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Proof through the Night

Proof through the Night: Music and the Great War

Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 614
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  • Book Info
    Proof through the Night
    Book Description:

    Carols floating across no-man's-land on Christmas Eve 1914; solemn choruses, marches, and popular songs responding to the call of propaganda ministries and war charities; opera, keyboard suites, ragtime, and concertos for the left hand-all provided testimony to the unique power of music to chronicle the Great War and to memorialize its battles and fallen heroes in the first post-Armistice decade. In this striking book, Glenn Watkins investigates these variable roles of music primarily from the angle of the Entente nations' perceived threat of German hegemony in matters of intellectual and artistic accomplishment-a principal concern not only for Europe but also for the United States, whose late entrance into the fray prompted a renewed interest in defining America as an emergent world power as well as a fledgling musical culture. He shows that each nation gave "proof through the night"-ringing evidence during the dark hours of the war-not only of its nationalist resolve in the singing of national airs but also of its power to recall home and hearth on distant battlefields and to reflect upon loss long after the guns had been silenced. Watkins's eloquent narrative argues that twentieth-century Modernism was not launched full force with the advent of the Great War but rather was challenged by a new set of alternatives to the prewar avant-garde. His central focus on music as a cultural marker during the First World War of necessity exposes its relationship to the other arts, national institutions, and international politics. From wartime scores by Debussy and Stravinsky to telling retrospective works by Berg, Ravel, and Britten; from "La Marseillaise" to "The Star-Spangled Banner," from "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" to "Over There," music reflected society's profoundest doubts and aspirations. By turns it challenged or supported the legitimacy of war, chronicled misgivings in miniature and grandiose formats alike, and inevitably expressed its sorrow at the final price exacted by the Great War.Proof through the Nightconcludes with a consideration of the post-Armistice period when, on the classical music front, memory and distance forged a musical response that was frequently more powerful than in wartime.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92789-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    War is a terrible thing. Yet the cadence of troops marching through the streets, the ringing sound of national airs, the flapping of proudly hoisted flags, and, in more modern times, the swoosh of aircraft racing overhead typically send hearts pounding and aspirations soaring. Inevitably, it is in the period following the cessation of hostilities, in times of so-called peace, that the initially envisioned mission becomes increasingly difficult to identify. An awareness of the cohorts of war surfaces even more gradually, and only in recent decades has the study of the Great War of 1914–1918 moved beyond political and...


    • 1 In Search of Kultur
      (pp. 13-30)

      In 1912 the future Nobel laureate Romain Rolland finished his grand novel,Jean-Christophe,with a vivid premonition of war, yet the first entry of his wartime journal, dated 31 July 1914, suggests that he was almost incredulous that it had arrived.

      A telegram of the federal council posted at the Vevey railroad station announces “complete mobilisation in Russia and a state of war proclaimed in Germany.” It is one of the most beautiful days of the year, a truly wondrous evening. The mountains undulate in a light haze, luminous and tinged with blue; the moonlight scatters a splash of crimson...


    • 2 Pomp and Circumstance
      (pp. 33-46)

      When war broke out in August 1914 a number of British composers, some of whom had been vacationing or attending the Wagner festival at Bayreuth, found themselves in Germany. Over the next weeks and months some 4,000 English men were rounded up and incarcerated at a makeshift prisoner-of-war camp for civilians at Ruhleben, site of a racetrack near Berlin. In time an active educational program was launched, courses in composition and harmony were offered to a group of forty-two musicians, and a musical society, backed by an orchestra of some eighty musicians, was established. The oratorios of Handel and Mendelssohn,...

    • 3 The Old Lie
      (pp. 47-60)

      Just as the call to arms in 1914 triggered a search for national identity and increased the pull of patriotism, so it soon became clear that not all the voices of caution and dissent could be silenced. Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher and mathematician, although forty-two years of age and beyond conscription age, daringly broadcast his position in a letter that appeared inNationon 16 August 1914: “And all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid,...

    • 4 The Symphony of the Front
      (pp. 61-80)

      Peace is marked by an uneasy stillness, war by a tumultuous roar, and inHenry VShakespeare tapped a terrifying reality known to every Tommy, Fritz, and poilu on the front: War is Noise! That the sound of uninterrupted bombardment was the most difficult aspect of life in the trenches to accept was depicted by poets, musicians, and painters of numerous nationalities throughout the conflict.¹ Owen, in his “Anthem for Doomed Youth,”² conveyed as few others the incessant accompaniment to a soldier’s daily life, one that persisted to his final moments: “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? /...


    • 5 Mobilization and the Call to History
      (pp. 83-102)

      Dining on the rue Royale on 1 August 1914, the American novelist Edith Wharton watched the crowds thronging the streets of Paris.¹ Notices of mobilization had been posted throughout the city by 4 p.m., the military had commandeered all of the buses, and taxis were also soon appropriated to move troops to the front to fight in the Battle of the Marne.² Outside Wharton’s restaurant a small red-coated band of Hungarian musicians blared rounds of patriotic music, and the intervals between the courses, prolonged with so few waiters left to serve, were broken by the ever recurring obligation to stand...

    • 6 War and the Children
      (pp. 103-121)

      In wartime Paris the offices of the various charities that registered and distributed tickets for food, clothing, and lodging were frequently manned by writers and artists, whose lists included André Gide, Jacques-Émile Blanche, and the young Darius Milhaud.¹ One of the most important of these charities, the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee, was organized in 1915 by Edith Wharton, who referred to it as “my prettiest and showiest and altogether most appealing charity.”² It was a particularly odd characterization that unwittingly betrayed the difficulty Wharton experienced in reconciling her New York society manner with a wartime project aimed at the...

    • 7 War Games, 1914–1915
      (pp. 122-139)

      Romain Rolland believed that music could signal profound social changes prior to their appearance, and similarly, when the Great War erupted the composer Alexander Skriabin welcomed it as a manifestation of his own apocalyptic views. Others contended that the explosive language of Stravinsky’sLe sacre du printemps,originally titled “The Great Sacrifice” and given its premiere little more than a year before the outbreak of World War I, had also virtually prophesied the price of nationhood in the conflict to come. However we may choose to hearLe sacretoday, numerous chroniclers of the time spoke of its symbolism for...

    • 8 Charades and Masquerades
      (pp. 140-156)

      The conductor Pierre Monteux, who was already at the front and had seen many of his musicians killed or wounded, wrote to Stravinsky in December 1914 that he would never again negotiate with a German publisher and expressed the hope that a German conductor would never be engaged for the Ballets Russes.¹ For his part Stravinsky both envied and was concerned about his numerous friends and colleagues—Ravel and his pupil Maurice Delage among them—who had joined up in the first days of the conflict.²

      Stravinsky’s reactions to the war appeared in numerous guises over the next few years,...

    • 9 Church, State, and Schola
      (pp. 157-169)

      Christopher, bearer of Christ, who had borne the symbolic weight of Rolland’sJean-Christophe,surfaced once again in Wharton’sBook of the Homelesswith a single-page excerpt from d’Indy’s recently completedLa légende de Saint-Christophefor chorus and orchestra. The score had been finished by the end of 1913, but the orchestration took the better part of another two years, and the work was not performed at the Opéra until 1921.

      D’Indy was one of the most prominent pedagogical and philosophical forces in musical France and the only composer besides Stravinsky to be represented in Wharton’s collection. D’Indy’s inclusion in the...

    • 10 Neoclassicism, Aviation, and the Great War
      (pp. 170-196)

      Debussy and d’Indy were not the only French composers to confront the prospect of war in highly personal terms. Two days following the declaration of war Ravel wrote to his favorite pupil, Maurice Delage, that he had become completely preoccupied with defining his personal role in the struggle that lay ahead. “I’m working,” he wrote. “Yes, I’m working, and with an insane certainty and lucidity. But, during this time, the blues are at work too, and suddenly I find myself sobbing over my sharps and flats!”¹ It was at this time that Ravel began work on the Piano Trio.


  9. ITALY

    • 11 The World of the Future, the Future of the World
      (pp. 199-210)

      Lawrence was only partly right, of course. The Italians may have been running largely on impulse, but, as citizens of a predominantly Catholic nation, many of them diligently practiced the Care of the Soul, at least at confession and communion. He was correct, however, if he was thinking about the Futurists: for they were by definition anti-Church and less concerned about ultimate questions than with planning a glorious tomorrow and making it come true if necessary through war. Unlike Lawrence, however, they were against Verdi, Puccini, and Italian opera in general, which they held to be representative of a hopelessly...


    • 12 “Dance of Death”
      (pp. 213-226)

      The German empire of 1914, an unequal federation of twenty-five constituent states of which Prussia was the strongest, had been forged in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. During the ensuingKulturkampf,which sought to bring unity out of a conglomerate of multiple ethnicities and religions, Protestant Germany pushed to enlist the loyalty of Catholics to the nation much as France did in its calls for aunion sacrée.Yet despite its lack of political and social unity or a colonial base equal to that of Britain or France, Germany had cause to be proud for reasons other than its growing...

    • 13 “The Last Days of Mankind”
      (pp. 227-242)

      In a letter to Gerty von Hofmannsthal on 22 August 1914, Richard Strauss registered pride in Germany’s initial battlefield successes. “These are great and glorious times,” he wrote, “one feels exalted, knowing that this land, this people . . . must and will assume the leadership of Europe.” Shortly thereafter, however, on 12 September, it was reported that Strauss had refused to sign a manifesto of German artists and intellectuals, explaining that “declarations about things concerning war and politics are not fitting for an artist, who must give his attention to his creations and to his work.”¹ How an artist’s...


    • 14 “The Yanks Are Coming”
      (pp. 245-269)

      American entertainers and politicians alike maintained an uneasy neutrality following the outbreak of the war in August 1914. Al Jolson was already showcasing the popular English wartime song “Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers” inDancing Aroundwhen it opened on 10 October 1914 at the Winter Garden Theater in New York. Another of the rousing songs from the same season was Blanche Merrill’s “We Take Our Hats Off to You, Mr. Wilson.” Popularized by both Nora Bayes and Fanny Brice, it took on a new meaning as Wilson campaigned for reelection in 1916 on the slogan that he had...

    • 15 “Onward Christian Soldiers”
      (pp. 270-281)

      Randolph Bourne, a youthful intellectual who was bitterly opposed to America’s intervention in the European conflict, would have been in total sympathy with Twain’s mocking piety.¹ Embittered at those who cloaked the call to arms under the guise of promoting a struggle that would make the world safe for democracy, Bourne died at the age of thirty-two in the flu epidemic that swept the country shortly after the Armistice, and in the 1920s he became something of a hero for the “Lost Generation.”² Countering the pragmatist approach to war mouthed in the pages of theNew Republicby the philosopher...

    • 16 The 100% American
      (pp. 282-296)

      Despite Roosevelt’s ringing oratory near the end of the war, just what constituted “100% Americanism” was far from clear, and its meaning with respect to America’s involvement in a foreign conflict was even less so. The term’s implicit connotation of freedom from foreign influences held a paradoxical appeal for a country composed principally of immigrant stock. A doctrine of Manifest Destiny, based upon principles inherent in the Declaration of Independence, had been published as early as 1839 by John O’Sullivan, editor of theDemocratic Review.Promoting a philosophy of expansionism, O’Sullivan preached that the Declaration of Independence demonstrated “at once...

    • 17 “Proof through the Night”
      (pp. 297-311)

      Of all the modes of public participation following the declaration of war by the United States, it was the singing of the national anthem at civic events and in the concert hall that provided the most potent rallying point and gave proof of America’s resolve in the dark hours of the Great War. It was a factor that was quickly understood by American orchestra managers, who early on realized the need to neutralize the heavy dose of music by German and Austrian composers that had long dominated American orchestral programs. But just as boycotting this repertoire in favor of works...

    • 18 “On Patrol in No Man’s Land”
      (pp. 312-332)

      All-black units served in the historically segregated armed forces of the United States as late as the Korean War.¹ No fewer than 3,000 black soldiers, freed from slavery, had fought in the army of the American Revolution.² Others figured in the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans of 1814, and as many as 200,000 served in the Union army and navy during the Civil War.³ During the Great War there were four black regiments in the regular army: the 24th Infantry, which had served on the Mexican border since 1916; the 25th Infantry, stationed in Hawaii throughout...

    • 19 Coming of Age in America
      (pp. 333-354)

      Although the first three years of World War I took place without the physical presence of U.S. troops on the battlefield, numerous issues coincidental to the struggle were of necessity addressed in America well before its direct involvement. Nation-states are initially forged from ideas promoted by a small group of people. Territory may be seized and revolutions may be won, but the business of creating a collective sense of loyalty to the nation must be built slowly, usually after mustering the citizenry in a defining battle. Triumph over others brings a sense of self.¹ The wars fought by the United...


    • 20 “Goin’ Home”
      (pp. 357-371)

      The Armistice came and then the peace, but no new order fell automatically into place. The violinist Fritz Kreisler, who had been forced to withdraw from the American concert stage following a campaign of personal vilification because he had served in the Austrian army, returned safely to an admiring public. Yet, on the political front, Wilson’s Fourteen Points were rejected by the Allies, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles—the document was ultimately endorsed by the European signatories in the Hall of Mirrors, but created as many problems as it solved—and the League of Nations...

    • 21 Ceremonials and the War of Nerves
      (pp. 372-385)

      Ceremonies centering on the remembrance of soldiers who had fallen in battle proved crucial to the consolidation of a post-Great War psyche, and the various shrines of the Unknown Soldier that appeared in virtually every country attested to the purgative value of such commemorative sites. In 1917 Charles Villiers Stanford wrote an organ sonata with a Great War motif, subtitled “Eroica,” of which a version for full orchestra was performed in London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1918; the first movement was titled “Rheims” and the concluding one labeled “Verdun, 1916.” Then, when the Armistice finally came, Stanford followed withAt...

    • 22 The Persistence of Memory
      (pp. 386-402)

      In October 1916 Ravel wrote a friend that he had just read Alain-Fournier’s novelLe grand Meaulnes(1913), and later he spoke of composing a concerto either for piano or cello based upon it.¹ Although nothing ever came of the idea, Ravel had once again confirmed his belief in the capacity of textless instrumental structures to support a narrative. Further evidence of his attraction to writing seemingly abstract music to a literary subtext soon emerged with the commission in 1918 by the Italian poet Ricciotto Canudo of a preface to hisS.P. 503, Le poème du Vardar.Ultimately published together...

    • 23 Prophecies and Alarms
      (pp. 403-416)

      Paul Hindemith’s father had been killed in action in 1915, and his son, conscripted in August 1917 at twenty-two years of age, now determined that the only way to deal with the personal catastrophe brought on by war was to immerse himself in composition. Although at one point Hindemith was within a mile and a half of the front, he continued to compose regularly and was fortunate enough to form a string quartet—an action that allowed him to continue developing his skills as a violinist as well as his knowledge of the chamber repertoire (fig. 41).¹

      Serendipitously, Hindemith’s immediate...


    • 24 Unfinished Business
      (pp. 419-430)

      At the end of the Great War the balance of political power in Europe had been altered but not settled, and most of the old issues of ethnic and national identity were still filed away under the heading “Unfinished Business.” Even a decade later, in December 1929, Albert Einstein indicated that he clearly understood the ongoing nature of this cultural impasse when he stated in an address at the Sorbonne, “If my theory of relativity is proven correct, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 431-540)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 541-574)
  16. Index
    (pp. 575-596)
  17. List of CD Contents
    (pp. 597-598)