Classical Break remembers
D-Day (June 6th, 1944)
Track One: Sea-surf FX, Drum-beat - Vee For Victory. Marche Lorraine
This is Classical Break, and I'm Rupert Kirkham. You've just heard the Marche Lorraine by Louis Ganne. Today's programme celebrates the heroism of the Allied troops, sailors and airmen who formed the massive forces of land, sea and air engaged in the biggest amphibious operation in military history. D-Day, the Sixth of June, 1944, opened the last eleven months of the Second World War in Europe: the achievement in breaching the long-prepared North Atlantic fortifications via 5 Normandy beaches, codenamed Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah was shared by the crews of 532 warships and 360 coastal craft of the Royal Navy, 89 American warships, 49 warships and smaller craft manned by Dutch, French, Norwegian, Greek and Polish exiles, and 155,000 Allied troops, over whose voyage and advance on landing, thousands of fighter- and bomber- sorties were flown by men of the RAF, USAAF and Fleet Air Arm; some hours before the landings, hundreds of transport aircraft had dropped 23,000 paratroopers in behind the German defences by 'brolly”, 'chute or glider.
Over 4,000 British and American landing-craft were employed in bringing the invasion-force from their troopships to the beaches...
On the day, the heaviest losses were taken by the paratroopers and air-force crews during the hours of darkness, owing to the Luftwaffe Night-hunters, flak-defences and infantry units, and by American Rangers on Omaha beach, at the head of which stood high cliffs that had to be rushed and scaled in the face of mines and heavy fire. 3,000 men became casualties on Omaha beach alone.
Perhaps the most terrifying and convincing film-representation of Omaha is found in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Men died or were badly injured by withering machine-gun-fire, mines and shells, while still in their landing-craft; men drowned; when the ramps came down, men dropped in the shallows; men fell at every step of the way up the beach; yet those left climbed ladders to reach the German barbed wire, pill-boxes and come to conclusions hand-to-hand or by grenade and flame-thrower with brave or ruthless opposite numbers.
In a far cry from his work on such features as ET, the Indiana Jones-franchise and Jurassic Park, the American film-composer, John Williams'. carefully somnambulistic music for this terrible confrontation between weaponry and young men – and History - invokes the spirit of Lincoln, via Copland, with sombre, brazen textures and angular pentatonic fanfares and harmonies.
Track 2: Omaha Beach, from Saving Private Ryan, John Williams
Of course, if the Germans had not expected the invasion to occur in the Pas-de-Calais-area rather than Normandy; if they had been able to mount pre-emptive heavy bombing-raids on the bases at which men and material had been amassed, and on the major ports at which the fleet had been gathered, or if the Luftwaffe
had met force with force over the beaches...casualty-figures should have been far higher than even those
suffered by airborne forces and by those who had landed on Omaha beach.
The lack of opposition from the air astonished most who took part in D-Day. Some of the best Luftwaffe units were based in France, in spite of withdrawals to Germany and the Eastern Front. Throughout the day, a single sortie was flown over Sword Beach by two German Focke-Wulf 190 interceptors The pair made a single sweep at low level that the forlorn pilots had been convinced must end in their deaths. They cut a swathe through Allied troops before leaving only more quickly than they had arrived.
The first many German ground-units knew of D-Day was the frontal vision of a vast fleet of ships – and they didn't have sight of it for long before they were ducking under heavy naval bombardment or trying to fire back.
The preparations for D-Day had been long-drawn-out, reaching a height of activity in the late Spring and early Summer. Something of the mood in Britain can be gathered from two films straddling the period, A Canterbury Tale and Henry The Fifth. The one weds the themes of pilgrimage, English cultural tradition and the Anglo-American relationship, the other, the oft-played and digested moral of British heroism and victory
against the odds. The names and art of Chaucer and Shakespeare were well-invoked. By the mid-1940s, thanks to readiness and modern methods of surveillance, the game of invasion had become an overwhelming hazard; no matter how many soldiers, aircraft, tanks and warships were thrown into the assault, a coast and deep defensive lines remained an unknowable obstacle; covering fire from however many ships and aircraft perhaps drawn from other fronts or other activities, might still encounter an impassable wall of enemy resistance. The Allies had to win their goal – and know how to follow it up. Overwhelming weight of numbers and equipment had suffered great reverses in Sicily and on mainland Italy, owing to strategic inco-ordination, friendly fire and brave defence. The channel's small breadth rendered the invasion-fleet highly conspicuous from first to last. From the commanding officers to the other ranks, shrewd, individual courage from conviction had to be the modern military's strongest resource. A Canterbury Tale was released in Canterbury on May the 11th, 1944, Henry The Fifth, in London, on the 22nd of November, 1944.
Here is the rousing Prelude to A Canterbury Tale, music by the Polish emigre, Allan Gray.
It quotes Angelus Ad Virginem, as a pilgrims' hymn, at the outset. The verses from Chaucer's Prologue To The Canterbury Tales are read beautifully by Esmonde Knight – who took the part of Fluellin in Henry The Fifth, and, who, in A Canterbury Tale, plays two roles, those of a sergeant and a village idiot! How the phrase in the high chorus haunts the mind after seeing this beautiful black-and-white film of rural and Canterburian South-east
Track 3: A Canterbury Tale, Prelude, Gray
From Sir Laurence Olivier's Henry The Fifth, accompanied by the galvanic music of Sir William Walton, Speech Before Harfleur - part of a re-recorded sequence in which the actor adds Chorus' commentary at the conclusion. From the same source follows soldier William's reflections on the cause for which the commoner fights, “But if the cause be not good”.again voiced by Olivier, and Henry's second great speech – urging on his men to stand to at Agincourt – “This day is called The Feast of Crispian”.
Track 5: But if the Cause be not good
Track 6: This Day Is Called
The assembling of Brahms' Requiem occupied him so long that it only began in the shocking fate of his short lived friend and advocate, Robert Schumann. It came to be a requiem for his beloved mother as well. It is A German Requiem; in settings of Lutheran biblical texts; it seeks to console the living, rather than to sing a mass over the dead. Nowhere is the name of Christ invoked. Brahms was not only nominally a Lutheran, he was an agnostic or atheist who saw life in all its grandeur, complexity, and ethical significance, but who was unable to believe in the saviour of the New Testament. “Such a great man,” Dvorak once said, “and he believes in nothing!” Reactions to the long, slow, patient and hugely learned Requiem have ranged from ecstasy to the decrying of its bourgeois wearisomeness. Its immense span ends in its beginning, with the music of the opening providing the close: grief is never assuaged, never forgotten, but over the course of seven movements, one has a sterling spiritual experience of circularity, of psychologically acute and compassionate ariosi and Handelian heights of choral and orchestral counterpoint that symbolize the positive moods and actions of social and cultural tradition and survival. Consistent musical logic and lyrical beauty in severe style are put at the service of sincere grief and fellow-feeling. The spirit is far from the Protestant work-ethic that may underlie the composer's development. This is not workfare-music any more than it is the
music of any church-sect or of Nazi strength through joy.
“Such a great man, and he believes in nothing...” Is that true?
If Beethoven gave the free world its Vee-For-Victory signal, we invoke Brahms as the 19th Century German nationalist who accorded a wreathed portrait of Bismarck a place of honour on his wall, but who would certainly have loathed the Kultur of Nazism, even if still almost unaware of its abysmally evil crimes. Let's hear “Herr, Lehre doch mich”, the third movement, in honour of the men who drove and ran up to death, or who stood to in the defensive wall. “Lord, make me to know mine end” Darkness appears to surround the lonely baritone voice. This extract from a complete recording of the German Requiem in English, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, who had himself flagrantly opposed Fascism and emigrated, was made in 1943. Some American servicemen may have heard it.. The individual is borne up at length by the contrapuntal chorus of what may comfort him, by the example of his righteous fellow-sufferers – all rest in the hand of God. This piece may have struck Dvorak to the heart; a prominent falling phrase from it turns up in his powerful 'Cello Concerto of many years later.
Track 7: lll Herr, Lehre Doch Mich from Ein Deutches Requiem, Brahms
From the Piano Sonata no 2, Concord Sonata, by Charles Ives, the second movement, The Alcotts – a home
to New England Transcendentalism in the 19th Century. Transcendentalism is the word, as so often with this composer, for whom concord was to be reached-after by mortal man. An astonishing, elegiac and uneasily beautiful piece. Note the Beethovenian gesture from long before Vee-for-Victory was thought of. Beethoven was a Transcendentalist before Transcendentalism was thought of.
Track 8: The Alcotts from Piano Sonata No 2, Concord, Ives
For three months before D-Day,The Glenn Miller Band – renamed the American Band of The Allied Expeditionary Force kept up a gruelling schedule of concerts in the South of England. Here's their cover of Summertime,from Gershwin's pre-war opera, Porgy and Bess. The arrangement exhibits to the full Glenn Miller's trademark micromanagement of scoring and expressiveness – of contrasts between orchestral sections and bold use of mutes. How peace must have been longed-for.
This was Classical Break, on Somer Valley FM, and I'm Rupert Kirkham. We hope you have enjoyed our programme in commemoration of D-Day, dedicated to all who took part in this massive but heroic action – or who faced it; to the men on both sides, many of whom have lain in peace in the same cemeteries these 70 years. We thank Mike Burrows for researching and writing it. He keeps in mind Sapper James Kenyon, who worked on the Mulberry temporary harbours used in the days after the landings.
Track 11: The Day Thou Gavest & Last Post & Sunset