Wednesday, August 6, 2008


From NPR's The Composer's Datebook:

On today's date in 1945 at 8:15 a.m., the crew of the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay released a solitary bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The first atomic bomb detonated in wartime killed the 80,000 inhabitants of that city in an instant, and another 140,000 deaths resulted from the effects of radiation in the months and years that followed. For years, the full horror of that split second of time seemed beyond depiction in musical form -- until in 1961, the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki finished a most unusual work for string orchestra.

Originally intended as an abstract exercise in extended string-playing techniques and the juxtaposition of chance and strictly determined musical forms, Penderecki originally had no title for the music he had created for 52 string players. He even considered giving the title "8 minutes, 37 seconds," his estimation of the piece's duration. It wasn't until he actually heard his music performed that he felt its intense emotion impact.

"I searched for associations," said Penderecki, "and, in the end, I decided to dedicate it to the Hiroshima victims." As "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima," this remarkable score rapidly made Penderecki famous worldwide.

I got curious after reading this. I went looking for the music, and there's a link to it below. If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to sit with it and listen. It sounds as if the world has come off its hinge, which must be how it felt to live through the Hiroshima blast. Stark, chaotic, painful; nowhere to really rest, ever.

I wonder what the legacy of the bomb has been to the survivors and their posterity. Surely there has been fallout beyond the radioactivity directly associated with the bomb. I was talking with a friend a couple of days ago about Noah and his family, after the flood...what that must have been like. About how Noah built himself a vineyard and used it to dull the pain of having survived that horror, when everyone else did not. If you don't know the story, his sons found him drunk and naked one day. Two sons covered him up and the third, Ham, took a closer look and mocked him. When Noah sobered up, he cursed Ham's firstborn son, Canaan, making him and his father servants of Shem and Japeth, Ham's brothers.

Poor Canaan. What the heck did HE do to deserve that?

The sins of the parents. They're visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation, according to Exodus. I always heard this as a completely confusing, unjust pronouncement from God. But as I've gotten older, I hear it instead as a description, God saying to us, "This is big, you guys. This is going to leave a mark. It'll mess you up for a long time--and not just you, but those who come after you. Healing from this is going to take generations." For any child of violence, alcoholism, abuse, the legacy is clear and painful.

So, on this anniversary of the most violent single act in all of human history, let's take a moment to remember and to resolve to leave a different legacy to the next generation in any small way that we can.

Peace, friends. Be good to one another.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I haven't heard this piece since Music Appreciation, more than 30 years ago. But I never forgot how disturbing it is.

Thanks for the reminder, even if it was uncomfortable.

FranIAm said...

Beautiful Jodi... and yes, peace. Be good to one another. So simple. So essential.

Cecilia said...

Oh God. That is so evocative. The world come off its hinges... yes, perfect. Thank you.