This week I took another trip out to Birds Hill Park to ride my bike around the perimeter roadway. The park is officially open now, and as it is the May Long Weekend, the campground is open, and many camper-trailers were being hauled in. I stood half an hour in a physically-distanced line at the campground office buying a season pass to Manitoba’s beautiful provincial parks.
One of my brothers texted, asking if I had time for a phone call. I replied “yes,” when I’d gotten my pass and was driving back to the place I usually park the car. I sat in the sunlit heat of the vehicle as we caught up on each other’s lives since the last time we spoke, a few weeks ago.
Once I had been riding for a while, the crosswinds and slight inclines brought out pain in my calf, and though I stopped and stretched it out partway through, it continued to take some of my attention, and I didn’t want to make it worse, so I cut the ride short at 35 kilometres. I didn’t have a goal for the day, but my previous ride was 50 km.
When we were speaking, my brother was telling me how much he is learning about my musical taste, from visiting this blog. He remarked that I don’t post very many classical pieces, aware that I have a fair-sized collection of classical music, mostly CDs, as the majority was acquired when CDs were the format of choice. (Another brother, whom it feels like I am getting to know all over again, richly and beautifully, tells me he is learning much about me from reading my posts and hearing the music I share. I love the when people tell me of their experiences of this daily thing of mine.)
Always up for a request or a suggestion, I started by looking at my digital collection, then today’s piece, composed by Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751), came into my mind. I associate it most as the theme and ending music of the 1981 film, Gallipoli. I remember when first seeing the movie, my late dad remarking then on how it was known as one of the most tragic campaigns of the First World War, with much loss of life (estimates I found to vary, depending on the source; anywhere from 190,000 to 250,000 dead, wounded or missing).
For me, the film really brought home the gravity of wartime loss. The young man, too young to enlist, finds his way into the Australian army; a force that came “of age” in the costly conflict. And maybe as I’ve aged, I appreciate the life I’ve been able to enjoy free of personal involvement in war, when both of my parents were profoundly affected by it, for life.
My father enlisted as a young man, serving six years of his young adult life in the British Army. He was a member of the Queen’s Own Grenadier Guards, an infantry regiment dating back to 1656 and which, though smaller now, has been deployed to conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Gulf War, and Afghanistan. He fought in some of the most dangerous theatres of the Second World War, including Montecassino, Italy, as well as North Africa.
My mother, who was nine years younger, was separated from her parents and along with her sisters, evacuated as were all children during the German Blitzkrieg; the port city of Liverpool was a prime target for the blitz. I thought of her so much when my cousin and her husband drove us through the seaside resort town in 2017 en route to visit her brother/my cousin and his family, just two months after Mum passed and we were on an already-scheduled trip to see family in Liverpool, Anglesey (Wales), and London.
I can’t imagine how either of them learned to cope, not knowing if they’d ever see their parents and families again.
What I’ve described has given me an appreciation, though luckily a quite distant one, for the tragedy of war. As I mentioned briefly, today’s piece plays during the film Gallipoli; a short excerpt in the opening, and a longer one in the closing scene. I find it hard not to weep with sadness when hearing this music and thinking of the memories it would have evoked for my parents, and with gratitude that my generation and the next as been spared from such agony.
I did a fair amount of research yesterday to find which of the many recorded versions of this piece was in the film. I’m quite sure from what I found, and my hearing memory, that it was the rendition by Jean-François Paillard and the Orchestre de Chambre Jean-François Paillard, which I’ve featured below. (I also like the version by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, which is quite a bit longer in duration; very beautiful in Karajan’s interpretation. He has been an almost lifelong favourite. There is a very haunting sound of an echo in his recording, when the orchestra ends each bar and the orchestra briefly falls silent. I highly recommend it for listening; it is easy to find on the Internet.)
It strikes me, each time I hear the Paillard rendition, the slow plodding of upright bass part at the beginning… it for me symbolizes the slow march to the almost certain death that so many service people have faced in wartime. The version is also deeply sombre and mournful though, from 6:47 to 7:09 in the video below, I find there is an element of hope in the music. The piece does not end with that.
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As an addition to today’s post, I had written most of this when called to join Sweety in the living room when CBC TV broke the story of the crash of one of the nine Canadian Forces’ Snowbirds 431 Aerial Demonstration Squadron aeroplanes, very shortly after take-off. One of the two-person crew ejected and sustained non-life-threatening injuries; the other has died. Our armed forces are never immune to loss it seems, even in operations they conduct to inspire a nation out of the challenges of near-lockdown in response to an unseen enemy; a virus.
Thank you, CF Snowbirds, for ‘Operation Inspiration.’ We see you. We stand mourning with you, your families and friends, and the nation you serve. 🇨🇦
Now, you know why this is my song of the day for today.
Here is the audio for the piece, recorded by Jean-François Paillard and the Orchestre de Chambre Jean-François Paillard.
Candle photo credit: Wikimedia