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Category Archives: Himes-William

William Himes (b. 1949) is an American composer of works primarily for wind band, specializing in music for young bands.  He received his education at the University of Michigan.  He has been the music director of the Salvation Army‘s Central Territory since 1977, overseeing their operations throughout the Midwest and conducting the Chicago Staff Band.  This band, like much of Himes’s music, has been heard all over the world.

Barbarossa is one of those ideal young band (grade 2, in this case) pieces that doesn’t sound like it was written for young band.  The musical ideas unfold seamlessly and without sounding limited by technical considerations.  Himes wrote Barbarossa in 1995.  It is inspired by the World War II operation of the same name.  From the score:

By the summer of 1940, World War II was well under way.  Much of Europe was occupied by German troops, and resilient Great Britain was being battered by Germany at sea and from the air.  German dictator Adolf Hitler, along with his generals, now began making plans to invade the Soviet Union.  Germany’s invasion plan was named Operation Barbarossa.

The German invasion on the morning of June 22, 1941 went largely unchallenged, because Russian commanders had orders not to provoke the Germans.  Human casualties and equipment losses were high.  Quickly, however, Russian opposition became much more determined and ferocious, and on July 3, Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union, called upon all Russian citizens to fight fervently against the invasion.  The people responded unselfishly.

Adolf Hitler craved the capture of Russia’s capital, Moscow, but the autumn rains had begun to fall, and roads were turning to mud.  By the end of October, rivers had flooded and muddy roads and fields were next to impassable.  Cloudy conditions limited visibility and reduced the number of air attacks by German bombers.  The weather, and the reorganization of the Russian Air Force, helped to slow the German invasion to less than two miles per day.  Yet it was the spirit of the Russian people that continued to provide the strongest defense.

By November, the forces of winter began to prevail.  Hitler, hoping for a Moscow victory by the end of the year, risked sending his troops through the winter elements to advance on the Russian capital.  By the end of the month, the Germans surrounded Moscow 20 miles outside the city, but that was as close as they were able to get.  The Germans lacked warm clothing and food.  Their machine guns froze, and engines had to be kept running, wasting valuable food supplies.  The attack was called off on December 5, 1941.

The next day, the Russians went on the offensive.  Soldiers brought in from Siberia were well prepared for the harsh conditions.  Weapons were winterized with low-temperature oil.  Russian troops were equipped with white winter gear and thick boots, and could withstand -40 Farenheit temperatures for hours.  They achieved great success against the Germans, who were exhausted by the severe weather conditions.  By the end of December, the Russians had recaptured much of the territory lost in the previous months.

None of this would have happened if Hitler had just listened to the lessons of history, namely the very similar conditions under which Napoleon retreated from Russia with his French Army, famously dramatized by Tchaikovsky in the 1812 Overture.  Himes’s approach is not as literal as Tchaikovsky’s.  Barbarossa begins briskly and powerfully, with a unison minor-key shout.  It sustains a nervous energy until a slower, expressive melody takes over.  The agitation of the opening eventually returns, leading to a grandiose finish.

Read more about William Himes and Operation Barbarossa.  Fun fact: “Barbarossa” means “red beard” in Italian, so there was a Holy Roman Emperor with a red beard who went by that nickname in the 12th century.

A professional recording of Barbarossa:

Educated at the University of Michigan, composer Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) has become one of the biggest names in new wind band repertoire.  Since 1991 he has been a Professor of Composition USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.

Ticheli’s own program note best encapsulates the impetus for his version of Amazing Grace:

I wanted my setting of AMAZING GRACE to reflect the powerful simplicity of the words and melody – to be sincere, to be direct, to be honest – and not through the use of novel harmonies and clever tricks, but by traveling traditional paths in search of truth and authenticity.

I believe that music has the power to take us to a place that words alone cannot. And so my own feelings about “Amazing Grace” reside in this setting itself. The harmony, texture, orchestration, and form are inseparable, intertwined so as to be perceived as a single expressive entity.

The spiritual, “Amazing Grace,” was written by John Newton (1725-1807), a slaveship captain who, after years of transporting slaves across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World, suddenly saw through divine grace the evilness of his acts. First published in 1835 by William Walker in The Southern Harmony, “Amazing Grace” has since grown to become one of the most beloved of all American spirituals.

The Manhattan Beach Music recording of AMAZING GRACE is performed by the California State University at Fullerton Wind Ensemble, Mitchell Fennell, conductor, Frank Ticheli, guest conductor. AMAZING GRACE was commissioned by John Whitwell in loving memory of his father, John Harvey Whitwell. It was first performed on February 10, 1994 by the Michigan State University Wind Symphony, John Whitwell conductor.

Frank Ticheli
Pasadena, California
May 11, 1994

More info on Ticheli’s version of Amazing Grace can be found here, at his publisher’s website.  This site is also home to a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music – quite a find!

Frank Ticheli’s personal website, Frankticheli.com.

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.

An anonymous band plays Amazing Grace:

There is also a version of Amazing Grace arranged by William Himes:

Info about the original song Amazing Grace on wikipedia.

Finally, the lyrics to the original tune of Amazing Grace, by John Newton (1725-1807).

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.