Music is a powerful reality in our lives. It has the power to transform a person for good or for evil. Today we get caught up in so much of the worst music. Music that serves no purpose besides pure entertainment. We would like to dedicate this section to suggesting music that we think is beautiful, thoughtful, powerful and impactful as a force for good.
by Benjamin Wallfisch and Sir Edgar Elgar
Perhaps one of the most beautiful musical pieces for a film has already been composed. We wonder what it would be like to live in the time of Beethoven, Mozart, or Brahms. Would we appreciate their music? Would we comprehend their music? Would we understand in the moment their compositions to be masterpieces or would we be told so, decades, even a half a century later? Due to the technological advances of our time that have dwindled human attention, brilliance is not only overlooked, but often not recognized at all.
In 1889, Sir Edward Elgar, inspired not only by the musical greats but also his life struggles and the encouragement given to him by a close friend, composed a beautiful piece that has been crowned his masterpiece. The piece is well known as Nimrod, often played at British funeral services for both the royal family and military members who have given their lives for king and country.
In 2017 the war film Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan was released. The film portrayed the evacuation of the British from Dunkirk during the Second World War but through the perspective of men who fought the battle on land, air, and sea. Dunkirk, perhaps the greatest film of Nolan, used Sir Edward Elgar’s Nimrod, and with the help of British composer Benjamin Wallfisch and the musical producing of Hans Zimmer, transformed a masterpiece into another masterpiece, through a brilliant arrangement given the name Variation 15.
Sir Edward Elgar composed 14 variations. Variation 15 was composed to pay homage to Sir Elgar’s Nimrod, to act as a continuation of his brilliance, and to honor the brave men who sacrificed their lives for a greater cause.
One doesn’t need to watch the film Dunkirk to understand the beauty of Variation 15, however, it does enhance its brilliance. Some say familiarity breeds contempt, but more than often familiarity breeds and unwavering attachment. Knowledge of such an event in history, paired with this musical composition which acts as the narrator, brings not only the event to life, but also the experiences and emotions that live within the soul of every human being; which is the very purpose of music.
Its first notes paint a wasteland, desolate, dark, and cold. This is done purposely. Often we see the ocean in the perspective of a magnificent sunset, but those of war saw the ocean as a barren, powerful, beautiful, but deadly desert. In order to musically portray such vastness as the ocean, a battalion of strings play in harmony. In fact Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer thought it necessary not only to record Variation 15 in a large hall, but they also filled the hall with over one-hundred players, to give the composition an oceanic feel.
Yet, even in such a wasteland as the ocean, there remains hope or at least a glimmer of hope, which is brought about musically by the large string section of the orchestra. Throughout the piece, certain chords are held for what seem like minutes in order to slowly achieve this emotion. Benjamin Wallfisch understood the necessity of building this sense of hope, as victory in such a circumstance was neither immediate nor one of dominance over the enemy, but one over death, a victory which lasts momentarily, for death is the assured path we all must take.
Every note is perfectly and slowly stitched together as every soldier portrayed in this drama at Dunkirk was brought to the brink of death and slowly stitched back to life as the light of hope peeked through the carnage of such a tragedy. The genius of Variation 15 is this slow, almost volcanic-like build that gives off sentiments of both sadness and hope, and even when the explosion of the last note sounds, one understands the battle is not over.