Grim and Visceral
'Hiroshima Symphony' -
'A blistering 2005 performance ...'
Lasting concert music occasioned in response to 'defining moments' of the 20th century is less common than one might suppose.
The 100 years (1900-1999) had its share of such moments; among them Einstein's 'Annus Mirabilis' (1905), Pearl Harbour (1941), DNA discovery (Watson, Crick and Franklin, 1957), Martin Luther King's pivotal 'I have a dream' cry (August 1963) and JFK's assassination (November 1963).
But few would disagree, August 1945 and the bombing of Hiroshima was last century's key event in shaping modern post-war history.
Shostakovitch and Britten charted the nature of Russian and British wartime experience with works such as the former's Symphony No 7 The Leningrad (1941) and Britten's War Requiem (1962).
But other than the music under review I know of only two other major concert works stemming directly from the atom bombing -- they are Erkki Aaltonen's (1910-1990) Second Symphony, Hiroshima (1949) and Krzysztof Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (Tren ofiarom Hiroszimy, 1959), for 52 string instruments.
The Finn's eclectic 1949 work prompted much discussion as to whether it was programmatic. Aaltonen himself said of the Symphony, 'it is not written against anyone, but for humanity'.
Copyright © 14 March 2007
Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand