What message does Requiem for Bosnia, which you composed in response to the Yugoslavian Civil War, have for us today? Victoria Jordanova
As a person I live here and now, but my music lives in its own time. I am an American composer and I live in the twenty-first century. I wrote the Requiem which is a mass for the dead, and music about war and its horrors at a time when my former country broke apart. Requiem for Bosnia is a piece for broken piano, harp, and child voice. In 1993, a piano was dropped down a staircase at a school in San Francisco where I was teaching. I began to improvise on its shattered body and play on its dislocated keyboard. Eventually I recorded, in a single take, the core of the piece: the broken piano part. A five year old girl happened to be in school on the site. I asked her to sing something for me and to the broken piano. She sung her song with the scrambled lyrics from a Disney movie. That day was the most amazing and serendipitous day of my life. Later I added the harp part, and then edited and mixed the tracks. At the same time, my former country, Yugoslavia, was ravaged by a brutal and horrible civil war. I changed the original title of the piece from Music for Broken Piano to Requiem for Bosnia and so it was released on CRI in 1994.
Since then I have also composed music about love, obsession, and dreams in New York Love Songs; music about life without privacy in Panopticon; music about nature in Le Campane; and music about meditation, prayer, and grief in Outer Circles.
All of these pieces are both intimate reflections on particular events and archetypal human conditions. Works of art, as opposed to technology and science, do not “age”; they are always up to date. It is (among other reasons) because most works of art deal with archetypal themes such as: love, death, human suffering, nature, social injustice, prejudice, tragedy, horror of war, etc. In works of art, those categories are transformed into timeless realities. They belong to an archetypal time. Otherwise, no one would be able to find any meaning today in a Shakespeare play, or Homer’s Odyssey.
A musical composition can be understood as an insight into that archetypal reality in a particular moment. As Nobel prize-winning poet and essayist Octavio Paz wrote: “Reading a poem, (or listening to a piece of music), is like drinking water from an internal present, which is at the same time the farthest past and the nearest future. Poetry (similarly to music), is a momentary communion between: yesterday, today, and tomorrow; here and there.”
We live in an archetypal time, but so did our grandparents, and our parents, and so will our children. Unfortunately, in addition to love and death, war, human suffering, human prejudice, stupidity and cruelty, greed, lack of morality, political manipulations, and dogmatism, were, are, and will be the categories of the human condition.