“What if the god of war himself was behind D-Day?”
Ares Takes Normandy (2017) was commissioned by Dr. Benjamin Charles to be premiered by the Tarleton State University Percussion Ensemble, featuring Chad Wiley on trombone for the premiere. An intricately and creatively orchestrated work of three movements, Ares tells the story of the Invasion of Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944, in what would become one of the major turning points in World War II to the Allies’ favor. This invasion, later to be referred to as “D-Day,” remains the largest seaborne invasion in history, and among the deadliest.
The first movement, “The God Approaches,” brings us to the coast of Normandy before the invasions take place. Soft metallic hits in the percussion accompanied with low rolls in the bass drum, marimba, and timpani help to create the illusion of waves as the tide comes in. Soon we hear Ares’ war cry, represented by the solo trombone playing in tandem with a slide whistle. The movement quickly crescendos into an aggressive infantry march, suggesting the calamity that is to come, before fading into a soft, foreboding nothingness.
The next movement, “The Sixth of June,” signals the start of the invasion. The falling of bombs and pandemonium of infantry and air force are well represented by antiphonal timpani strikes, slow glissandi of slide whistles, and heavy battery strikes against the meter. The trombone plays a virtuosic obbligato over this chaos, as if the god of war himself is screaming in agony over this cacophony.
The work closes with “Epitaph,” the slow aftermath of a now ruined coastline. Starting as eerie and taking a quick turn for the plaintive, the trombone (now muted) plays a song of lament over his surroundings, as Ares shows remorse and humility from the destruction he has caused. This movement quotes the Epitaph of Seikilos, the oldest surviving complete song we have in history, which roughly translates as follows:
While you live, shine
Have no grief at all.
Life exists only for a short while
And time demands an end
The work concludes with the instruments slowly fading away. The chimes play a slow toll to honor the dead, Ares having one last say of his theme before he departs.