The Spires, The Cities, The Field

A Cantata in Memory of the Victims of September 11

Scored for mezzo-soprano, harmonica, and orchestra.

No artwork, no matter how sensitive, can meet the task of memorializing the momentous and dreadful events of September 11, 2001. Nevertheless, it is necessary not only to commemorate the all too many who died, but also to understand what happened, not in the factual sense, but in the affective and formal dimensions that works of art can address so eloquently.

One of the most striking issues that has emerged in the past year is the extent to which those who have sought to justify the madness of September, 2001 and its aftermath have "excused" their actions in religious terms. In an almost literal sense, the discourse on religion has been hijacked by fanatics. Regardless of where any of us stands on the volatile subject of religious belief, we can all agree that history has many ghastly examples of the havoc wreaked by such egregious distortions of spiritual traditions. Bin Laden is as representative of Islam as Rasputin is of Russian Orthodoxy. They act only from the depths of their own psychoses, not from within a spiritual tradition.

In my previous work, I encountered this to some extent. While researching Joan of Arc for Voices of Light, I was shocked to learn that far right nationalists in France had appropriated this great hero, and universally beloved emblem of bravery and freedom, for themselves. I believed then, and I believe now, that when fanatics try to fit symbols of our highest aspirations into their shabby little Procrustean beds, it is vital to wrest them back and claim them as part of a common human heritage.

Accordingly, in the present work, I have taken an approach similar to the one that I took with Joan of Arc.

The texts that comprise The Spires, The Cities, The Field were selected from the central religious documents of the aptly named "People of the Book:" the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Qur'an and the Hadith (sayings of Muhammad and stories about him considered as canonical as the Qur'an itself). I chose the excerpts based first on their merit as great literature and then on what I perceived as their appropriateness for the themes of the piece.

I combined these selections together to form a text collage, deliberately taking little notice of which specific source they came from. For example phrases from Revelation might follow passages from Lamentations which may be interpolated with an interweaving of several Qur'anic suras. Indeed, I doubt whether anyone, including myself, could accurately identify the original sources of all the texts without considerable effort. Should the listener to this piece encounter a phrase that touches the heart, there is no way of knowing whether those emotions were stirred by something from the listener's own religious tradition, or from a different one.

That, of course is the main point, that an essential unity of vision underlies all three religions. Of course, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are profoundly different; the point is well made that they are so large that it is well nigh impossible to generalize intelligently about any of them. But, to paraphrase the great American psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan, the founding documents are, to my way of thinking, more alike than different. There are great writers in all three faiths that recognize this (Muhammad Sa'id al- Ashmawy, Lee Griffith, and Yossi Klein Halevi all deeply moved me during the composition of this piece) but they have been drowned out in the shrieking of the extremists and the screaming - or worse, the silence - of their victims.

So, in remembrance of the September 11 tragedy, I offer not music of consolation - for there can be nothing that adequately consoles those who lost loved ones or who were harmed in the attacks - but a work, however small and ineffectual, that uses the words fanatics would use to destroy us in a way to shame them.

Richard Einhorn July, 2002

The Texts
Critics' Reviews

This piece was commissioned and premiered by the Albany Symphony Orchestra, Albany, NY; David Alan Miller, conductor, Lucille Beer, mezzo-soprano, Robert Bonfiglio, harmonica.