In artistic terms, World War One is mostly remembered through literature and poetry, but composers responded to the conflict too, in various ways. The practical difficulty of writing while on active service meant that the majority of music written during the duration of the war was composed by those too old or unfit to serve, rather than the younger generation.
Once the war was over, both ex-combatant and civilian composers set to the task of writing musical memorials, such as Arthur Bliss’s ‘symphony on war’ for orchestra, narrator and chorus entitled Morning Heroes (1930). One of that younger generation, Bliss had been a student when the war broke out. Often such public works were written as an act of private catharsis; in this case, to exorcise war-related nightmares, and to honour his brother, who was killed on the Somme.
Another memorial work, from a composer of the older generation, was John Foulds’s (1880–1939) eccentric epic A World Requiem of 1919–21. Conceived as a memorial to the dead of all nations, it requires 1,250 performers.
Unlike a conventional Requiem, it is not a straight setting of the Latin Mass. The text, assembled by Foulds’s wife Maud MacCarthy (1882–1967), is a mix of Latin, English biblical passages, excerpts from The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1628–1688), a Hindu poem, and passages by MacCarthy herself.
- 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.