D-Day: 10 pieces of classical music to mark the 80th anniversary

5 June 2024, 22:03

Aaron Copland and beyond: classical music to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day
Aaron Copland and beyond: classical music to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

On the 80th anniversary of D-Day, classical music can provide a moment to reflect and pay tribute.

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On Thursday 6 June at 8pm, Zeb Soanes will be telling the remarkable story of the pivotal Normandy landings in 1944 through words and classical music, on the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The commemorative programme will feature music inspired by the horrors of the conflict and the triumph of victory, alongside clips from a selection of Sir Winston Churchill’s famous speeches as well as audio from D-Day veterans.

Ahead of this very special tribute, we explore the most beautiful and poignant pieces of music connected to D-Day and World War II.

Read more: D-Day 75 – the most poignant wartime songs

  1. Hymn to the Fallen from Saving Private Ryan – John Williams

    John Williams’ score, which includes the moving ‘Hymn to the Fallen’ written for concert band, elevated Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan to new heights of emotional intensity, evoking hope and strength amid the horrors of war.

    SAVING PRIVATE RYAN · Hymn to the Fallen · Prague Film Orchestra · John Williams

  2. ‘Nimrod’ from the Enigma Variations – Edward Elgar

    A popular stirring piece, Elgar’s eternal ‘Nimrod’ is often used to accompany images of war and bravery. It was played by a band for a service at sea on Tuesday, as veterans sailed to Normandy to pay their respects.

    Jonathan Scott performs his solo organ arrangement of Nimrod on the organ of WeiWuYing

  3. Spitfire Prelude and Fugue – William Walton

    Walton’s patriotic and much-loved composition, an arrangement of music he had written for the war film The First of the Few in 1941, was premiered two years later by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the composer himself.

    William Walton : Spitfire Prelude and Fugue. Video clips.

  4. Theme from The Longest Day – Maurice Jarre

    The 1962 epic war film about the Normandy landings required an intensely beautiful soundtrack – and French composer and conductor Maurice Jarre, who is now considered “one of the giants of 20th-century film music”, created a masterpiece for the moment.

    The Longest Day March

  5. ‘Romanza’ from Symphony No.5 in D major – Ralph Vaughan Williams

    Vaughan Williams wrote his Fifth Symphony during the Second World War, completing it a year before the D-Day landings. The Romanza is a spiritual, meditative piece that perfectly befits the mood of the day.

    Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 in D Major - III. Romanza

  6. Fanfare for the Common Man – Aaron Copland

    A concert opener like no other and a mainstay among US orchestras today, Copland’s majestic Fanfare starts slowly, building with dignified pounds of the bass drum. It has marked many solemn moments in world history, including at the dedication of the 9/11 museum in Manhattan in 2014.

    Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man - National Symphony Orchestra

  7. Calling All Workers – Eric Coates

    Coates’ wartime march was one of the most heard tunes on the radio between the years 1940 and 1967, often featured in a popular programme which was designed to cheer up and motivate war factory workers.

    Calling All Workers (March)

  8. ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ from Cantata No.147 – Johann Sebastian Bach

    Bach’s gentle cantata shines in this sensational recording by the great English pianist Myra Hess, who famously performed in the National Gallery during World War II.

    Myra Hess Plays Jesu,Joy of Man's Desiring and Scarlatti

  9. The Warsaw Concerto from Dangerous Moonlight – Richard Addinsell

    This piece has all the drama and flourishes of a Romantic piano concerto – but it was actually composed for the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight, a World War II love story with a sweeping soundtrack to match the romance of the plot.

    Addinsell: Warsaw Concerto

  10. ‘Let us sleep now’ from War Requiem – Benjamin Britten

    Lifelong pacifist Benjamin Britten compiled the text for his War Requiem from poems by Wilfred Owen and the Latin Mass for the Dead. It was first performed for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral, a rebuild after the 14th-century edifice had been destroyed in a World War II bombing raid.

    War Requiem, Op. 66: XIX. Let Us Sleep Now - In Paradisum

Join Zeb Soanes at 8pm on Thursday 6 June on Classic FM as he marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day in music.