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In Japan, classical music and World War I are most associated by the first performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 by German POWs. See Chapter 13 of War as Entertainment and Contents Tourism in Japan.
The Western Front in Europe has inspired various pieces that epitomize fundamental functions/emotions that can be channeled into war-related music.
Music Composed During the War
Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4 is one of the best known “wartime symphonies”.
Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm as a soldier in the First World War. This 1937 Wittgenstein recording is by no means the best (indeed, it is excruciating in places!) … but it clearly shows the roots of this masterpiece in war.
Exorcising the Nightmare
Arthur Bliss served in the trenches during the First World War and in Morning Heroes he worked through his experiences.
Likewise, Ralph Vaughan Williams served in the trenches as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps. His Symphony No. 3 “A Pastoral Symphony” is a poignant memorial to the dead of World War I.
The Pity/Horror of War
Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem has no equals in this regard.
Honoring the Dead
Maurice Ravel’s piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin commemorates seven fallen friends in World War I.
Patrick Hawes’ The Great War Symphony takes the memorial and honouring the fallen approach on a much larger scale.
A World Forever Changed
While not explicitly about the war, Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto (1919) is a moving testimony to just how much the war changed his music from his earlier “imperial” style. The concerto was only popularized in the 1960s by Jacqueline du Pre.
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