William Himes (b. 1949) is an American composer of works primarily for wind band, specializing in music for young bands.  He received his education at the University of Michigan.  He has been the music director of the Salvation Army‘s Central Territory since 1977, overseeing their operations throughout the Midwest and conducting the Chicago Staff Band.  This band, like much of Himes’s music, has been heard all over the world.

Barbarossa is one of those ideal young band (grade 2, in this case) pieces that doesn’t sound like it was written for young band.  The musical ideas unfold seamlessly and without sounding limited by technical considerations.  Himes wrote Barbarossa in 1995.  It is inspired by the World War II operation of the same name.  From the score:

By the summer of 1940, World War II was well under way.  Much of Europe was occupied by German troops, and resilient Great Britain was being battered by Germany at sea and from the air.  German dictator Adolf Hitler, along with his generals, now began making plans to invade the Soviet Union.  Germany’s invasion plan was named Operation Barbarossa.

The German invasion on the morning of June 22, 1941 went largely unchallenged, because Russian commanders had orders not to provoke the Germans.  Human casualties and equipment losses were high.  Quickly, however, Russian opposition became much more determined and ferocious, and on July 3, Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union, called upon all Russian citizens to fight fervently against the invasion.  The people responded unselfishly.

Adolf Hitler craved the capture of Russia’s capital, Moscow, but the autumn rains had begun to fall, and roads were turning to mud.  By the end of October, rivers had flooded and muddy roads and fields were next to impassable.  Cloudy conditions limited visibility and reduced the number of air attacks by German bombers.  The weather, and the reorganization of the Russian Air Force, helped to slow the German invasion to less than two miles per day.  Yet it was the spirit of the Russian people that continued to provide the strongest defense.

By November, the forces of winter began to prevail.  Hitler, hoping for a Moscow victory by the end of the year, risked sending his troops through the winter elements to advance on the Russian capital.  By the end of the month, the Germans surrounded Moscow 20 miles outside the city, but that was as close as they were able to get.  The Germans lacked warm clothing and food.  Their machine guns froze, and engines had to be kept running, wasting valuable food supplies.  The attack was called off on December 5, 1941.

The next day, the Russians went on the offensive.  Soldiers brought in from Siberia were well prepared for the harsh conditions.  Weapons were winterized with low-temperature oil.  Russian troops were equipped with white winter gear and thick boots, and could withstand -40 Farenheit temperatures for hours.  They achieved great success against the Germans, who were exhausted by the severe weather conditions.  By the end of December, the Russians had recaptured much of the territory lost in the previous months.

None of this would have happened if Hitler had just listened to the lessons of history, namely the very similar conditions under which Napoleon retreated from Russia with his French Army, famously dramatized by Tchaikovsky in the 1812 Overture.  Himes’s approach is not as literal as Tchaikovsky’s.  Barbarossa begins briskly and powerfully, with a unison minor-key shout.  It sustains a nervous energy until a slower, expressive melody takes over.  The agitation of the opening eventually returns, leading to a grandiose finish.

Read more about William Himes and Operation Barbarossa.  Fun fact: “Barbarossa” means “red beard” in Italian, so there was a Holy Roman Emperor with a red beard who went by that nickname in the 12th century.

A professional recording of Barbarossa: