Art from heartbreak
The New York Philharmonic last week premiered a new multimedia oratorio that uses music and old images and film footage to commemorate one of the deadliest industrial incidents in the history of the U.S. – the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
“Fire in my Mouth,” by composer Julia Wolfe, is sung by a chorus of 146 women and girls, a number corresponding to that of the victims killed in the disaster, who were mostly female. Many were immigrants to the U.S. and some were as young as 14.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred in New York City on March 25, 1911, when fire broke out on the 8th floor and workers were trapped by doors that were locked to prevent them from taking unauthorized breaks. Those killed died from smoke, smoke inhalation or from falling or jumping to their deaths to escape the fire.
There was no alarm system for notifying workers about the fire. An investigation determined that accumulated fabric scraps intensified the fire hazard in the building.
The death toll from the fire horrified the nation and led to reforms in occupational safety.
Wolfe drew upon oral histories and speeches made at the time of the incident for her inspiration.
The performers are members of the Crossing chamber choir and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. “Fire in my Mouth” is conducted by the Philharmonic’s music director, Jaap van Zweden, and directed by Anne Kauffman.