How Classical Music Was Inspired by 9/11

Discover how classical music was inspired by the events of 9/11 and the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.


It’s been nearly 20 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and in that time, the event has been commemorated in many ways. One of the most unexpected has been through classical music.

In the days and weeks after 9/11, composers found themselves compelled to put their feelings into music. Some were inspired by personal connections to the tragedy; others responded to the patriotic call for unity in its aftermath. Still others grappled with more existential questions about humanity and war. The result is a surprising body of work that captures both the gravity of the moment and our ongoing need to processed it.

The Attacks of 9/11

The attacks of 9/11 inspired many classical musicians to write music that would help people remember the fallen and honor the heroes. Some of these pieces were patriotic anthems, others were more personal reflections on that fateful day. Here are just a few examples of the wonderful music that came out of that tragic time.

The North Tower

The North Tower of the World Trade Center was the first to be hit by a plane on September 11, 2001. The impact caused the tower to collapse, killing over 2,000 people and injuring thousands more. In the aftermath of the attacks, classical musicians around the world were inspired to compose music that would honor the victims and express the emotions of that day.

Some of the most well-known pieces of music written in response to 9/11 include “Requiem for My Friend” by David Maslanka, “In Memoriam” by Steven Sametz, and “2/22/03” by John Adams. These works have been performed by orchestras and choirs all over the world, and they continue to bring comfort and healing to those who lost loved ones on that day.

The South Tower

The South Tower was the second building to be hit by a plane on 9/11. It was struck at 9:03 am, by United Airlines Flight 175. The impact of the plane caused a massive explosion and the tower began to collapse. It fell at 9:59 am, just 56 minutes after being hit.

The Pentagon

At 9:37 a.m. on September 11, an American Airlines Boeing 757-223 carrying 64 people, including the hijackers, crashed into the western side of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., killing all on board and 130 people in the building.

The Aftermath of 9/11

On September 11th, 2001, the world watched in horror as the Twin Towers collapsed. The events of that day had a profound effect on everyone, including classical musicians. In the months and years that followed, many composers were inspired to create pieces of music that reflected the emotions of that day.

The Cleanup

In the days and weeks following the attacks, many people found their way to ground zero to help with the cleanup. Some were family members of those who had died, looking for closure. Some were simply New Yorkers who felt a need to do something. And some were out-of-towners who had come to offer their assistance.

In all, more than 1 million people worked at ground zero in the months after 9/11. It was one of the largest crime scene – and cleanup – efforts in history.

The Memorials

In the years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many memorials have been erected to honor the victims and first responders. Some of these memorials are somber and serious in tone, while others are more upbeat and hopeful. All of them are beautiful in their own way, and each one tells a unique story about the events of that fateful day.

One of the most well-known memorials is the World Trade Center Memorial in New York City. This site includes two reflecting pools that sit in the exact footprints of the Twin Towers, surrounded by a grove of trees. There is also a bronze parapet that has the names of all 2,983 victims engraved on it. The Memorial is meant to be a place of reflection and healing, and it has become one of the most visited tourist attractions in New York City.

Another notable memorial is the Pentagon Memorial, which is located at the site of the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. This memorial consists of a grove of trees with benches for each of the 184 victims who lost their lives when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building. The benches are arranged according to the victim’s age, with those who were younger closer to the center of the grove and those who were older closer to the edge.

The Flight 93 National Memorial is located near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after passengers took action to stop the terrorists from reaching their intended target in Washington, D.C. The Memorial consists of a beautiful field with 40 granite markers that represent each of the 40 passengers and crew members who lost their lives on that day.

These are just three of the many memorials that have been erected in remembrance of 9/11. Each one is unique and special in its own way, and all of them serve as touching tribute to those who lost their lives on that fateful day.

How Classical Music Was Inspired by 9/11

In the days and weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, New Yorkers—and people around the world—were looking for ways to make sense of the tragedy. For some, that meant attending memorial services, volunteering, or donating blood. For others, it meant finding solace in music.

The Requiem

One of the most powerful and moving classical pieces inspired by 9/11 is the Requiem, composed by Karl Jenkins. The Requiem was commissioned by Paul Ayres, conductor of the Thames Chamber Orchestra, and first performed in 2002.

The Requiem is based on the traditional Latin text, but also includes passages from the Book of Common Prayer, the Quran, and poetry by Maya Angelou and Walt Whitman. These sacred and secular texts come together to create a deeply moving and spiritual work that honors the victims of 9/11 and celebrates the human spirit.

The Thames Chamber Orchestra has released a recording of the Requiem, featuring soprano Claire Rutter and baritone Jeremy Huw Williams.

The Tribute in Light

In the days and weeks following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans looked for ways to express their grief, shock, and anger. Many turned to music. Some found comfort in patriotic songs like “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Others found solace in hymns and spirituals. But it was classical music that truly captured the national mood.

In the days after the attacks, radio stations across the country played somber pieces like Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” On September 23, 2001, less than two weeks after the attacks, the New York Philharmonic performed a free concert in Central Park. The program included Antonín Dvořák’s “New World Symphony” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide Overture.” The concert ended with all of the musicians standing on the stage, playing Johann Strauss II’s “Blue Danube Waltz.” As they played, a giant American flag was unfurled in the park.

On October 29, 2001, less than six weeks after 9/11, Yo-Yo Ma gave a moving performance of Bach’s “Cell Suite No. 1 in G Major” at Ground Zero. Ma said he hoped his music would help those who were working at the site to “heal their hearts and spirits.”

In the months and years that followed 9/11, many classical composers were inspired to write pieces that paid tribute to those who had been killed in the attacks. John Williams composed an orchestral piece called “Tribute to New York City.” It was first performed by the New York Philharmonic on September 11, 2002—exactly one year after 9/11. James Horner wrote a beautiful violin solo called “Legacy” for the movie “Collateral Damage,” which was released just six months after 9/11. The film is about a fireman whose family is killed in a terrorist bombing.

On September 11, 2011—the 10th anniversary of 9/11—the Tribute in Light was unveiled near Ground Zero. This memorial consists of two beams of light that rise up from Lower Manhattan and are visible for miles around. The Tribute in Light is meant to represent “the resolve of our nation never to forget.”


It was a moment that changed the world – and one that would also have a profound effect on the classical music scene. In the days, weeks and months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, American composers found themselves writing some of the most emotionally charged music of their careers.

Here, then, is a look at nine works of classical music inspired by 9/11. Some were written in the immediate aftermath of the attacks; others came years later, as composers continued to process what they had witnessed and experienced. But all are powerful musical expressions of that fateful day – and our nation’s resilient response to it.

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