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Capture of the U-505

timpani Solo
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Composer: John Willmarth
Publisher: Innovative Percussion
Instrumentation: Timpani

Program Notes:

In 1941, the United States entered World War II in response to Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. At this point in the war, the Germans had already unleashed their Blitzkrieg attack on London and, along with Japan and Italy, formed the Axis powers. Because shipping was the primary means of delivering supplies to Great Britain and Africa, the German submarine or U-boat became a major factor in what has come to be known as the Battle of the Atlantic. German U-boats were sinking merchant ships at an alarming rate. In fact the U-boats effect on the war was so profound that in a speech British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stated, “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” In response to this threat, the United States formed hunter-killer task groups designed to seek out and destroy enemy subs. Captain Daniel Gallery led the group known as the 22.3 which was comprised of five destroyer escorts: USS Chatelain, USS Jenks, USS Flaherty, USS Pillsbury, USS Pope, and the aircraft carrier the USS Guadalcanal. Through intercepted radio transmissions the 22.3 was able to ascertain the general location of a U-boat off the coast of West Africa. After 2 weeks of searching unsuccessfully, the 22.3 broke off the hunt. On June 4th, 1944, as they headed towards Casablanca to refuel, the USS Chatelain suddenly made sonar contact with the U-505 less than 800 yards away. The American destroyer fired on the sub as it took evasive action. Wildcat fighters from the Guadalcanal marked the position of the U-505 by firing their machine guns into the water. The Chatelain was able to severely damage the U-505 using depth charges, forcing her to surface. It was a short but fierce battle in which the U-505 was only able to launch one torpedo. Once the sub surfaced, the U.S. convoy surrounded the sub and covered her in artillery fire. The crew abandoned ship and 58 German sailors were captured with only one casualty. Although the Germans took measures to scuttle the ship, an American salvage crew managed to board the boat, remove classified materials, and save the U-505 from sinking. The boat was secretly towed over 2,500 miles to a U.S. base at Bermuda in order to study German U-boat technology. Because of the bravery, courage, and daring of Commander Gallery and his team, the U.S. Navy was able to capture an enemy vessel at sea for the first time since the War of 1812. Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, released the following statement: “The Task Group's brilliant achievement in disabling, capturing, and towing to a United States base a modern enemy man-ofwar taken in combat on the high seas is a feat unprecedented in individual and group bravery, execution, and accomplishment in the Naval History of the United States."

“Capture of the U-505” is a programmatic piece influenced by Wagner’s use of Leitmotif: a musical device in which a character, place, or idea is depicted through a musical theme. Throughout the work the top two drums represent the American Naval forces and the bottom drums the German U-boat, the U-505. The piece is comprised of four sections: The U-boat, The Chase, The Battle, and The Capture. The opening reveals the U-boat theme including the characteristic sound of the sonar ping. The one-handed roll technique depicts the rumble of the U-boat engines. The Chase is written in a canonic style in which one hand ‘chases’ the other. The left hand plays the bottom drums in the key of Bb while the right hand plays the top drums in the key of F. Eventually an ostinato is unveiled which rhythmically spells out the distress signal ‘S.O.S.’ in Morse code. In The Battle, small cloth bags filled with coins are placed in the center of the drumhead producing an explosion sound when the head is struck. At ‘agitato’ the performer should improvise for 10-20 seconds using, but not limited to, the given motives in a fragmented rhythmic style (devoid of an easily discernable pulse center). The texture of the improvisation should become increasingly dense throughout. The drums can be tuned to any pitch throughout this section (based on where the performer chooses to end the glissando effects) but should end with the drums in mid-range. A 4-line staff is also used to represent the four drums rather that delineate a specific pitch set. This section should depict the chaos, aggression, and ferocity of battle. An elongated glissando up the drums is used to portray the U-boat surfacing thus ending the battle (this phrase should be performed on the 32” and 29” drums). The Capture brings some of the beginning themes full circle. This time, however, the rumble of the engines is on the high drums representing the American convoy. The drums are tuned to a major tonality depicting a resolution of the conflict throughout. The sonar ping is no longer present but the motive carries on as the sub is towed away.

 

Special thanks to Jim Campbell, Robert Parks, Brett Paschal, and Brian Zator for their encouragement and guidance on this composition.

 


Review:
This solo is dedicated to the composer’s father, contains performance notes, a notation guide, and an extensive program note detailing the historical facts surrounding the capture of a German submarine during World War II. According to the composer, “This is a programmatic piece influenced by Wagner’s use of Leitmotif: a musical device in which a character, place, or idea is depicted through a musical theme. Throughout the work the top two drums represent the American Naval forces and the bottom drums the German U-boat, the U-505. The piece is comprised of four sections: The U-boat, The Chase, The Battle, and The Capture.”

The solo calls for extensive pedaling and glissandi effects, as well as extended techniques such as a one-handed roll (as in marimba technique). Additionally, the solo has some unique effects including striking the bowl with a mallet to evoke a sonar “ping,” an ostinato that rhythmically spells out the distress signal “S.O.S.” in Morse code, and a section where small cloth bags filled with coins are placed in the center of the drumhead to simulate the sound of an explosion when the head is struck. At times, this piece is like a duet for one person, requiring good independence (especially in a section requiring one hand in triple meter while the opposite hand is in duple).

Great attention to detail by the performer is required to fully convey the composer’s intent regarding individual “identities” and events. This solo requires solid timpani technique and the programmatic aspect should prove interesting and entertaining for an audience." — Jeff Moore Percussive Notes, July 2013

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John Willmarth John Willmarth
Summerville High School
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