New Meanings

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They might be favourites of the classical repertoire, but they have assumed new meanings through connection to modern warfare. The first kind are works by composers who were killed in war. The second kind are classical pieces associated strongly with war through their use in film.

George Butterworth (died at the Somme, 1916)

A friend and contemporary of Vaughan-Williams, Butterworth was killed at the Somme in 1916. His A Shropshire Lad was composed in the aftermath of the Boer War.

Butterworth: A Shropshire Lad

Enrique Granados (died 1916)

Spanish composer Enrique Granados died when the ship he was traveling in from the USA to Europe was torpedoed by a U-boat.

Granados: Spanish Dance No. 5

André Caplet (died of wounds 1925)

Caplet was a friend and contemporary of Debussy. He served in World War I. His lungs were greatly weakened by exposure to poison gas, which resulted in his untimely death in 1925. Les Prières was written during the war years.

Les Prières, mvt. 1. Oraison dominicale

Pavel Haas (murdered in Auschwitz 1944)

A student of Janáček, Haas was murdered during the Holocaust. Snippets of this work A Study for Strings appear in the Nazi propaganda film The Führer Gives the Jews a City (see the documentary Music in Nazi Germany) made shortly before he was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Haas: A Study for Strings

Ozaki Sokichi (died of illness on active service 1945)

A student of Toyo Music School who was drafted into the military twice in 1939 and 1943. He died of appendicitis while on active service in China. His Evening Song (Yoru no uta, 1943) is his final work written in between his two periods of service.

Ozaki Sokichi: The Night Song

Chopin: Nocturne No. 20

A piece associated with “The Pianist” Wladyslaw Szpilman, who plays it here.

Film trailer for The Pianist

Beethoven: Moonlight Sonata

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata has a strong connection to kamikaze through its position novel/film Summer of the Moonlight Sonata, in which two pilots play the sonata before flying their mission. Here is a telling of the story that combines piano performance and poetry reading.

Summer of the Moonlight Sonata: poetry reading and piano concert version

The piano is kept in the Sanmesse Hall in Tosu and is sometimes used for peace concerts. Here is what it sounds like.

The piano that inspired the film Summer of the Moonlight Sonata.

Pianos as instruments have also become important conveyers of war memories in Hiroshima (see Hibaku Pianos).

Barber: Adagio for Strings

Barber’s haunting Adagio became strongly associated with the Vietnam War when it was used in the soundtrack for Platoon.

Adagio for Strings

Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries

Another piece associated with the Vietnam war via this iconic sequence from Apocalypse Now.

Ride of the Valkyries from Apocalypse Now.

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