On the Transmigration of Souls
On the Transmigration of Souls is a composition for orchestra, chorus, children's choir and pre-recorded tape by composer John Adams (born 1947). It was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center's Great Performers (and an anonymous but prominent New York family) shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001. Adams began writing the piece in late January 2002, and the music was premiered by the New York Philharmonic on 19 September 2002 at Avery Fisher Hall. It is approximately 25 minutes long.
In an interview Adams explained: "I want to avoid words like 'requiem' or 'memorial' when describing this piece because they too easily suggest conventions that this piece doesn't share. If pressed, I'd probably call the piece a 'memory space.' It's a place where you can go and be alone with your thoughts and emotions. The link to a particular historical event – in this case to 9/11 – is there if you want to contemplate it. But I hope that the piece will summon human experience that goes beyond this particular event."
The title itself carries a certain heaviness of thought and meaning. According to Adams, "Transmigration means 'the movement from one place to another' or 'the transition from one state of being to another.' But in this case I meant it to imply the movement of the soul from one state to another. And I don’t just mean the transition from living to dead, but also the change that takes place within the souls of those that stay behind, of those who suffer pain and loss and then themselves come away from that experience."
Adams received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in music for the piece. Its premiere recording (with Lorin Maazel conducting the New York Philharmonic, New York Choral Artists, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus) received the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, and Best Classical Contemporary Composition. Its sheet music is published by Boosey & Hawkes.