Composers Datebook®

On the Transmigration of Souls

Composer's Datebook - September 19, 2022


On today’s date in 2002, just a little over one year after two passenger jetliners had crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the New York Philharmonic gave the premiere performance of a new work by the American composer John Adams.

Entitled “On the Transmigration of Souls,” this high-profile commission sought to address a nation still in shock and grief at the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.

"I realized right up front that the public didn't need any more reiteration of the narrative of that day,” Adams said in an interview. “Certainly it didn't need some tasteless dramatization of the events… If I was going to do something meaningful, I was going to have to go in the opposite direction."

Adams chose to set some of the words scribbled on posters plastered around Ground Zero by families searching for their loved ones. "They were a mixture of hope and a slowly dimming acceptance of reality," Adams said. “When people are deeply in shock… they don't express themselves in fancy language… they speak in the most simple of terms."

Adams said he hoped his new piece would provide "memory space,” a musical work that could be at once a platform for either communal or personal reflection.

Music Played in Today's Program

John Adams (b. 1947): On the Transmigration of Souls –New York Philharmonic; Lorin Maazel, cond. (Nonesuch CD 79816)

On This Day


  • 1829 - Music publisher Gustav Schirmer, in Königsee, Thuringia; He came to America in 1840 with his parents, and in 1861 founded in New York City the music publishing house that bears his name, G. Schirmer, Inc.;

  • 1911 - Swedish composer Allan Pettersson, in Västra Ryd;


  • 1949 - Greek composer Nikos Skalkottas, age 45, in Athens;

  • 1972 - French composer and pianist Robert Casadesus, age 73, in Paris;


  • 1894 - Brahms: two Clarinet Sonatas, Op. 120, at a private performance in the home of the sister of the Duke of Meiningen at Berchtesgaden, by clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld (of the Grand Ducal Orchestra of Meiningen) with the composer at the piano; Brahms and Mühlfeld also gave private performances of both sonatas on November 10-13, 1894, in Frankfurt (for Clara Schumann and others); on November 14, 1894, at Castle Altenstein (for the Duke of Meiningen); and on Jan. 7, 1895, in Vienna (for members of the Tonkünstler Society); The first public performances of the two sonatas took place in Vienna on January 8 (Sonata No. 2) and 11 (Sonata No. 2), 1895, with the same performers, as part of the Rosé Quartet's chamber music series;

  • 1908 - Mahler: Symphony No. 7 ("Song of the Night"), in Prague, with the composer conducting;

  • 1927 - Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 3, in Vienna, by the Kolisch Quartet;

  • 1937 - Hanson: Symphony No. 3 (partial performance), on a CBS Radio Symphony concert conducted by the composer; The first complete performance occurred with the rival network's NBC Symphony, again with the composer conducting, on March 26, 1938;

  • 1970 - Morton Feldman: "The Viola in My Life" No. 1 for viola and orchestra, in London;

  • 1998 - André Previn: opera "A Streetcar Named Desire," with cast including Rene Fleming, by the San Francisco Opera, the composer conducting;

  • 1998 - Michael Torke: "Jasper" for orchestra, by the Madison (Wisc.) Symphony, John DeMain conducting;

  • 1999 - Elmer Bernstein: Guitar Concerto, with Honolulu Symphony conducted by Samuel Wong and soloist Christopher Parkening;

  • 2002 - John Adams: "On the Transmigration of Souls" for vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra, by the New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel conducting;

  • 2002 - John Adams: “On the Transmigration of Souls” for vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra, by the New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel conducting;


  • 1725 - J.S. Bach gives organ recitals in the Sophienkirche, Dresden, on Sept. 19 and 20;

  • 1738 - Oratorio librettist Charles Jennens writes to a young relative describing a visit to Handel the previous day, dismayed by Handel's ideas for their collaboration on the oratorio "Saul": "Mr. Handel's head is more full of maggots than ever . . ." (Gregorian date: Sept. 30).

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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