BACH'S INFLUENCE IN THE RED BARON

Hello reader! Welcome to beethoman.com. The time has come to finish the AB-A1 form of the articles, which talks about classical music influence in songs by Sabaton. In case you missed the previous two articles, you can read them by clicking the A or B letters up above. Today, I will talk about Sabaton’s song The Red Baron from the album The Great War, released in 2019. This song features one of Bach’s most famous organ fugues, Fugue in G minor BWV 578. The way its melody is incorporated in Sabaton’s song is very interesting, especially considering the fact how the song was made in the first place.

The Red Baron – The Background Story

For those of you who might not know who The Red Baron was, he was the German fighter pilot from The Great War. However, he wasn’t the regular fighter pilot. He was considered, and still is to this very day, the ace-of-aces with 80 confirmed kills. His name was Manfred (Albrecht Freiherr) von Richthofen. The legend about him inspired numerous creators throughout the years. There are movies, stories, paintings and songs depicting the legend about The Red Baron.

One thing that should be taken into consideration about The Red Baron is his honest will for a fight. His first service was in cavalry, but he was somewhat bored with its obligations in a modern war back in a day. So, he joined the Air Service in 1915. In January of 1917 he received the Pour le Mérite, the highest possible military honor in Germany at that time. He was a knight of the sky. His squadron was known as “The Flying Circus”, since their planes were painted in all sorts of bright colors and was mobile as a wind.

The last battle The Red Baron fought was on April 21st, 1918. He was 25 years old. Uncharacteristically and against his own teachings, von Richthofen went on a solo chase for a Scout plane deep into the enemy territory. Canadian flying ace Captain Arthur Roy Brown saw him and got behind his tail firing the bursts of bullets in The Red Baron’s plane. Von Richthofen landed on a field, however, he was dead. One single shot though the heart killed him. To this day, there is some mystery about who really killed him. While Canadian flying ace received the official credit for the kill, it is very possible that he got shot from the ground.

The Red baron

Bach’s Influence in The Red Baron

Now, how does this Bach’s piece relates to this story? Well, I have a theory about that. However, I must say that it is completely subjective, since Joakim Broden from Sabaton in said this video that the music for the song was composed way before they decided about what the song will be about. Nevertheless, I think that this combination was spot on and that it has much deeper meaning than the first sight might suggest.

Bach’s melody is actually the intro of the song, which is different approach compared to the two previous cases of intertextuality in Sabaton’s music I’ve talked about. The first twelve measures of the Fugue in G minor BWV 578 were borrowed completely unchanged when it comes to the notes. However, the sound is a little distorted. My guess is that Sabaton needed that effect for a better blending into the overall musical style of the song. This distortion will be especially important at the end of the intro.

Fugue in G minor BWV 578

Why fugue, and why this one? Well, the Sabaton’s song has a very fast pace. Joakim said that he wanted to create a different kind of song with the raw power of Hammond organ, fast shuffle beat and a lot of distortion. As straightforward as The Red Baron was, even he (Joakim) did not know at the time that the song will be about him (The Red Baron). The Fugue is also in pretty straightforward form. It has 3, 4, or more voices sounding together with the high degree of autonomy between them.

This fugue theme is particularly important because of its melodic-rhythmic shape. Look at the shape of the theme in the Example 1. Pretty much after the second listening I could imagine the plane’s takeoff and the fight in the air.

Example 1

The Takeoff

The first measure of the dux (first appearance of the theme) might be understood as a propeller of the plane that has started to spin. The leap of the fifth followed by the the descending seconds, intended to fill the gap between g and d notes could be seen as a plane motor starting to gear up for the takeoff. The third measure of the dux depicts the takeoff and the climbing through the air. The melody of the theme is constructed as a hidden two-part melody. Note d represents the ground layer. Notes g, a and b-flat in the upper layer depict the gradual takeoff of the plane. Also, the eights give the certain mobility to the musical flow compared to the quarters in the first measure.

Notes d and c at the very end of the fourth measure represent the final separation from the ground. Measure 5 depicts the free cruising in the sky. The passage at the end of this measure also could imply the ascending to a greater height.

The Problem Arises

Measure 6 brings a significant twist. Comes (the second appearance of the theme) is introduced and it indicates that the second plane is preparing. Because the comes is in D minor key, a dominant one in comparison to the original G minor, I would say that it is the enemy plane. While the first one cruises in the sky, which is especially depicted with the fast sixteenth notes, the other one goes through the same stages of preparation. Measure number 10 marks the final showdown. In Bach’s music a very interesting modulation occurs. The musical flow goes from D minor to the original G minor; however, ambiguous C minor briefly takes the place between them. This is a very important moment, since it creates a quite distinctive sounding effect. In this case, it might be suggesting a fateful twist in the air fight.

Especially important is the fact that the third voice in the original melody never arrives in Sabaton’s song. It is violently interrupted in the 12th measure with the first stable notion of the tonic function in the original G minor. The distortion I’ve mentioned earlier perhaps means that the second plane has caught the first one. I believe that you can imagine the rest of the story.

Who is the Winner – The Red Baron or the Other One?

Well, this is really a tough question and the answer really depends on the perspective. It really might allude to both scenarios. Having in mind that the Sabaton’s song does not mention in any verse that von Richthofen was killed, one might think that this except from Bach’s Fugue in G minor BWV 578 represents one of 80 kills von Richthofen managed to score. On the other hand, it also might represent the moment when The Red Baron was killed. To serve as a hidden symbol that lies in front of you, waiting to be discovered.

As you can probably see, interpretation is such a magical thing. It can produce completely opposed views, yet something entirely different can be the closest to the truth. Like that Joakim’s statement about the songwriting process for example. Nevertheless, if you like this post, please consider sharing it with your friends, colleagues or anybody else interested in this kind of topic. Until the next reading, stay safe and enjoy the music!

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