas.
(New York Daily Tribune, May 5, 1856)
In Kansas the question is never raised, is he a Democrat? Is he a Republican?
The questions there raised are, Is he a Free-State man? or, Is he a proslavery man? (John Brown)
In Kansas, “If any free person shall advise any slaves to rebel, such person shall
be guilty of felony and suffer death.” (Section 3, Kansas Slave Code)
I, with six sons and a son-in-law, was called out twice to defend Lawrence.
We were at Osawatomie–I wept at the burning–and at Franklin and again at the Battle of Black Jack.
For some time now we have been sick, wounded, obliged to lie on the ground without
shelter, our boots worn out, destitute of money and almost in a state of starvation.
I saw three mangled bodies which had lain on the open ground for the flies to
work at. One of those dead was my own son.
At Pottawatomie I ordered the execution of five men. We dragged them from their beds, questioned them closely, and hacked them to death in the night. My son, John, resigned from the unit and my sons Owen and Jason accused me of a wicked crime.
God sees it. God is my judge.
I say they had a perfect right to die.
(John Brown, “An Idea of Things in Kansas;”
Salmon Brown, “John Brown & Sons in
Kansas Territory;” and
John Brown, quoted in Thoreau’s diary)
NEGRO INSURRECTION AT HARPERS FERRY, VIRGINIA–STOP–SEIZURE OF THE UNITED STATES ARSENAL–STOP–BRIDGE FROM MARYLAND FORTIFIED AND DEFENDED BY CANNON–TRAINS FIRED INTO–TELEGRAPH WIRES CUT–HOTELS CLOSED–EVERY LIGHT IN TOWN EXTINGUISHED–ALL ROADS LEADING THERE BARRICADED AND GUARDED–ADDING NEW FLAMES TO THE FIRES OF EXCITEMENT THE NAME OF THE LEADER IS OSAWATOMIE BROWN!
Stand by one another while a drop of blood remains. Be hanged if you must but tell no tales out of school. Nothing so charms the American people as personal bravery.
I believe a conspiracy has been formed in this raid upon Virginia, extending not only over a portion of the United States, but also into England.
The whole scheme is said to have been hatched in Boston.
(Telegraph from Harpers Ferry)
Papers found confirm that a Provisional Government was to be attempted.
John Brown said if we would allow him to take our niggers off without making any fuss, he would not kill anybody.
(Reuben Davis, Congressional Globe (12/8/1859))
The outbreak has assumed startling proportions and may prove the first act of a terrible drama.
(New York Herald)
–Old Brown should be killed here and now.
–Leave him to Heaven. He won’t last another hour.
–Heaven will not have that buzzard.
It will spew him forth.
–We will let one of you hostages put the noose on him.
If Old Brown is executed, there will be thousands to dip their handkerchiefs in his blood.
(The Yeoman, Frankfurt, NY)
We desire, if Brown and his coadjutors are executed, to add their heads to the collection in our museum at the University of Virginia Medical School. If the transference of the bodies will not exceed a cost of $5 each, we should be glad to have them.
(Professor of Anatomy, University of Virginia Medical School)
John Brown with six half-gaping wounds bathing his mattress in blood and the ghostly presence of his two dead sons ever beside him; justice in a hurry and overleaping all obstacles; 40 minutes of deliberation and three men sentenced to die. I declare on my honor that this took place, not in Turkey, but in America.
(From Victor Hugo’s letter to the London Daily News)
People are surprised at father’s daring to invade Virginia with only 22 men; but I think if they knew what sort of men they were, there would be less surprise. I never saw such men.
My men took more care to end life well than to live life long.
Dangerfield Newby, forty-eight, born a slave with seven slave children,
the first to die;
William Thompson, blond and burly, taken prisoner and murdered
and thrown off the bridge;
Aaron Stevens, six foot two, strong as a bull, shot under a flag of truce,
jailed and hanged;
Watson Brown, my own son, shot with Stevens, died of wounds;
William Leeman, shot while surrendering, used for target practice;
John Kagi, second in command, bearded and handsome,
eloquent spokesman, shot and died of wounds;
Lewis Leary from Oberlin, Ohio, the second black to die;
Oliver, my son, only twenty, wounded and died in agony;
Owen Brown, my son, experienced engineer on the Underground Railway,
escaped and led four others to safety: Charles Tidd, John Cook,
Frances Meriam, Barclay Coppoc;
Osborn Anderson, a free black from Canada, on his own account,
escaped and lived to write about it;
Stewart Taylor, foretold his death;
Dauphin Thompson, just twenty-one; Jeremiah Anderson; both dead.
All the rest, captured, jailed and hanged:
Edwin Coppoc; John Cook; Shields Green, a runaway slave;
Albert Hazlett; John Copeland, a student, the fourth black to die.
And I, John Brown, found guilty of treason, conspiracy and murder and sentenced to hang, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged but with blood.
(last written words of John Brown)
You had better prepare yourselves for a settlement of this question. You may dispose of me easily–I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled. The end is not yet.
(John Brown quoted by DuBois)
I cannot better serve the cause I love so much than to die for it and mingle my blood with the blood of my children for the furtherance of justice.
So let it be done. (John Brown)
Blow ye the trumpet, blow.
The year of Jubilee is come.
(Charles Wesley, 1750)
Year of meteors! brooding year!
I would bind in words retrospective some of your deeds and signs,
I would sing how an old man, tall, with white hair, mounted
the scaffold in Virginia.
Your chants, O year all mottled with evil and good–year of forebodings!
Year of comets and meteors transient and strange!
As I flit through you hastily, soon to fall and be gone, what is this chant,
What am I myself but one of your meteors?
(Walt Whitman, 1859-60)