In artistic terms, World War One is mostly remembered through literature and poetry. Composers however responded to the conflict too, in various ways. Some of them saw active service: poet-composer Ivor Gurney (1890–1937) wrote some of his songs practically in the front line, while Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) put his harrowing experiences in the medical corps into his Pastoral Symphony of 1922.
However, most music written during the duration of the war was composed by those too old or unfit to serve. Composers of this old guard, such as Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934), Sir Charles Stanford (1852–1924) and Sir Hubert Parry (1848–1918), felt strongly that they should write works that met the general need to mourn, commemorate, celebrate, and raise spirits. There were calls in journals such as The Musical Times for composers to write ‘the piece of the war’ that might speak both for and to the British people.
Elgar’s works were generally the best known of any English composer during that period. So it was to him, after his huge success with the Enigma Variations and the Dream of Gerontius at the turn of the century, that the people turned. This is his hearty setting of Rudyard Kipling’s the Fringes of the Fleet, written in the same year; the first piece, The Lowestoft Boat, is a rousing, eminently singable sea-shanty.
- Article by:
- Kate Kennedy
- Representation and memory
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.