On September 11, 2001, a series of coordinated suicide bombings targeted in New York City and Washington, D.C. took the lives of nearly 3,000 people and injured over 6,000. This single event marked a change in the history of the United States and the world. In the decade to follow, there have been many artistic memorials and dedications to the event ranging from fine art to poetry to documentaries to pop music. However, it's classical music that proves to be the most used means of memorializing. Like Britten's "War Requiem" commemorating the bombed Coventry Cathedral, the works below commemorate the tradgedy of 9/11.
1. John Adams - On the Transmigration of Souls
Commissioned in 2002, by the New York Philharmonic for the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks, John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls is a "memory space" allowing listeners to reflect and remeber the lives lost and the survivors whose lives were forever altered. Adams has said that the word trasmigration refers to the souls of lost lives as well as those who were affected by the tragedy changing states, or simply moving from one place to another. Adams inspiration and text came from the missing person notices, prayers, and letters left by loved ones at ground zero.
Purchase on Amazon: John Adams, On the Transmigration of Souls
Inspired first by an antiwar poem titled "One Sweet Morning" by E.Y. Harburg ("Over the Rainbow" 1939), composer John Corigliano took a total of four poems and wove them together to create a powerful song cycle that is more about the tragedy of war rather than 9/11; Gorigliano felt the memories of 9/11 were too tragic. By composing on a more encompassing scale, he is able to direct the listener through the piece by the words of the poems. Each poem comes from a different moment in time - Homer's The Iliad, Li Po's "War South of the Great Wall" (8th century), Czeslaw Milosz's "A Song on the End of the World" (1944), and "One Sweet Morning." This piece is set for its world premier on Sept. 30 at Avery Fisher Hall with the NY Philharmonic.
Robert Moran was commissioned by the Trinity Wall Street Church organist, Robert Ridgell. it was only after he agreed to compose a piece of music that he found it would be performed as part of the 9/11 anniversary. Hesitant to write music for an event so tragic and fresh in our hearts, he chose to set music to the requiem mass as it is nearly fail-safe. Knowing the piece would be performed by a children's chorus, he wrote the piece as a reflection of the millions of children around the world with little hope or possibility of better futures (children born in third world countries with little food, whose parents' lives were lost, those born into terrible governments, etc...). The piece premeired in the Trinity Church on Sept. 7, 2011.
4. Joan Tower - In Memory
"The Tokyo String Quartet commissioned this string quartet composition in 2001. This one-movement piece about death and loss was written in memory of one of my friends, and later, of those who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks." - Joan Tower.
Included within the score is Tower's program note written above. From angry passages of chaos to slow and balanced harmonies of resolve, the 12-15 minute piece, though small, is full of emotion.
Purchase on Amazon: Joan Tower's In Memory
5. Anthony Davis - Restless Mourning
Davis' Restless Mourning premiered on May 31, 2002. The work is an oratorio for mixed chorus and chamber ensemble (and even electronics) with texts from poetry by Quincy Troupe and Allan Havis, and Psalm 102. Troupe's and Havis' poetry comes from actual responses from victims, witnesses, and responders, and tells an encompassing story of 9/11 through the eyes of one of the plane pilots, a person standing atop the World Trade Center, and even from the perpective of the terrorist.
6. Steve Reich - WTC 9/11
A New Yorker himself, Steve Reich's WTC 9/11 was composed for the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001. For this powerful and hypnotic piece, Reich employs a method of synthesis that modifies and manipulates sound bites taken from recordings of firemen, air traffic controllers, witnesses, and responders from that day. Reich stretches and auto-tunes these clips, and matches them to the underlying score played by the Kronos Quartet. At the start of the piece, he quickly captures your attention with the familiar alarm of a phone after it's been off the hook for too long. He then begins to recall the events of 9/11 through his manipulated recordings. Reich's WTC 9/11 was released on September 20, 2011.
Purchase on Amazon: Reich's WTC 9/11
7. Michael Gordon - The Sad Park
Though employing a similar method of electronic sythesis as Steve Reich, as well as being performed by the Kronos Quartet, Michael Gordon's take on 9/11 is quite different. Also a New Yorker, he discovered that the teacher of his son's class of 3 to 4 year olds had been recording the conversations the kids would have with eachother about the destruction of the World Trade Center. He received a copy of the tape, and several years later, composed Sad Park in 2006. In order to keep his piece simple, he used only four lines of text throughout his work - the first: two evil planes broke in little pieces and fire came. As the work progressed, Gordon stretched the lines of speech to reveal underlying musical tones and phrases within the voices.
8. Stephen Paulus - Prayers and Remembrances
Prayers and Remberances by Stephen Paulus was written for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The half-hour oratorio features a variety of texts from secular and non-secular sources. Like several of the composers above, Paulus did not write the music with only the 9/11 tragedies in mind. He composed his piece with the larger picture of civilization's history as there have been many tragedies before 9/11, and sadly thereafter. Paulus's work was premiered on September 11, 2011, with the Tucson Chamber Artists.