Hello reader and welcome to Today, I have a really interesting article for you. I will talk about musical gesture inside the musical topic of traveling (in the broadest sense of that word) in one of Sabaton’s songs – The Final Solution. It is very powerful song with genius example of a musical gesture produced by the word painting. Before we dive into the analysis I have to talk briefly about the ideas of musical topics and musical gestures.

What are actually musical topics and musical gestures?

Back in the day, when I was at the Faculty of Music in Belgrade, I was studying about many theories that occurred in the 20th and the 21st century. One of them was the Topic theory. Its founder was Leonard Rather who believed that if we are interested to understand classical music, then we should know the meanings of musical gestures. These are signs, and a lot of them create a musical topic. Such gestures may include solo horn as a sign of the hunting call in Haydn’s music, as Raymond Monelle pointed out in his book The Musical Topic – Hunt, Military and Pastoral, or some other procedures like “pianto”, the falling minor second which implies weeping (in the closest sense), and grief in more general sense of the word. The point is that such procedures should have distinctive and conventional meaning, so every listener could understand them.

In historical context, Rather, and later Agawu feel that musical topics work best in the music of classicism. Does that mean that musical topics cannot be applied to let’s say the music of the Romantic era, or popular music? Well, no. These styles are suitable for musical topics presentation and analysis as well, with different criteria however. In classicism, topics were self-evident, simple to spot and understand if you like. Later, topics became altered and modified to suite each composer, and their understanding became much more complexed. Music theory is a great vehicle for the unfolding of these meanings. However, even if you are not familiar with music theory you can still uncounsciously understand the essence of these topics and gestures – you just may not be completely aware of the procedures that led to it.

Musical gesture in The Final Solution

The Final Solution song by Sabaton speaks about the Holocaust, a genocide in which around 6 million Jews were killed, as well as many hundreds of thousands ethnicities like Slavs, Romanis, Poles, Russians and many, many others. The musical gesture I want to talk about, in my opinion describes the train. It was the most efficient transport vehicle in “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question” project. As you probably know, the Nazis used trains extensively to deport Jews and others to the concentration, or should we say extermination camps like Auschwitz. Hence, the imitation of a train in Sabaton’s song is a quite neat trait to underline the meaning of the words.

Here, the train is a signifier, whose mission is to encompass the whole story of the Jewish (and other’s) struggle. We can find similar procedure in Schubert’s Erlkönig. There, the musical gesture of the triplet rhythm figure represents the gallop of a horse (Example 1a). In The Final Solution, the musical gesture of a train is represented through the rhythm in the guitar and the drum sections, and it has two ways of manifestation. What is common for both of them is a figure made of sixteenth notes (semiquavers) which permanently repeat themselves (Example 1b).

Example 1a

Example 1b

The Final Solution Sabaton Example 1b

The first way of train manifestation ⇓

The First Way of Train Manifestation in The Final Solution

As I said earlier, this musical gesture appears in two ways during the song. The first one occurs throughout the verses and it is positioned in the background layer of the overall sound. The reason for such procedure lies in the words of the song. Namely, the first two verses of the song are opening the story about Nazis seizing the power and the start of the prosecutions of Jews.

“Country in depression
Nation in despair
One man seeking reasons everywhere
Growing hate and anger
The Fuhrer’s orders were precise
Who was to be blamed and pay the price!”

“Wicked propaganda
Turning neighbors into foes
Soldiers of the Third Reich searching homes
And then the former friends are watching
As they are rounded up one by one
Times of prosecutions has begun”

Reading of these lines reveals gradual growing inconveniences for the Jews in the Nazi Germany. Now, historically, these early events were sporadic in the early 1930’s, they were not systematic. That is why this musical gesture of train is in the background. You can barely hear it if you are not focused on the specific layer of the sound. Just like the rest of the Europe and the World have not heard it good enough.

The Second Way of Train Manifestation in The Final Solution

So far, the train was a sign of a quiet, unsystematic suffering of Jews, referring to the start of the 1930’s. However, that was about to change quite soon. Pre-Chorus segment has extremely powerful lyrics about that:

“Ever since it started
On Kristallnacht ’38
When liberty died
And truth was denied
Sent away on train on a one way trip to hell
Enter the gates Auschwitz awaits”

At this point of the song, musical gesture of train enters the foreground of the overall sound. It is backed up by the drummer’s sections in that way that we can almost hear a real old train steaming at full speed ahead towards the death camp.  Every bass guitar note, guitar riff and bass and snare drum hit depicts the spinning of the train wheels, steaming all the way since the locomotive driver decided to put the pedal to the metal. This procedure in the music only underlines the meaning of the words, which speak about the unstoppable cruelty of the Nazis which had begun with the Kristallnacht in 1938.

The line “Enter the gates Auschwitz awaits” is especially interesting. Namely, the drummer’s section is enriched by the sound of the cymbal, which at the given context may associate us to the warning sound when the train goes through the railroad crossing. Here’s the example of that sound.

This Nazi train was certainly at its full speed, and there was no chance of stopping it at that time. The first way of train manifestation ⇓

The Final Words

Here we are, at the end of today’s article. It is very interesting how tiny little procedures like these can contribute at such a great scale when it comes to the musical expression. Without this train gesture the whole expression of the Sabaton’s song would be a mediocre at best. However, with it, it represents a real piece of art. You can analyze it and give a meaning to it. For me, that is what the art is.

If you would like to know how Sabaton united Beethoven and heavy metal music, then click here. I had a lot of fun while I was analyzing that song and certainly was one of the most inspiring articles I’ve ever written. Please consider sharing this article to others. Thank you and until the next reading, stay safe and enjoy music.

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