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On Commemoration

Global Reflections upon Remembering War

Edited By Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro

How, in the twenty-first century, can we do commemoration better? In particular, how can commemoration contribute to post-war reconciliation and reconstruction? In this book, a global roster of distinguished writers, artists, musicians, religious leaders, military veterans and scholars debate these questions and ponder the future of commemoration. They include the world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz, the award-winning novelists Aminatta Forna and Rachel Seiffert, and the human rights lawyer and Gifford Baillie Prize-winner Philippe Sands. Polemics and reflections together with poetry and creative prose movingly illuminate a subject that speaks to our common humanity.

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Mourning and Music (Juliana M. Pistorius)

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juliana m. pistorius

The music scholar Juliana M. Pistorius issues a reminder that the great musical expressions of grief in the Western tradition are not the only soundtracks to accompany mourning, and finds in the evanescence of the musical note an analogy for human mortality.

We mourn as we remember music that recedes into the past – sound that dies away before us, always while rushing ahead and waiting for new life in its future performance.1

Mourning, in the West, has a soundtrack. ‘Nimrod’, from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Op. 36 (1899) for funerals; Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Op. 11 (1938) – identified in a 2004 survey by the BBC’s Today programme as ‘the saddest music ever written’ – to commemorate the 9/11 attacks;2 Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, Op. 66 (1962) to lament the devastation of two World Wars. These works articulate memory and loss in the musical language of Western ‘high art’: the structural containment of familiar forms; the lush timbre of strings, orchestras, organs (ecclesiastical and vocal). Here, sorrow enters the sublime; transcended beyond coarse misery, it is universalised through the generic language of Western musical beauty.

In constructing the musical memorialisation of Others, however, a different aesthetic is projected. The Netherlands-based charity Musicians Without Borders conducted an outreach project with the widows of ←247 | 248→Srebrenica.3 To mediate the women’s grief, the charity’s musicians performed Bosnian folk songs, designed to invoke memories and to facilitate mourning. Here, at the devastated margin...

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