The Well-Tempered Ear

What classical music best memorializes the terrorist attacks of 9/11? | September 11, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 11th anniversary of 9/11 – Sept. 11, 2001.

What is the best music to pay homage to those terrible events and that awful loss of life – and yes, of such landmark buildings as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City (below top), the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the Pennsylvania field where Flight 93 (below bottom) crashed to spare the White House or Capitol?

Since then quite a few popular songwriters and classical composers have memorialized the terrible event in music that specially refers to 9/11. Some of the works have even won prizes and already obtained a certain currency or popularity among performers. (Last season, the Madison Symphony Orchestra performed John Adams’ “On the Transmigration of Souls,” which won a Pulitzer Prize.)

Here is a list of the most famous ones, including recent and brand news works by John Adams, Steve Reich, Stephen Paulus, Joan Tower and John Corigliano among others.

You can find many of the on YouTube.

http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/20thcenturymusic/tp/9-11-Classical-Music.htm

But call me old-fashioned.

I have heard some of the new music, but generally I am more moved by the familiar melodies and harmonies that resonate with other personal memories and personal moments to heighten the effect.

For me, the best 9/11 memorial music is still the “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber (below), especially in its original string quartet version which I find more intimate and transparent, less overwhelming than the orchestral version the composer made for the conductor Arturo Toscanini.

Then I would choose the Funeral March movement from Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. Or maybe I would choose the quiet poignancy of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Gaze” or restrained sadness the E-flat minor and B-flat minor preludes and fugues (both at bottom), from the same composer’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. I like that very old music composers and music can still speak to and capture contemporary events and current sadness. That is part of what makes such composer and music great.

Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” would also be a fine choice as would the slow movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 and especially Brahms’ “German” Requiem and Faure’s Requiem.

What music would you choose to best memorialize 9/11?

The Ear wants to hear.

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7 Comments »

  1. [...] By Jacob Stockinger Today is the 11th anniversary of 9/11 – Sept. 11, 2001. What is the best music to pay homage to those terrible events and that awful loss of life – and yes, of such landmark buildings as the Twin Towers of …  [...]

    Pingback by What classical music best memorializes the terrorist attacks of 9/11 ... | Music House | Scoop.it — September 13, 2012 @ 8:53 am

  2. Perhaps because there were so many Jewish victims in the Twin Towers, Ravel’s setting of the Kaddish would be among the appropriate pieces to hear.

    Comment by Ron McCrea — September 11, 2012 @ 10:12 am

    • Hi Ron,
      From the research I’ve done, it seems about 10 percent of the victims were Jewish.
      In fact, the fact that there weren’t more Jews in New York City killed was used as “proof” by Arab nations that the US government knew about the attacks in advance and warned Israel about them.
      That said, it really doesn’t matter at all what the percentage or what the religion was. All were victims of a tragedy
      Death doesn’t make such distinctions..
      The Kaddish for the dead, not just the Jewish dead.
      So I say you make a great suggestion, for all those to be remembered.
      Thank you.
      Shalom.
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 11, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

      • I was thinking of a counterpart to Ave Verum Corpus, a hymn for the Christian eucharist celebrating the “true body” of you know who.

        Comment by Ron McCrea — September 12, 2012 @ 6:25 am

      • Hi Ron,
        As far as origins go, the Ravel Kaddish could indeed be a good counterpart to the Mozart.
        But I don’t think that the beautiful and moving piece of Mozart, like his Requiem, is intended just to memorialize Catholic loss — and certainly not in the context of the 9/11 attacks. All requiems and works reflecting loss or sadness seem like appropriate choices to me. For Jewish music, Ernest Bloch also wrote some moving music that could be used as a tribute.
        But the Ravel was a new one to me, so thank you.
        Jake

        Comment by welltemperedear — September 12, 2012 @ 8:15 am

  3. I’d second many of your choices but anything is better than Transmigration.

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — September 11, 2012 @ 12:35 am

    • Hi Mikko,
      Thanks for the kind words.
      Musically speaking, I completely agree with you about the John Adams piece “On the Transmigration of Souls.”
      But I find it is more moving and convincing — though never thoroughly so — if you think of it as as art installation that also uses voice loops, environmental sounds and journalistic or oral history techniques as well as musical techniques.
      As always, thank you for reading and writing.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 11, 2012 @ 8:22 am


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