Three Comments on War
Ed. Erik Leung
Born: 1913, Germany
Three Comments on War was commissioned by the Southern Division of the College Band Directors National Association. The melody that serves as “Chorale” of the first movement, an anonymous secular French ballad of antiquity is the folk song “Jean Renaud,” which tells the story of a mortally wounded king who comes home to die. His mother makes desperate efforts to hide the tragic event from his queen, who has just given birth to a son. The efforts are unsuccessful and the queen, in order to remain forever with Renaud, asks the earth to split open and to “swallow” her. The song is the cantus firmus of the beginning and the end of the Chorale Prelude. The middle portion is a plaintive cantabile crescendo evolved from the voices that support the cantus firmus in the opening section.
The second movement, Battle Music, has a program idea that is traditional enough. Examples of battle music are found in Renaissance and Baroque music. Its tone is heroic and somewhat humorous and the same appeal can be found in its late ech, Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory. Modern war has certainly not eliminated the heroic aspect of battle, but its catastrophic grimness is quite unrelieved. The present Battle Music wants to be a reflection of this. It is written in sonata form with the minor but very noticeable irregularity that the two principal themes are “conjured up” by preparatory passages, and not stated directly. The first theme represents the battle events, the second is an anticipation of one of the songs of mourning of the finale. The third movement, Epitaph, is a memorial piece for a soldier. The principal songlike theme, appearing in three sections of the piece, forms a five-point rondo with two other songlike episodes. A short quotation of “Jean Renaud” leads into a violent, ominous final fanfare.