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The Mollies' Mark

Araburlesque (Live)Jason Brauer
00:00 / 09:09


picc.2.2.e hn.e-flat cl.2.2.cbsn.
timp./3 perc./harp strings
5 minutes



Year of composition

Program Note

The Molly Maguires were an alleged terrorist organization of mostly Irish Catholic immigrants active in the Anthracite region of Pennsylvania in the 1860s and 1870s. Because they faced religious discrimination and xenophobia, many were forced to work in perhaps the most dangerous, dirty, and low-paying job of the time: mining coal. Since there were few safety regulations or union rights, miners faced long hours, claustrophobic tunnels, cave-ins, gas fires, and black lung, a disease caused by exposure to coal dust. Furthermore, boys as young as six worked as breaker boys, seperating sharp coal from other rock without gloves.

To fight these terrible working conditions, the Molly Maguires grew out of previous secret societies into a sort of Irish mafia, burning buildings, threatening mine bosses with “coffin notices,” and killing enemies. To quell the violence (or, according to some, to eliminate unionizers), Franklin Gowen, president of a local railroad and coal company, hired a Pinkerton detective named James McParland to infiltrate the Mollies. Under the alias James McKenna, he went undercover for two years and even gained a secretorial position. Throughout 1876 and 1877, 20 Molly Maguires were charged with murder and sentenced to death in highly unconstitutional trials that relied almost entirely on McParland's testimony.

On Black Thursday (June 21, 1877), ten miners were hanged in Pottsville and Mauch Chunk, PA. According to legend, Alexander Campbell slapped a muddy handprint on his cell wall just before his execution and swore it would remain there forever as a sign of his innocence; though the wall has been scrubbed, painted over, and according to some even knocked down, the handprint remains and can be seen in the Carbon County Jail Museum today.

This piece depicts the rise and fall of the Molly Maguires through Irish folk-influenced style and industrial clanging. The first section is a caoineadh (lament) in which the English horn mimics the Uilleann pipes, traditional Irish bagpipes. In the second section, a demented jig, dissonant harmonies in the brass and percussion clash with variations on the folk-like theme in the woodwinds and strings, eventually corrupting the tune into a violent mixed-meter dance. This section is followed by a march to the scaffolds in which the brass play a slow, mournful chorale version of the folk theme while the woodwinds swirl frantically around it, as if begging for mercy. The section contains 20 percussion hits, one for each Molly put to death. Finallly, the opening lament returns briefly and fades unresolved to nothing.

Performance History

The Mollies' Mark was recorded by the World Symphony Youth Orchestra, conducted by Jung-Ho Pak, Interlochen Center for the Arts, MI, August 2018.

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