How I Wrote... Spared - Howard Goodall

11 September 2013, 11:29

Marking the anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York, Classic FM's Composer-in-Residence Howard Goodall shares the inspiration behind his commemorative work, Spared.

Composer: Howard Goodall

Piece: Spared

Date written: 2005

In a sentence or less, how would you describe the music to someone who's never heard it before?
I wrote Spared as my response to being a witness to the 9/11 attacks in New York City.

How did the idea for the piece come about?
On 11th September 2001 I was in New York filming for my series Howard Goodall’s Great Dates, walking down 5th Avenue to meet the crew at an arranged rendezvous in Battery Park. I had come parallel to Washington Square when, with my disbelieving eyes (and those of the millions who witnessed it on TV news reports) I watched the catastrophe of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center at first hand. I stood in the street as the second tower collapsed in front of me and as the tidal wave of dust rushed towards and through me. I tried (and failed) to contact my family in London (Manhattan’s phone masts had come down with the twin towers) to tell them I was safe and alive. It was a further agonising three hours before calls to the UK were possible. We were cut off from the world in central Manhattan, the island sealed by the FBI and all flights grounded, unable to return home for nearly a week, woken nightly and noisily evacuated onto the street in a series of (understandably) jittery false bomb alarms. That day changed all of our lives and I knew one day I would want to compose something to come to terms with my feelings about being witness to its catastrophic events.

Did you have a musical 'EUREKA!' moment where everything fell into place, or did the piece gradually shift and change over time?
Initially, the emotional impact was too raw and my closeness to it too intense to be able to reflect calmly on it in music. Not until 2005, when a commission came my way for the wonderful chapel choir of the Methodist College, Belfast, could I approach the subject, having read Wendy Cope’s beautiful, simple poem on the 9/11 attacks. I immediately felt an affinity with its heart-breaking message: that all of us that survived, wherever we were, felt spared, and needed to reaffirm the love we shared with those close to us, acknowledging that what we had seen in the human response to the tragedy, was that: an understanding, at the terrifying moment of crisis, of what matters most to us – that cherished love.

Where was the premiere and how did you feel hearing the piece for the first time?
It seemed doubly appropriate that it should be the young people of the non-sectarian 'Methody' choir, the first, post-Good Friday Agreement generation to be embarking on their adulthood in an era of peace in Northern Ireland after so many centuries of conflict, should sing its premiere, in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, in October of 2005. In a sense, the people of Northern Ireland are an example to the world: they have demonstrated that apparently uncrossable fault lines between estranged communities can be bridged, with patience, tolerance, a willingness to move on and some degree of mutual compassion. I hope that Spared captures some of the haunting truth of Wendy Cope’s words: love, in its many forms, is our best hope.