Like Steve Reich’s WTC 911 that we looked at last time, John Adams also received a commission to write a commemorative piece. We had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Adams when he was in town this past spring and he talked with us about his On the Transmigration of Souls.
Adams admitted to us that, when the New York Philharmonic approached him with the commission to write a commemorative piece for the first anniversary of 9/11, he was appalled. He believed it was impossible to write a piece of music about this type of event that created such a wound for the American nation. He explained that he initially felt it would either come across as tasteless or opportunistic to approach this type of project as an artist. After some thought, however, he realized that a serious composer ought to be able to respond to a national trauma so he accepted the commission.
Composer Charles Ives has been somewhat of a guardian angel to Adams, who talked about how his transcendental philosophy about the American spirit guided his work for On the Transmigration of Souls. His piece is very intimate, touching on personal loss and private emotions. Like Reich’s WTC 911, On the Transmigration of Souls uses the orchestra more as a background while choirs and taped voices take center stage. Texts included on the tape relate to 9/11 and contain a reading of names of many who died, as well as excerpts from notes that loved ones taped to Manhattan walls following the event.
Is there a commemorative work for 9/11 that you tend to relate to?