Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September 2015 - Featured Playlist: When We Wage War

One of the most important and beautiful functions of music is that it allows us another outlet to express what feels inexpressible, to say what we cannot put into words. It helps us to cope with the tragedies that are part of life, and to come to grips with our grief. For many composers, music was how they attempted to process the cruelties of war.

Twice in the twentieth century our entire world was engulfed in strife, and among the voices silenced too soon were many composers with great potential. Those that survived or could not fight also grappled with the previously unimaginable anguish left in the wake of battle. In these uncertain times today, when conflict continues to cloud our world, it is important to learn from the past, and to be aware of what we lose When We Wage War.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Naxos Music Library Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. Hugo Distler – Die Weihnachtsgeschichte: Meine Seele erhebt Gott, den Herrn – Wir bitten dich von Herzen – Hugo Distler was an organist, conductor, and teacher who was also considered one of the most important German composers of his generation, primarily because of his choral music. The constant air raids over Berlin, the loss of friends, and the threat of conscription into the Nazi military (a cause he could not support) led him to commit suicide in 1942.

2. Gustav Holst – The Planets: I. Mars, the Bringer of War – When World War I began, Holst attempted to enlist in the British army, but he was turned away for health reasons. Near the end of the war he received an opportunity to musically serve the British troops in Greece, and shortly before departing for his commission he gave the premiere of his most enduring work, The Planets.

3. George Butterworth – The Banks of Green Willow – Butterworth was a close friend of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and together they traveled across the English countryside to collect folk tunes, which would later influence their compositions. He volunteered to serve in World War I, and for an act of valor he was awarded the Military Cross. However, he was killed by a sniper in the Battle of the Somme before he could receive the award.
4. Benjamin Britten – War Requiem: Dies irae, dies illa – Britten was a pacifist granted status as a conscientious objector during World War II. The War Requiem was composed to mark the consecration of an English cathedral rebuilt after its destruction in the war, and it makes use of the traditional Latin text interspersed with poetry by Wilfred Owen, killed in World War I. It is dedicated to friends of his and his partner Peter Pears who died in the war.

5. Gideon Klein – String Trio: III. Molto vivace – Gideon Klein was born into a Jewish family in Czechoslovakia, and at 22 he was deported by the Nazis to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, one of the few where cultural activity was permitted. His String Trio was composed in 1944, shortly before he was transferred to Auschwitz and then F├╝rstengrube, where he died during the liquidation.

6. Ralph Vaughan Williams – Symphony No. 3, “Pastoral”: IV. Lento. Moderato maestos. Animato. Poco piu lento. Tempo I – When World War I broke out, Vaughan Williams was too old for conscription, but he volunteered as an ambulance driver for the British medical corps, later being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery. This experience inspired his Third Symphony, an elegy for the dead in the war.
7. Ethel Smyth – The Wreckers: Overture – Smyth’s opera The Wreckers saw its run canceled by the onset of World War I, and she joined the war effort, first with an ambulance outfit on the Italian front. Later she became a radiographer in Vichy, France, using these skills to assist doctors in finding shrapnel in wounded soldiers. She also worked for a time as an interpreter for the Red Cross in Italy.

8. William Grant Still – In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy – The League of Composers commissioned a work on patriotic themes from American composer William Grant Still during World War II, and he responded with In Memoriam. There is a certain irony in the title, as many African-American soldiers gave their lives defending a country that had not truly defended them.

9. Maurice Ravel – Le tombeau de Couperin: Toccata – Ravel was too old and sickly to fight in World War I, but he was able to serve as an ambulance driver. You can’t tell from the title, but the French Baroque-themed Le tombeau de Couperin was composed in memory of friends who died in the war. The Toccata is dedicated to Joseph de Marliave, whose wife Marguerite premiered the suite.
10. Ivor Gurney – By A Bierside – Gurney composed “By A Bierside” and other songs while serving in the trenches of World War I. He survived the war, but injuries from poison gas and shell shock, combined with a painful breakup and possible bipolar disorder, resulted in his admission to a mental hospital not long after the end of the war, and he spent the final fifteen years of his life institutionalized.

11. Kurt Weill – Das Berliner Requiem: Marterl / Grabschrift – Das Berliner Requiem was composed for the tenth anniversary of World War I, and possibly to honor the noted pacifist Rosa Luxemburg. Weill would go on to further be impacted by World War II, as his music was repressed by the Nazi regime for being “degenerate”, and he later had to flee Germany because of his Jewish heritage.

12. Ivor Novello – Keep the Home Fires Burning – Ivor Novello was one of the most successful entertainers in Great Britain during the first half of the twentieth century, having considerable success on both screen and stage. His song “Keep the Home Fires Burning” was his break-out hit, becoming a patriotic anthem during World War I.

13. Lili Boulanger – Pour les funerailles d’un soldat – Despite her poor health, Lili Boulanger poured herself into the war effort as best she could. Many musicians had been drafted to fight for France in World War I, and she and her sister Nadia worked to serve them however they could, mostly through helping them keep in contact with their families.

14. Jehan Alain – Litanies – Best known for his compositions for organ, Alain served as a dispatch motorcyclist in the French Army during World War II. He was killed on reconnaissance when he encountered a group of German soldiers on the road, but he managed to take down sixteen of them before he died. For his bravery, he was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre.

15. Ernest Farrar – Heroic Elegy – British composer Ernest Farrar volunteered for the Grenadier Guards in 1915, but was not sent to the front in France until September 1918, where he was killed after only two days. First performed while on leave two months before his death, the Heroic Elegy was Farrar’s final work for orchestra.

16. Charles Ives – Orchestral Set No. 2: III. From Hanover Square North, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose – The sinking of the Lusitania was a major catalyst for the United States’ involvement in World War I, and From Hanover Square… was Ives’ depiction of an incident the day the news broke. As he awaited a train at Hanover Square, the crowd spontaneously sang the hymn The Sweet By And By, a melody Ives incorporated in the work.

17. William Charles Denis Browne – To Gratiana Dancing and Singing – Denis Browne joined the British military in World War I alongside his close friend, the poet Rupert Brooke. Together they were sent to join the Gallipoli landings, but Brooke became ill and died along the way. Denis Browne went on to fight, but he was fatally wounded during an attack on the Turkish trenches at the Third Battle of Krithia.

18. Frederick Septimus Kelly – Shall I Compare Thee? – Besides being a composer, Frederick Septimus Kelly was a skilled rower who picked up a gold medal at the 1908 Olympics. He was a friend of William Charles Denis Browne and Rupert Brooke both, and he was present with Denis Browne as Brooke lay dying. Kelly managed to survive the carnage of Gallipoli, but he was killed charging a machine gun at the Battle of the Somme in France.

19. Dick Kattenburg – Flute Sonata: III. Fughetta: Allegro vivo – Kattenburg’s Flute Sonata was composed when he was only 18, and until 2004 it was thought to be the only surviving work of his. That year, a relative went through his late sister’s possessions and found many more equally inspired compositions. Kattenburg was only 25 years old when he was killed at Auschwitz.

20. Francis Purcell Warren – Five Short Pieces for Violoncello: Sunday Evening in Autumn –Warren (nicknamed Bunny by his friends) disappeared at the Battle of the Somme. Of him, composer Hubert Parry wrote, “It is a peculiarly tragic case…(He had begun) to show characteristic qualities as a composer which were quite surprising…One of humanity’s tenderest possessions was ruthlessly destroyed.”

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