Thursday, June 6, 2013

the sounds of sacrifice

World War I memorial marker on a country road, Normandy, France

The year I turned two years old, musician and composer Benjamin Britten debuted his monumental piece “War Requiem,” which was recently reviewed in the Wall Street Journal in an article titled “The Sounds of Sacrifice.”

For the text, Britten selected nine poems by Lt. Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, who died on the battlefield in 1918—interweaving the lyrics into the traditional Mass for the Dead. The musical pieces (which you can check out on YouTube) will shake you to the core with their intensity. At the same time, however, I find the words, the poems, disarming and moving in their honest simplicity.

War Requiem: "Agnus Dei" by Benjamin Britten

On our recent French pilgrimage, I was struck by how recent and relevant the two World Wars are in that part of the world. We visited churches and cathedrals destroyed by bombings; towns that had been occupied by the enemy then liberated; and of course, cemeteries that spoke their own unique, silent story.

I suppose it makes sense that in a landscape where history can be seen and touched that dates back 1,000 years, the 1940s are deemed very recent to the collective memory of that region.

Above is the Chapelle Notre Dame de la Paix, Our Lady of Peace, in the village of Saint-Mère Eglise, where American paratroopers converged in the early morning hours of June 6, D-Day. This set the events of that historic day in motion, beginning with the taking of Utah Beach.

Utah beach

“The allied forces landing on this shore which they call Omaha Beach liberate Europe –June 6th 1944”

Monument "Les Braves" at Omaha Beach

local roads are named after the soldiers killed on D-Day

Infamous Point du Hoc, 4 miles west of Omaha Beach, where the cliffs proved deadly
for American troops trying to reach the German bunkers
American cemetery at Normandy

Stained glass featuring the paratroopers at the Saint-Mère Eglise chapel

Our Lady of Peace, pray for us