Korn SymphonyWind Orchestra
i: Dirge – Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
ii: At the Cathedral Gate
iii: Cross of Nails
The 1940 blitz of the strategically important city of Coventry was as brutal as it was extensive. Over two thirds of the city’s buildings were destroyed during the waves of bombings by the Luftwaffe, and over 500 people perished in the raids. The Nazi code word for Coventry was “Korn”.
Many in the city believed that Churchill had prior knowledge of the raids, but in order to protect the Enigma machine – a machine that was able to break the Nazi’s codes, and that would ultimately go on to be a crucial tool in securing victory over Hitler’s forces – he made the choice to sacrifice Coventry and its citizens. It’s a belief that’s held by the city, and many historians, to this day.
The first movement takes its title from the W.H. Auden poem “Funeral Blues” a funeral dirge which mourns the loss of someone very close. The poem was written just before the Second World War, but it was echoed in startling reality during the Coventry blitz as the funerals of those lost in previous night’s attacks took place with the Luftwaffe circling overhead.
Growing up in a town (which also suffered bombings at this time) only a few miles away from Coventry, childhood visits to the site of the cathedral were not uncommon. The cathedral, which had stood since the early 15th century, was destroyed during the raids, the roof collapsing due to fire. A cross – The Charred Cross – was bound together out of two charred beams that had fallen from the roof and lay on the ground in a cross formation, a replica of which still stands at the altar of the remains of the cathedral, alongside which a new cathedral was built after the war.
To this day, The Charred Cross is one of the most recognised images in the UK. The second movement, At the Cathedral Gate, is an incessant movement intended to depict the brutal nature of the air raids, juxtaposed with the quiet burning of embers.
A second cross, formed from three nails that had fallen from the burned roof were also formed in to a cross, and can be found in the new cathedral. A further cross of nails was made from the remains of the cathedral and now sits in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, which was destroyed in Allied air raids during the Second World War. The Cross of Nails has since become a symbol of peace and reconciliation, replicas of which appear in cathedrals across the world.
This final movement seeks to represent these themes of peace and reconciliation, combined with stark mourning – a final acknowledgment of Auden’s poem.
The work was commissioned by a consortium of 13 bands, led by the Middle Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble and their conductor Reed Thomas, to whom Korn Symphony is dedicated to in friendship.
The premiere was given by the Middle Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble, conducted by Reed Thomas, October 8, 2015.