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.

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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