For me, Phase IV at marker A is the most emotional - it truly does sound like chaos and confusion, followed by a tense, contemplative passage like a deafening silence.
We're not always so lucky to have this much insight on the piece from the composer. Sometimes it's in the conductor's copy. In this case, it's printed on each band member's sheet music as well.
And now shared with you below:
Lonely Beach is a tone poem about some isolated and not particularly attractive beaches on the northern coast of France which, for a few hours on a late spring day in 1944, were transformed into the most important location in the violent history of the 20th Century. The five most accessible stretches of beach between Meville to the east and Mésiers to the west became the landing zones for the largest amphibious assault in military history: D-Day, 6 June 1944.
Although it is impossible to describe the events of that day in this short essay, it is important to note that that gigantic endeavor (code-named Operation Overlord) included nearly 5,000 ships, 175,000 assault troops and 20,000 paratroopers, along with thousands of aircraft. The operation was initially planned for 5 June (because of moon and tide conditions), but it was postponed for 24 hours because of miserable weather and rough seas. General Eisenhower's decision to make the assault on the next morning was calculated on the forecast of Allied meteorologists that there would be a 72-hour 'window" in the poor weather conditions, during which time it would be possible to make the initial landings before the next storm hit the English Channel. (That is precisely what did happen.) It is ironic that the fate of great nations and hundreds of millions of people rested in the hands of a few weather experts who, because of Allied weather stations in Greenland and Iceland, had better information about the weather than did the Germans.
Beginning at dawn that day, American, British and Canadian forces attacked the five German-held beaches, which were code-named from east to west: Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. The eastern beaches were lightly defended, so the British and Canadians made their landings in good order, but the American troops landing on Omaha and Utah (the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions) ran into extremely heavy resistance. Casualties were very high (2,000 by 10:00 hours), and the Allies almost lost this tenuous foothold on the European Continent before the perseverance and on-the-spot ingenuity of the American soldier finally broke through the German defenses and secured these initial beachheads. At the end of the day, the Allies were again standing on the soil of France, and Adolf Hitler's Third Reich was ultimately doomed by this second front.
To me, the most tragic vision of D-Day is the film footage of American troops disembarking from a landing craft onto the intense machine gun fire of Omaha Beach. One soldier runs out and makes it up the beach to the wall. Then two more. The fourth soldier gets perhaps 15 yards from the LCI before he is hit and falls. He doesn't move—he was probably dead when he hit the ground. It is an unforgettable and excruciatingly painful moment
Seeing this newsreel always makes me think these same things: Who was the soldier, and where was he from? How old was he? Who were his parents? Was he married; did he have children? He lies on that beach with thousands of men around him, but he dies alone. On battlefields, all men die alone.
The first half of this tone poem attempts to depict what that soldier might have seen on that cold, misty morning. It begins with the wind and the sound of the waves, then gradually builds as the assault begins. Off-stage trumpets and off-stage percussion are employed in this work to help portray the incredible panic and total chaos of the situation. The music builds into a frenzy and becomes more complex and confusing until, ultimately, the soldier runs up the beach and is struck by the bullet which kills him.
The second half of this work (beginning with the entrance of the female chorus) is a eulogy for all the soldiers (Allied and German alike) who died on this insignificant length of sand and rocks. The shouting and gunfire are now but echoes in our imagination. Little remains on these beaches to show that anything so significant as the Allied invasion of Northern Europe ever occurred along these shores, but, like Waterloo, Gettysburg, Verdun and Pearl Harbor, this will always remain hallowed ground.
Today, almost 50 years later, the ageless constancy of the wind and the waves reminds us of man's comparative insignificance in relation to the world around him, and it reinforces our realization of the waste, the horror and the tragedy of war.
June 15, 1992 Lawrence, Kansas