World War I

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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”.

Nielsen: Symphony No. 4

Physical Wounds

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.

Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

Exorcising the Nightmare

Arthur Bliss served in the trenches during the First World War and in Morning Heroes he worked through his experiences.

Bliss: Morning Heroes

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.

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 3 “A Pastoral Symphony”

The Pity/Horror of War

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem has no equals in this regard.

Britten: War Requiem.

Honoring the Dead

Maurice Ravel’s piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin commemorates seven fallen friends in World War I.

Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin

Patrick Hawes’ The Great War Symphony takes the memorial and honouring the fallen approach on a much larger scale.

Hawes: The Great War Symphony

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.

Elgar: Cello Concerto

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