With 'One Sweet Morning,' Corigliano Finally Writes His 9/11 Piece

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When conductor Alan Gilbert asked John Corigliano to write a large-scale commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the composer realized he didn’t want the piece to become a tone poem – a piece of abstract orchestral music that attempted to depict the event.

"My first reaction was I can't write an orchestral piece about this," he told WQXR's Naomi Lewin. "You see, we remember that video so much in our lives. If I wrote an orchestral piece without words, whatever I did, every time there would be a timpani roll or bass drum or the huge brass coming in, somebody would think, 'that's the plane hitting the building.'"

So for One Sweet Morning, a four-movement piece that gets its premiere Friday night by Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, Corigliano used other images, “both to refute and complement the all-too-vivid ones we’d bring with us into the concert hall," he wrote in a program note.

Corigliano has composed more than 100 scores in his 40-year music career, nabbing four Grammy awards, the Pulitzer Prize in Music and an Academy Award for his score for the 1998 film “The Red Violin.” He was first asked to write a 9/11 piece back in 2002, an offer he turned down.

Each of Morning's movements is set to a poem from a different age and country, sung by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. The texts are Czeslaw Milosz’s “A Song on the End of the World,” written in Warsaw in 1944; section of Homer’s Iliad; “War South of the Great Wall,” by the 8th century poet Li Po; and the poem that gives the cycle its name: “One Sweet Morning,” by E. Y. (“Yip”) Harburg.

"I said why don't I write about the horrors of war with a prayer for piece at the ending, and have that be a 9/11 piece," said Corigliano. "Because 9/11 now takes its place in a series of horrible wars that have been going on forever."

On Friday at 6 pm on 105.9 FM and WQXR.org, Corigliano shares his Top Five Works.