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Institut für Musikwissenschaft und Musikpädagogik

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Music positions its forces – Functionalisations of Music during the First World War

International symposium held at the Institute of Musicology and Music Pedagogy of the University of Osnabrück, 25th to 27th October 2012,organized by Prof. Dr. Dietrich Helms and Prof. Dr. Stefan Hanheidein collaboration with the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Centre, Osnabrück

It is the aim of our symposium to describe and analyse those moments in history, those social contexts and artistic means, in which and with the help of which the forces of music were positioned during the First World War. The whole spectrum of functions and functionalisations of music shall be discussed: Music as a weapon, music as comforter and as a media to commemorate and to overcome the atrocities of the war. These three functions of music give our symposium its structure.

1. In the times of war music becomes a weapon. It is abused for the aims of propaganda. It changes individual bodies into machines marching lock-step. It marks, as a symbolical barbed wire, the lines between “nations” or “cultures”. It marks, who is friend and who is foe, who is good and who is evil, culturally superior or primitive.

2. At the same time music also comforts. It helps individuals to survive and to remain human in the midst of all the atrocities of warfare. It helps to keep the memory of beauty alive, of values, of what is precious, of everyday live, feelings, love, belief, home… It evokes the fundamentals of humanity across the lines.

3. And finally music itself becomes a media for individual perceptions, thoughts and memories. In its form and its contexts it preserves the noise of the battle, the pathos of the historical moment, the horror of war, the mourning for the dead, visions of peace.

1. Fighting with and about music

The First World War did not come unprepared – neither politically nor culturally nor for the musical live of Europe. As Heinz Lemmermann has shown in his book “Kriegserziehung im Kaiserreich”, starting with the foundation of the Reich German pedagogy did not only help to glorify the Kaiser but also the ideal of the victorious soldier fighting for his nation. The war of liberation against Napoleon 1813 and the war against France, 1870/71, were utilised to create a founding myth for the young nation. Songs from these wars and songs about them found entry into songbooks for schools and were sung on occasions like the Kaiser’s birthday or the anniversary of the victory at Sedan. Knowing this background it does not surprise that – although there was no central governmental institution for the coordination of propaganda – German composers, lyricists and publishers virtually from one day to the next changed their production to songs glorifying war and the nation as can be seen in the September 1914 edition of “Hofmeisters musikalisch-literarische Monatsberichte”, a monthly catalogue of published sheet music. Only days after the so called battle of Tannenberg, one of the most important German victories of the early war, a great number of songs were published which glorified one the three German leaders of the battle, Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg. Besides the music press, which had developed into a mass media affordable to large sections of the population during the 19th century, the young mass media of the picture postcard was influenced by the war. It is interesting to see that on many cards the visual propaganda of the picture is combined with lines from the lyrics and even the mu-sic of well known, often patriotic songs. How the young recording industry reacted to the war has not yet been studied.
In Germany as well as in other nations involved in the war, music was (ab)used as a national symbol. In musical journals and literature the dispute about the national qualities of music came to a climax. Beethoven’s works became a focal point of the discussion. Heinrich Schenker, on the one side, maintained that the superiority of Beethoven’s music is a symbol for the superiority of German intellect. Romain Rol-land, on the other side, argued that Beethoven’s music stands above all nations and is a symbol for humanity as such. At the same time, the Musical Times writes of Beethoven not as a German but as a Fleming. Authors of this journal distinguish between “German” composers like Beethoven and Wagner and “Prussian” composers like Richard Strauss, accusing the latter to have prepared the war with a music full of violence. All over Europe intellectuals welcomed the war as a means to end cultural stagnation and crisis. Already in September 1914 - that is at a time when Italy had not yet decided to take the side of the allies - the Italian futurists published pamphlets showing how the attack of the progressive cultural nations will destroy the outdated cultural dominance of German and Austrian culture. Even less ideological, rational authors, like e.g. the British critic Ernest Newman, wrote about their hopes for a reform of music through war.

2. Surviving and living with music during the war

In an article for the Musical Times Ernest Newman wondered about the phenome-non of “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, the first musical “hit” of the war in Britain. The song, writes Newman, although rather artless, obviously fulfils important func-tions for the many: it comforts, diverts and entertains. Newman wonders whether at times of war a different music is needed that fulfils different functions.\\ In this section the conference will discuss about how music was used to cope with everyday life during the war. Which functions and which effects did it have for those experiencing the hardships of war? Was it used to forget or to comfort, to give mourning an expression, to strengthen courage, to evoke the memories of home or to give an expression to despair, suffering and loss, to symbolize the dignity of a certain culture or to experience unity and camaraderie?
This section studies a music that was not controlled and influenced by military or governmental officials, but that was made and listened to spontaneously and vol-untarily as a reaction to war. It will deal with the songs and pieces that people sung and played and listened to in trenches, hospitals or at home, with songs they associated with the war, with music made and heard in society, in concert or on record. Part of these private functionalisations of music was the yearning for a pure art as an island of peace in the realities of war. Sources to answer these questions are e.g. letters and diaries, memoirs and autobiographies. Further hints can be gleaned from fiction, i.e. from literature written during and about the war. The newspapers covered music making in the trenches as well (see e.g. the reports on the 1914 Christmas truce), although often tinged by propaganda.

3. Coping with war and representing the war in compositions

Scholarship is well aware of representations of the First World war in literature and in the visual arts; not only experts may name important contributions from both (Germans e.g. would mention Remarque, Dix, Beckmann…). Most books on the arts and culture during the First World war, however, give the impression that art music didn’t play a role for the representation of war in the arts. This assumption, how-ever, has to be revised. Many well known composers wrote contributions to this topic, as e.g. Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saëns, Gabriel Fauré, Edward Elgar, Charles Ives, Giacomo Puccini, Richard Strauss, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith, Franz Schreker, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Lehár, Hanns Eisler, Kurt Weill and many others. In addition to compositions we have verbal sources like e.g. manifestos, prefaces to editions etc. These compositions were written during or shortly after the war and represent various aspects of war: They signal patriotism or critique or symbolise the horrors of war. They narrate of the fates of women and the suffering of children or represent the overall mood of mourning of their times. In most pieces the war is identified directly, but more subtle hints can also be assumed in compositions with less obvious titles and pro-grammes. Compositions representing the First World War are not known by the public and few have been studied by musicology. The semantemes of war in early 20th century music e.g. are still awaiting scrutiny.
References to the war in many compositions still have to be discovered. Whilst texted music more or less clearly refers to its supposed contexts of meaning, the references in instrumental music are hidden and can only be found by intensive study of scores and a fundamental knowledge of the music of the times. The title of Debussy’s piano piece “En Blanc et Noir” e.g. can hardly be associated with the war. Only the recognition of the quotation of the anthem “Ein feste Burg” and the hidden allusion to the “Marseillaise” in the music make clear that the piece com-ments on the war. Many similar incidences in instrumental music still have to be discovered.\\ The papers in this section should not so much concentrate on biographical aspects (“Hindemith and the First World War”) or on national schools of composition (“French Composers during the First World War”) but – according to the focus of the symposium on functions and functionalisations of music – rather on comprehen-sive and - if applicable - comparative processes and techniques of representing war or even “coping” with war in composed music. Comprehensive topics like the fol-lowing may be considered: the representation of the “reality” of war, the fates of women and children, the fascination of composers for new technologies of warfare, like e.g. aerial combat, or the representation of critique or visions of peace in music.

See the List of contributions.