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Volume 10 • Number 2

Fall 2003


 

 

The Ninth after 9/11

by Peter Tregear (September 2002)

Und wer's nie gekonnt, der
stehle weinend sich aus
diesem Bund.
(And who is never able shall
steal away from this union in
tears.)
—Friedrich Schiller, An die
Freude
(1785/1803)

You are either with us or
against us.
—George W. Bush
(6 November 2001)

Setting aside Paul Bekker's idealistic vision of the post-Beethoven symphony concert as a site for gesellschaftsbildende Kunst (socially formative art), one of the more common uses of symphonic music as an adjunct for overt social ritual would be in relation to services of remembrance. The pairing together of mainstream orchestral music and the memory of loss seems to be at such occasions both uncontrived and appropriate, reflecting as much the life-affirming capacity that we continue to bestow on this art form as it might also, perhaps, the desire to make our public rituals approach the condition of popular cinema and its ubiquitous soundtrack. Like the application of a soundtrack, this pairing is also, however, a fictionalizing one; music above all the arts is constitutionally removed from the events it might be chosen to accompany, radically distanced by layers of invention and imagination. It cannot of itself create an aesthetic simulacrum of an event, in the way that, say, monumental sculpture or painting can. Instead the function of music in such circumstances seems to lie precisely in its presumed otherworldliness, in the qualities such as nobility, or closure, or theological gravitas that we imagine it can bestow. Precisely because it avoids a direct relationship with a historical event, and by extension, the ever-suspicious gaze of the historical imagination, commemorative music is perhaps supremely placed to lend a sense of transcendence, of sublime consolation, to an occasion that might otherwise be thought to eschew it. Thus John Adams, for instance, in a recent interview about a work hewas commissioned to produce in response to the events of September 11, 2001 in America (entitled On the Transmigration of Souls) spoke of his task as a composer in terms of creating “something out of time, the way great art ought to,” to invoke the “power of art to transcend the moment.”

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