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The war is over

from Thursday, December15th of the year2011.

So apparently the war in Iraq is officially over as of today. I don’t have much to say about that except that we should maybe all take a second (ten minutes, really) and listening to the heartbreaking third section of Steve Reich’s Different Trains.

Steve Reich
Different Trains: III. After the War
Kronos Quartet

A few things about this. 2:05 in, there are some really delicious chords that I’ve been stealing for years. The minute this album came out (the Kronos version) I was right there sitting on the floor with a pencil and manuscript paper trying to figure out the voicings. The other thing is that around seven and a half minutes in, Reich really turns it out. In a miniature Mahlerian structure, almost, he introduces an almost folk-like melody with “there was one girl who had a beautiful voice,” followed by an anguished, central-european chromaticism on “and they loved to listen to the singing, the Germans,” which suddenly transforms into a sort of sun-dappled flautando environment for the final lines. It’s super super gorgeous.

Note that although I’m using the iconic, original Kronos recording here, there are now five or six others, including the wonderful Smith Quartet, the London Steve Reich Ensemble… more and more people, and younger people, too; this is a piece that has been so outrageously important to me, and I’m sure to a large number of young composers, and it’s great to see it falling into the fingers of our contemporaries.

The text, which Reich compiled from interviews:

Then the war was over
Are you sure
The war is over
Going to America
To Los Angeles
To New York
From New York to Los Angeles
One of the fastest trains
But today they’re all gone
There was one girl who had a beautiful voice
And they loved to listen to the singing,
The Germans
And when she stopped singing they said, “More more,”
and they applauded


  • You should read this

    It’s sort of great.

  • this really is a wonderful piece and i also love that more groups are performing it. i first heard the kronos recording in high school after i got in to glass and this took me to many new places (i got in to classical, in general, not long before then). this does mark yesterday’s news well though.

  • Hey Nico,
    The luscious chords you spotted at 2:05 are also used in Reich’s Tehillim Part 1. Stunning. In fact I’d rate Tehillim as his best work – there aren’t many other examples in contemporary composition where the percussion is used so effectively.

  • Nico, you would have been eight years old when Different Trains (Kronos) came out…. I guess they played Steve Reich in wunderkindergarten, huh? But that’s some pretty heavy stuff to lay on kids, I would think.

  • reading this post and listening to steve reich was a lovely way to wake up in the morning.

    i wholeheartedly agree about the chords two minutes in. it sounds like syncopated singing.

  • and yet another reason you are my hero. Thank you!