FIELDS OF VERDUN - SABATON AND BEETHOVEN - A FATEFUL FRIENDS

Have you ever found yourself obsessed with music? Searching for symbols, interpretations and what not? Well, I guess you did. Everybody does it from time to time. 😊 Today, I am going to talk about yet another song by the Swedish power metal band Sabaton in which the classical music influence is evident. The name of the song is Fields of Verdun. It is the ninth song from the album The Great War, released in 2019.

Their music has been haunting me, in a positive way, for quite some time. Full of symbolism, Sabaton’s music is very inspiring for analyzing. In the previous article about Sabaton’s song that uses classical music reference, I covered the song Hearts of Iron and the melody of Bach’s Air in D major from Third Orchestral Suite in D minor BWV 1068. Intertextuality in that case was represented by a citation, since the melody was literally taken from Bach’s piece and incorporated into their song. And it formed a beautiful combination. You can read it right here on beethoman.com. Now, in the song Fields of Verdun a different approach occurs. It is a paraphrase from Beethoven’s Fifth symphony. Let’s take a look how and, more importantly, why that happened.

Battle of Verdun – The Original ‘You Shall Not Pass’

The Battle of Verdun from 1916 inspired Sabaton to write this song. It was the greatest battle in the entire history of mankind, and it lasted for 303 days. Yup, you’ve read it correct, 303 days, consecutively. Germans called it the Unternehmengerecht (Operation Judgement). On the very first day of the battle, Germans used over a 1.000.000 artillery shells in their bombardment, and the army’s chief of staff, Erick von Falkenhayn said the following about the event: “No line is to remain unbombarded, no possibilities of supply unmolested, nowhere should the enemy feel himself safe.”. Of every five men in French trenches “…two have been buried alive under their shelter, two are wounded to some extent or the other, and the fifth is waiting.”. Eight villages around the city of Verdun were completely removed from the topography of the earth because of this battle.

As the battle lasted for such a long period of time, and the losses were extremely high, French troops had to mobilize men up to the age of 45. Therefore, many fathers and sons fought and died together. However, French soldiers managed to defend their fatherland. At the great cost though. The most striking motto of their resistance was lls ne passeront pas! (They shall not pass). As you probably know, paraphrase of this line Tolkien used in his The Lord of the Rings. Also, an interesting fact, Tolkien himself was a soldier in WWI and much of the battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings came out from his experiences in The Great War. All these things inspired Sabaton to write a song that will depict the amount of effort and sacrifice these men had to take for their fatherland.

Fields of Verdun - Soldier, Prepare to Meet Your Fate!

With these historical facts, the understanding of intertextuality should be a lot easier. Also, the Official Music Video of this song has an excellent dramaturgy that complements the whole thing. The paraphrase itself appears in the guitar solo. However, the first notion of it emerges after the second chorus of the song. After the chorus, these lines show up:

“Fields of execution turned to wasteland from the grass
Thou shalt go no further it was said they shall not pass
The spirit of resistance and the madness of the war”

Watching the music video, the change of the emotional state is evident. Firstly, a sudden night falls. And, as we know: “The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors”. Secondly, the soldiers come up from their trenches to go to a close combat. The part of the second line “Thou shalt go no further” arises as a citation from The Old Testament, God’s addressing to Job (Job 38:11). The rest of that line “they shall not pass” is widely known because of Gandalf’s line “You shall not pass”. But it was an actual parole of the French resistance as I mentioned before. Now, both parts of the line have unconditionally fateful connotations, since they are addressed to “The Evil”. This, however, will be instrumental for the understanding of Beethoven’s paraphrase.

Meet Your Fate Soldier! Now!

The lines that occur after the previous ones, which were stated earlier, reveal the essence of the Beethoven’s role in this song.

“So…
Go ahead!
Face the led!
Join the dead!
Though you die!
Where you lie!
Never asking why!”

Even the words themselves are enough to depict the fateful character of the scene. It is practically a Russian roulette if you are going to die or survive. But you have to try. Your commander is screaming those words. The enemy enters your trenches. And the close combat fight begins!

At that point, the guitar solo arises. That triple repetition of a single note strikes like a German artillery shell, resembles the material from the bridge of the First movement sonata form in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. In Beethoven’s composition, at that moment (the bridge), the fate is really starting to push him off the balance, even though the triple repetitions have been heard from the very beginning of the piece. In Sabaton’s song however, your fate in practically in front of you and there’s no escape.

 

Take a look at the Example 1. Both melodies are shown side by side. You can see a clear similarity in all of the aspects of the musical flow, especially in the first 8 measures.  The harmony is the same – the i and the V create a strong sound connection with Beethoven’s composition. The melody is based on the same motive. In Sabaton’s song the overall melody line is a little different (and transposed), but it’s a paraphrase after all. The direction is the same, and its upper trajectory serves only as a vehicle to enable it to storm down again.

 

Example 1

Fields of Verdun and 5th Beethoven Symphony 1
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
The Reference From the Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
Fields of Verdun and 5th Beethoven Symphony 2
Sabaton's song
The Guitar Solo Transcribed for the Piano

Fields of Verdun - The Sounding Effect

I suppose that all people that have heard this song were absolutely astonished by this solo. However, I believe that the people who had recognized the paraphrase from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony were generally even more astonished. Why do I think that? Well, because it brings many connotations, as it did in my case. One start searching for more symbols. Just like that citation from the Bible, or “they shall not pass” citation. Or even the meaning of the night that suddenly falls. This paraphrase gives Fields of Verdun a cutting edge in the musical sense. It is an absolute peak of the song’s dramaturgy and it is so beautifully composed that I absolutely had to write this article about it. Just like Sabaton wanted to give the homage to the men that died in that battle, I wanted to give my contribution by analyzing their piece of art.

In case you missed the previous article about the connection between Sabaton and Bach, click here to read it. If you like this post, share it with your friends, family and colleagues. Remember, there is going to be one more post about Sabaton’s song with the reference from classical music. Stay tuned, and enjoy the music!

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