One Red Rose

string quartet

One Red Rose was commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Yellow Barn and the Nasher Center to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The music aspires to honor the memory of President Kennedy and acknowledge the tragedy endured by his family, friends, and country.

The piece is in three movements:

  1. Five Short Studies
  2. Fugue and Fantasy
  3. Anthem and Aria

In the most abstract terms this piece explores the dialectic between the personal and the public. The news of the assassination of JFK was broadcast around the world. Until 9/11 it was the biggest news story of my life. Nothing could be more public and at the same time the news hit individuals in a personal way as they stopped on city streets stunned and often crying. I was seven years old, home from school sick, when the news interrupted my television show. Seconds after that I heard our neighbor come in the front door and join my mother sobbing.

In the midst of this public crisis I have particular empathy for the personal tragedy felt by his family. One individual in particular that I drew inspiration from was Jackie, the First Lady who gracefully navigated through one extreme situation after another during this time. She becomes the most vivid symbol of the way the assassination traverses the public and the private. The highly structured protocol of a state funeral provides an opportunity for the world to pay its respects and gain some modicum of closure. However, this is just the beginning of the grief process for those closest to the deceased. Jackie is suddenly a widow with two small children. She had been devoted to her family and supporting her husband’s political career and now she must move out of her residence and reinvent her life. Judging from my own experience I imagine that after the dignified way she helped the world bid farewell to her husband, there was a period of great personal suffering more befitting an aria than a more public anthem.

The contrast and coexistence of control and chaos which characterized the minutes, hours and days unfolding from the assassination and in many ways is related to the dialectic between the personal and public is also an important aspect of the piece. Again Jackie was a focus and the steadfast comfort she provided for her husband in the midst of a frenzied manhunt and news reportage was like a still point of serenity within the swirling chaos.

The title—One Red Rose—comes from the report from a secret service agent examining the presidential limo for clues after Kennedy was taken into the emergency room. All he saw was one blood soaked red rose that had fallen from the bouquet of 12 that Jackie was given upon her arrival.

— Steven Mackey