Music written about pandemics, from Bach to Corigliano and Bielawa

Posted on: April 14, 2020

“Some people respond to suffering by turning it into art. That’s true even with the harrowing experience of a pandemic,” writes Tom Huizenga on Monday (4/13) at National Public Radio. “In the early 1400s, an Englishman named John Cooke composed Stella celi, a hymn to the Virgin Mary referencing the Black Plague…. Johann Sebastian Bach … wrote … his Cantata No. 25, titled ‘There is Nothing Healthy in My Body’ … in 1723, just a year after the great plague of Marseille, France ended, leaving over 100,000 people dead. Bach’s anonymous text talks of the ‘world as a hospital’ and ‘children laid low with sickness.’ … American composer John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 [was] written as a heart-on-sleeve elegy for the many friends Corigliano lost to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, the music is by turns tender, anguished and ferocious. The opening movement, titled ‘Apologue: Of Rage and Remembrance,’ begins with searing strings pummeled by percussion before it finally evaporates into chill air.… Lisa Bielawa, based in New York, is in the midst of writing a choral work … titled Broadcast from Home … built on testimonials the composer is collecting via social media from individuals in self-isolation or self-quarantine.”