• Secrets of War 14:34

frank stemper

Secrets of War (2003)
for piano and orchestra (3, 3, 3, 2, 4, 3, 3, 1, perc., pno, strings)  -  15 mins.


Music is an abstract art. Without words, the exact meaning, even its subject material, is absolutely indefinable.  This allows each of us to react emotionally and to create freely an individual “translation” of the sounds.  For example, where one hears romance, another assumes pathos.  Music’s interpretation has infinite possibilities, but specifically it relates to nothing in the Physical world.  Music is meaningless.

In 2002, I was commissioned to compose a piece for the  100th anniversary, of the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra, and it was suggested that it be a “9/11” piece.  I declined.  I thought 9/11 had already received abundant testimonials, and many seemed exploitive and irreverent.  However, while composing the music you will hear tonight, it became evident to me that I was writing such a piece: It seemed 9/11’s savagery had stirred this cynical apolitical composer.  We can argue about social and economic philosophies, political strategies and, in all, the wisdom and integrity of our leaders, but when the twin towers fell, there was little to ponder: Humanity is still a violent species.  As I composed, I found myself trying to rationalize humanity’s inhumanity.

I quickly moved from 9/11 to Viet Nam, Hiroshima and the Holocaust, as well as the centuries of atrocities that dominate the entire history of our world. I listened to Senator/Professor Paul Simon tell us that the U.S.A. is hoarding and not sharing its wealth, and that we shouldn’t be surprised by acts of terrorism against us.  Following 9/11, I witnessed a nationalistic renaissance in this country, but, sadly, it seemed more self-serving than patriotic and began to take on the look of racism. The U.S.A. is no less guilty than any other nation in contributing to a barbaric world. 

I wanted to compose about these thoughts, but there was still this dilemma regarding mixing art and physical reality.  If music is completely abstract, how is it possible, really, to connect an orchestra to a real life episode such as 9/11?  Is it possible for a rhythmic pattern to adequately explain international hatred?  Would the flutes or the trombones be better to placate and align conflicting political philosophies?  Can a series of crescendos give any insight into man’s selfish and vicious nature?  Can organized sound provide any enlightenment as to why the human race, with all its brilliance, does not have the ability to peacefully share this planet? 

The answer is obvious: The rationalization of hatred, greed and war is as abstract and indefinable as music.  How else could good and evil coexist and create an atmosphere in which mutual destruction is tolerated? We each react emotionally and translate real events such as 9/11 apart from anything in the physical world.  The interpretation of war has infinite possibilities, but they all seem to form an illogic that allows for the inevitable self-destruction of our species.  War is meaningless.