Crumb did not initially intend Black Angels to serve as any sort of political message, but the time he wrote the piece simply happen to be during the Vietnam War. Americans grew weary of the atrocities of ongoing bloodshed as each year passed by, and media along with popular culture eventually became outlets of frustration. The composer, finding an occasion to resound with the majority of public opinion, contributed Black Angels as a fitting work to correspond with the conquest of death for so many involved in the war. Here’s an exciting excerpt:
A decade before Crumb’s work, Penderecki offered an aural testament to the calamity of nuclear bombing. In Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, the Polish composer aimed to capture the despair and misery of those who were met with brutal obliteration. Having himself been scarred by terrible childhood memories of Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, Penderecki drew from his own soul the torments of death and trepidation, which naturally channeled inspiration to his darkly haunting composition. Both World War II and the Vietnam War were well apart in time and place, yet Penderecki saw that his personal recollection resonated with the Japanese who were ensnared by wartime persecution.
Music is undoubtedly a powerful and universal language capable of imparting reflections of humanity. Evocations of human suffering and the tragedy of war such as Crumb’s Black Angels and Penderecki’s musical threnody are no doubt deeply impressed on listening ears. The morbidity of war as represented in music should lead audiences to reflect on the value of life and recognize the worthiness of each person. Music can make an impact, providing a moving and sometimes transcendental experience with an enduring consideration for human dignity – hoping that we all unite against political injustice and the devastation of massacre.
By Edward Ablang, an intern in the WYA North America Office