Has There Been A Great 9/11 Work Of Art? Ctd

Bruno Surdo, Tragedy, Memory, Honor (center)

A reader recommends:

Bruno Surdo's Tragedy, Memory and Honor. I saw it on exhibit in the Federal Building in Chicago and it was utterly overwhelming, all 35 feet of it.

Seen above. Another states that "Paul Chan’s '1st Light' (at the Whitney) is the best piece of 9/11 art I’ve seen (though you have to sit and watch the whole thing play out)." Another writes:

That article you linked to didn't discuss music, and I think that's where some of the best 9/11-related art has been made over the last ten years (and, naturally, also some of the most banal, but what can you do?).  If I had to pick one, it would be On the Transmigration of Souls by John Adams. The New York Philharmonic commissioned it for the one-year anniversary of 9/11, and Adams wrote something almost shockingly gentle, and quiet, and compassionate.  He uses New York street sounds and pre-recorded voices (reading text culled from missing-persons signs posted at Ground Zero) in addition to the large orchestra, chorus, and children's chorus. The number of performers is massive, but the music is almost always quiet, sparse, contemplative.  

That said, it is most definitely not easy listening. There's one moment, late in the piece, when the chorus sings the words of a 9/11 widow and it's among the most emotionally difficult moments in music I know of: "The man's wife says, 'I loved him from the start. I wanted to dig him out – I know just where he is."  Even writing it hurts.

Adams has said that, instead of a requiem, he wanted to create a "memory space," a place where people could go and be alone with their thoughts, sort of like an old cathedral.   You can hear the complete piece on YouTube herehere, and here, and it's available on a Nonesuch recording on iTunes.

Another echoes many:

Look, I don't know how we measure a "great work of art," but the first thing I think about when reflecting on artistic responses to 9/11 is Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising."

Not only the fabulous CD in which every song touched on themes emerging from the horror and the aftermath, but a video, nearly perfect in its simplicity, of Springsteen and the E Street Band performing the song, "The Rising," as the rain begins to pour (and cleanse). I can't imagine that anyone but the most hardened Springsteen haters watched that video in the months that followed the tragedy without tears coming to their eyes. It may not meet the Upper East Side's conception of "great art," but it was raw, real, and beautiful.

Unembeddable version here. Another:

As I know you are often interested in the Catholic imagination, I recommend Prof. Christoper Pramuk's article on "The Rising" in America magazine.


It is worth noting that the New York Philharmonic will be offering the world premiere of John Corigliano’s One Sweet Morning for mezzo-soprano and orchestra next month.  Corigliano, best known for his work with The Red Violin, is a composer whose compositional output reflects on society as a whole.  For instance, his first symphony was an artistic response to the AIDS crisis.  It is a compelling and beautiful reflection on pain, anger, and loss, experienced within communities of individuals.  His recent masterwork, Symphony No. 3: Circus Maximus, is an attempt to create parallels of Ancient Rome with today.  His thesis (if you will) suggests that the Coliseum was a spectacle of entertainment, meant for escaping daily life.  In it, we lost a part of our humanity through mindless killing and diversions.  In today’s society, technology has destroyed our attention spans, and we often engross ourselves in movies, television, internet surfing, and the like, to escape everyday life.  Is our virtual world any different of a distraction than Ancient Rome?  It is an incredible work for wind band, antiphonal trumpets, saxophone trio and string bass in the lower orchestra, a mezzanine horn duo, percussion throughout the hall, and a small marching ensemble which parades through the audience during the climactic movement.

One Sweet Morning is a work written in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  Is it a great work of art?  That remains to be seen.  But Corigliano is a blockbuster composer who thrives in societal reflection, and the opportunity exists for a great work of art with regards to 9/11.  The New York Philharmonic Website describes the new Corigliano work as such:

When Alan Gilbert asked John Corigliano to write a large-scale commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the composer realized that the audience would have images of the event indelibly imprinted on their minds, and he didn’t want the piece to become a tone poem about that unimaginable day. ‘Yet how could I instruct the audience to ignore their own memories?’ So he decided to write a piece with words that would provide other images, ‘both to refute and complement the all-too-vivid ones we’d bring with us into the concert hall…. I needed a cycle of songs that would embed 9/11 into that larger story.’

One Sweet Morning is John Corigliano’s response to the challenging task. Each of its four movements is set to a poem from a different age and country, sung by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. The first is Czeslaw Milosz’s ‘A Song on the End of the World,’ written in Warsaw in 1944; though tranquil in feel, there is a hint of ‘chaos to come,’ says the composer. A section of Homer’s Iliad provides the words for the brutal second movement: a description of a massacre led by the Greek prince, Patroclus. The 8th century Chinese poet, Li Po’s ‘War South of the Great Wall’ seems coolly removed from the battle, until we realize that the narrator’s husband and sons are fighting on the field. ‘Her anguish, and the battle that is its cause, surge in an orchestral interlude,’ explains John Corigliano. ‘One Sweet Morning’ ends the composition with the dream of a world without war—an impossible dream, perhaps, but certainly one worth dreaming.’ Best known as the lyricist of The Wizard of Oz and Finian’s Rainbow, E. Y. (‘Yip’) Harburg’s poem evokes a beautiful time when ‘the rose will rise…spring will bloom…peace will come….one sweet morning.'

A performance by the Young People's Chorus of New York City: