The poets of World War One are well remembered, leaving for us their legacy of language so immediately accessible to so many. Using images and phrases that remain long in our minds, and we will not forget. Less well known are some of the composers and musicians that fought in the Great War. Some of these men lost their lives in the war and left behind only glimpses of what they could have gone on to achieve. Others, like Vaughan Williams, returned and went on to become very well known but their experiences during the war influenced their later work and never left them.
Music In The Trenches
Life in the trenches consisted of so much unimaginable hardship and many of the troops found solace in writing lyrics, poems and music, these are the things that can so often sustain us through difficult times. One of the people who immediately recognised this was Lena Ashwell, who famously campaigned to get music out to the front line. In January 1915 the first concert tour got under way and over 500 performers, including musicians and over 350 women toured relentlessly for the duration of the war to bring music to the troops through France, Malta and Egypt. Ashwell passionately believed that this was an important morale boosting contribution to the war effort.
Pianos and the Frontline
According to some recollections even the occaisional piano managed to somehow find its way into the bunkers during the war. However, by the time of the Second World War technology had moved on and Steinway pianos were commissioned to build nearly 3000 instruments in the 1940s that were able to be parachuted in for the troops in Europe. Who knows what became of these many of these Steinway pianos?
May all of this remind us that where there is life there is music. Music is one of the things we share in common with all humanity and now , more than ever, we must remember the ways in which we are alike. Music is part of our common language and common heritage, part of our past, present and future. When we peer down the corridors of history if we listen closely enough we can usually hear some kind of music drifting by. Great Britain in particular has a rich musical history steeped in tradition and built on years of work by many, many talented men and women. Today on the centenary of the beginning of the war we remember the value of that legacy, and remember especially, the composers and musicians of the Great War.
Piano works of The War Composers
Gloucester Cathedral 12.11.10
The pianist Alex Wilson is currently undertaking a solo concert tour enitiled The Banks of Green Willow in the South West of England featuring the music of the First World War including works by Ivor Gurney, Cecil Coles, George Butterworth, Ernest Farrar and Frederick Kelly alongside works by Frank Bridge, Maurice Ravel and a new work by James Whittle. Performances are taking place in Exeter on October 18th and at Gloucester Cathedral on 12th November and are presented in aid of the British Red Cross. For more information please see, alexwilsonpianist.com