At our workshop with René Clausen, he told us that he began work on Memorial in March, 2002 after being asked by the president of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) to do the work as a commissioned piece.
He said he ran into a problem right away. How does one find a structure (a requiem, for example) for something without an established structure, for an entirely unique event. He wrestled with the puzzle of how to begin the work. His wife finally asked a question that broke the impasse. She said, “What kind of day was it?”
That question was a key to starting the piece. His answer was the it was a beautiful day, a splendid day. The sky was what pilots call “severe clear,” a perfectly clear blue. I know you’re not supposed to associate specific images with instrumental classical works, but this section sounds to me like a soundtrack for a film about New York. I can see a pan down from the blue sky to the end of Manhattan Island with the twin towers bright and gleaming in the sun. Then there are shots of people going to work, trucks unloading supplies, crowds of people waiting at lights, the trees and tranquility of Central Park..
The music underneath my movie of the mind is what Clausen called romantic and Debussyean, requiring a “splendid tone” from the singers. The wordless obbligato soars in great smooth arcs through this section, with the parts sometimes in unison, sometimes cascading in four parts.
After several minutes, the beauty of the music of this section is undercut by the orchestra playing a low G# in the key of D, creating a premonitory dissonance. The hijacked aircraft are coming.
Tomorrow: Memorial, Part 2: The Attack