This Week's Show • August 28, 2014

WWI: Remaking Music

In the last show in our series on the Great War, we're listening to the sounds that emerged from its ashes. In Vienna concert halls and New York jazz clubs, from Maurice Ravel’s piano elegies to Igor Stravinsky’s explosive symphonies, we’re coursing through the composers who defined a modern era, reacting to the terrible violence of total warfare through art.

How did composers react to the violence of The First World War? In the last show in our series on the war, we’re listening to the sounds that came out of the ashes. It’s a twenty-year-long journey that begins in Paris in 1914, as bombs began to fall and mass media began to rise, with composer Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau, a swirling piano suite dedicated to friends of Ravel who died in the war. We’ll hear George Antheil’s bombastic Ballet Mécanique, which brought an army of plane propellers, sirens, and player pianos into the concert hall. Finally, we’re making the great transatlantic jazz connection: how Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, and others found a new way out of the destruction.

Music from the Program

Reading List

Two essential book-length treatments of that beautiful, movable-feast-in-music moment: Albert Murray’s Stomping the Blues and Alfred Appel, Jr.’s Jazz Modernism: From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce.

    • The war took the lives of notable composers across Europe, including Albéric Magnard, Enrique Granados, and George Butterworth. German broadcasting company Deutsche Welle compiled a list of the many injured;
    • “Deceptive Cadence”, the NPR classical music blog, collected musical responses to the war from Ravel, Ives, Holst, and others;
    • New Yorker music critic Alex Ross details composers of the era—Stravinsky, Satie, Milhaud, and others—in a chapter in his primer to twentieth-century music, The Rest is Noise (a rich audio guide to that chapter is online);
    • CBC took on popular and classical music during The First World War, in an exceptional episode of Ideas, with Paul Kennedy;
    • If you didn’t catch it last year, WNYC broadcast a special about art in 1913, a “mad, Modernist moment” before the war, with a focus on Stravinsky and Schoenberg;
    • Finally, hear BBC’s “World War One: Cradle of Jazz,” a special on the musical evolution of ragtime into jazz during the war.