{ subscribe_url:'/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/nls-music-notes.php' }

Veterans Day and Armistice Day – Composers in World War I

A few months back, I wrote a post about some of the music of the World War I era, both popular and classical. That post describes the music of that time; however, I did not go into much detail about how World War I affected composers of that era, some penning music that expressed their sense of grief, loss, and futility of war.

One of the sadder composer stories is of George Butterworth, who was born in London in 1885. He attended the University of Oxford and was an acquaintance of Vaughan Williams, sometimes travelling with him to the countryside to collect folk songs. Butterworth joined the war effort shortly after England entered, and he served as a platoon leader. Tragically, he was shot by a sniper during the battle of the Somme. He was 31. Two of his most famous works are song settings of A.E. Housman’s poems: Six Songs from “A Shropshire Lad,” composed in 1911, and Bredon Hill and Other Songs, composed in 1912. We have these books at BRM09510 and BRM02812, respectively.

A poster from the UK during World War I

The veteran’s farewell. Enlist now! 1 print (poster) by Frank Dadd, 1914. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g10886

Like Butterworth, Arthur Bliss, was keen to join the war effort, and he fought in France until 1917 with the Royal Fusiliers. His brother Kennard was killed in action, and this tragedy affected him deeply. We have two pieces by Bliss in the collection: The Beatitudes: A Cantata for Soprano and Tenor Soli, Chorus, Orchestra and Organ (BRM29678) and The Buckle: for Voice and Piano (BRM21921).

Alban Berg served in the Austro-Hungarian Army from 1915 through 1918. During that time he also worked on his opera Wozzeck, which coalesced many of the tensions, horrors, and distress of the modern age, specifically those of World War I. We have a few digital talking books that discuss this opera: Wozzeck: Commentary by Alfred Glasser (DBM01605), Wozzeck (DBM01314), and Michael Barclay Lectures on “Wozzeck” by Berg (DBM00787). We also have an opera guide with libretto at BRM30057.

Maurice Ravel also wished to join the war effort for France as a pilot; however he was too old, and instead became a truck driver.  Ravel suffered a number of ailments during the war, including insomnia, digestive issues, and frostbite. During the war, he composed Le Tombeau de Couperin. Each of the six movements is dedicated to a friend of Ravel who had died during the war. We have three versions of this piece in bar-by-bar (BRM05545), bar-over-bar (BRM18929), and paragraph formats (BRM21733). Between 1929 and 1930, Ravel also composed the Concerto for the Left Hand (BRM24137), which was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during World War I.

Many other composers were affected by the war, including Frederick Delius, Enrique Granados, and Benjamin Britten. Please get in touch with the music section if you would like to borrow any items mentioned in this post.

Celebrating that “Parisienne Gaiety”

When I was a teenager, I began learning about classical music by listening to radio programs in the evening. Often the shows would begin with an overture or “light classic”, such as the Light Cavalry Overture (which our school band played), or the William Tell Overture (the “Lone Ranger” to me). There was also a […]

The Music and Sounds of the Vietnam Era

Like many other Americans, I have been tuning in to the documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick this past week. This 10-part series depicts the grim realities of the Vietnam War at home and abroad, and the soundtrack of the movie transports one back to the late 1960s quite perfectly. With […]

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: A (Part 1)

The following is a guest blog post from the new section head of the NLS Music Section, Juliette Appold. Have you ever thought about listing classical and contemporary composers by their last names from A to Z? How about identifying American composers from A to Z? And how about filling the alphabet with names of […]

A Gem in the Music Appreciation Collection

One of the most nerve-racking events I ever experienced as a music student was participating in master classes. I remember one class in particular vividly; the feeling of slight panic as the master class teacher repeated for the fourth time, “no, not like that, try again.” I could hear the audience shifting in their seats […]

There’s No Song Like an Old Song

I’m always reminding myself how fortunate I am to live in an area that offers not only great classical music, theater and dance performances, but many popular music performers make a stop, especially during the summer. Being a child of the sixties, rock and roll concerts usually meant performances in smoky nightclubs (missed out on […]

It’s Summertime!

Now that the hockey season is officially over, there is only one major sport that is capturing the nation’s attention: baseball! I find that baseball is synonymous with summer, as it’s been played in the summer months for generations. I’m sure I’m not alone recalling warm summer evenings spent gathered around the radio listening to […]

Vacation Listening, and Much More

On May 13, I was baking cookies and listening to the Met Broadcast of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. One of the announcers explained that this production would take place not in the 18th century, but in 1911, the year it was composed (also the year that Mahler died, I thought to myself). And that’s when it […]

New Titles from Bill Brown

For this week’s blog, the staff of the Music Section decided it would be a good idea to update our readers on some of our newly added titles from Bill Brown. These books are not on BARD. However, they are all available on digital cartridge. If you see something that interests you, please get in touch […]

An American Classic: Irving Berlin

We’ve discussed show-tunes, Broadway, and the Great American Songbook on the blog before, but we have yet to talk about perhaps one of the most influential composers of American standards: Irving Berlin, who happens to celebrate his 129th birthday today. Along with penning a few Broadway scores, including the score for Annie Get Your Gun, […]