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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 […]

Back to School: Method Books Edition (Part 2)

Last week, we detailed method books in the collection for wind instruments. This week, we are highlighting method books in our collection for string instruments and percussion, with some jazz method books thrown in for good measure! If there is anything here that could be useful to you or your student, please don’t hesitate to […]

Back to School: Method Books Edition (Part 1)

Although for most of us it still feels like the middle of summer outside, it is time for many folks to begin thinking about back-to-school, and the new books and supplies for the year. That, of course, includes books for music classes, band, and orchestra. In the past, we’ve discussed books for college students, and […]

BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download)

Recently, I’ve been dismayed to hear some patrons say, “I know you don’t have such and such in your collection because I already checked on BARD.” After receiving a few of these comments, I realized that some of our patrons mistakenly believe that our entire collection is available on BARD.  I would like to use […]

Our Newest Books on (and off) BARD

Since it’s back-to-school time, many folks find themselves looking for new projects, new topics of interest, and new hobbies. I sincerely hope that many of you reading this are hoping to learn how to play music or your favorite song, improving your already extant musical skill, or maybe teaching yourself about some topic in music […]

A Trip Around the World with the NLS Music Section

Do you want to learn how to play piano? We have a book for you! Do you want the libretto for your favorite opera? We have that as well! Do you want to learn about folk music from around the world? Well, we also have books about that. Many patrons get to know us through […]

Happy Birthday Nino Rota

Although motion pictures are, for all intents and purposes, a visual art form, one can still appreciate the music from those films on their own without the movie-going experience. For this I am grateful, as, being more drawn to music than film (and having limited spare time to catch all the movies that I’d like […]

A King and a (Fairy) Queen: Music by Henry Purcell in the NLS Collection

Today (September 10th) we celebrate Henry Purcell’s 356th birthday [Note: this date is actually disputed as no official baptismal record has been found. However, we will use this commonly accepted date, as it gives us a chance to talk about his music!]. Purcell’s contribution to Western classical music is indispensable, as it has influenced numerous other […]