The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music poll: What piece of classical music best celebrates Memorial Day and honors veterans? | May 30, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Today — Sunday, May 30 — at 7 p.m. tonight (with a repeat at 8:30 p.m.) on Wisconsin Public Television (WHA-TV Channel 21 or HD-TV Channel 600) this year’s ever-popular National Memorial Day Concert on the West Lawn (below) of the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., will be televised live.

Here’s an official description taken from a press release, although no program of music selections is listed:

“The 2010 event commemorates 21 years on air as the nation’s memorial service, offering viewers a time to remember, heal and bring our country together. The FREE concert will feature a mix of dramatic readings, documentary footage and live musical performances, along with an all-star line-up of dignitaries, actors and musical artists.”

The guests include Colin Powell and Joe Mantegna.

You can be sure the program will feature of a lot of patriotic and nostalgic music — Sousa marches, for one — performed by the National Symphony Orchestra (below top) under pops conductor Jack Everly (below bottom), who is succeeding Erich Kunzel, who died last year.

But classical music is sometimes programmed — and can be very appropriate.

Last year’s program, for example, included an abbreviated version of Tchaikovsky’s popular piano Concerto No.1  in B-flat minor with pianist Lang Lang and with black-and-white video clips of GIs.

Here’s a link to an audio/video clip of the performance:

What other classical music would fit in this format?

Haydn’s “Drumroll” Symphony?

Schubert’s “Military Marches” come to mind, but seem a bit light on the nostalgia front.

Samuel Barber’s poignant “Adagio for Strings” is a good work that was also used in the Vietnam War film “Platoon.”

Sir Edward Elgar’s :”Enigma” Variations has a deeply moving “Nimrod” section that Ken Burns used, mostly in a piano arrangement, in his documentary about World War II.

And the finale of Beethoven’s legendary Ninth Symphony would use the chorus and soloists and orchestra in
that popular plea for peace and universal brotherhood. It was good enough for Leonard Bernstein to use it to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And of course Beethoven’s dramatic “Egmont” Overture celebrates freedom.

What about American composer Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”?

Of course, there is a difference between music for a personal recollection and remembrance, and music that is suitable for a crowd and its collective recollection and remembrance.

So I ask you, readers and especially veterans: What piece or pieces of classical music would you like to hear to honor veterans and current members of the armed forces and their families?

It’s too late, of course, to affect this year’s program.

But maybe future programmers will take notice.

Anyway, The Ear wants to hear.

And I will post my own choice as well as yours tomorrow on Memorial Day.


Posted in Classical music


  1. Four pieces come to mind for Memorial Day (though of course I have no idea what they may say to others!)

    1. Borodin, “In the Steppes of Central Asia”
    2. Ives, “Variations on America” (Organ)
    3. Vaughan Williams, “English Folk Song Suite”
    4. (If “classical-style movie music” counts)
    then music by Hans Zimmer from the 90’s movie “Backdraft” could work–the main theme “Fighting 17th,” or a later cut called “Show Me Your Firetruck,” which combines the martial and poignant themes.

    Thanks, Jacob, for this opportunity.

    Comment by David J. Susan — May 30, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

    • Hi David,
      Thanks for reading, writing and voting.
      They all sound like good and appropriate choices.
      Let’s see what others say.

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 30, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

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