World War I & Classical Music

One hundred years ago today – July 28, 1914 – Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, one month after the assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. The following day, a British naval officer wrote to his wife, “My darling one and beautiful, everything tends towards catastrophe and collapse.” The naval officer who wrote that letter – Winston Churchill – would be proven correct.

Austria-Hungary’s war declaration came at a time of simmering international tensions and triggered war on a global scale. It wasn’t just war, it was The Great War. And by its end, over 37 million military and civilian casualties resulted.

The Great War affected all facets of life, of course, including music. The tensions, the fears, and the hopes of the era resonated in its compositions, some of them composed by those who experienced war firsthand. On the centenary of World War I, learn about the war through a unique lens: through its classical music.

Four First World War Composers Who Defined the Conflict (The Telegraph)
“Despite being out of harmony with their usual surroundings, First World War composers George Butterworth, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg and Gustav Holst continued to push musical boundaries.” Read entire article

The Great War At 100: Music Of Conflict And Remembrance (NPR)
“Among the dead and the survivors were musicians. We’ve been listening to some of their creations. The extraordinary level of destruction inspired them in myriad ways.” Listen to entire story.

World War One and Classical Music (The British Library)
“As there were war poets, were there also war composers? Dr Kate Kennedy reflects on the role of classical music – by turns morale-raising and commemorative – and its composition among civilians and combatants.” Read entire article.

Why Do We Remember the Poets and Not the Composers of WW1? (BBC)
“The poets of World War One – Sassoon, Owen, Blunden – have acquired an almost celebrity status. Books about the war such as All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms have become bestsellers. But the work of composers who fought in the trenches has largely been forgotten.” Read entire article.

How the First World War Inspired Britain’s Favourite Piece of Classical Music (The Guardian)
“Despite its bucolic associations, Vaughan Williams’s the Lark Ascending was composed to a backdrop of military manoeuvres.” Read entire article