Different Trains

In Different Trains (1988), Steve Reich presents a semi-autobiographical account of the Holocaust that electronically mixes his memories of being a Jewish child in the 1940s with those of child-survivors of the Holocaust who later recorded their testimonies.  As Reich describes the project,

The idea for the piece comes from my childhood.  [Due to my parent’s divorce], I travelled back and forth by train frequently between New York and Los Angeles from 1939 to 1942. […] While these trips were exciting and romantic at the time, I now look back and think that, if I had been in Europe during this period, as a Jew I would have had to ride on very different trains.  With this in mind, I wanted to make a piece that would accurately reflect the whole situation.

To this end, Reich recorded his governess 'reminiscing about [their] train trips together,' a retired Pullman porter, and three Holocaust testimonies from survivors 'all about my age and now living in America'.  He selected various sound clips through digital sampling and then arranged them into a semi-coherent narrative, which divides into three movements: 'America, before the war', 'Europe, during the war' and 'After the war'.  In all cases, the spoken testimonies are accompanied by a string quartet, which reproduces the melodic and rhythmic contours of the speech samples in a method of 'speech melody' inspired by one of Reich’s favourite composers, Béla Bartók.