- Introduction by the Guest Editor
From 2014 to 2018, events around the world are commemorating and memorializing the Great War, which took place a hundred years ago. The majority of the art installations, concerts, and other public memorials so far have taken place outside of the United States, marking the stronger profile of the war elsewhere. Some of this is no doubt due to America’s relatively late involvement in the hostilities and therefore the lesser sacrifice and loss compared to what many European countries bore. As we near the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I, the moment seems right to reflect on the diversity of music produced during this era from a transnational perspective, considering music not only within the United States but also across its northern and at its southern borders.
This issue presents four articles on topics related to music in the First World War. Each takes on a different, unique repertoire from the period, exploring the relationships between nationalism, patriotism, and creativity. And each deals at least in part with music created to inspire patriotism and national sentiment, despite differing repertoires, performance venues, musical styles, topics, and countries of origin. Given the motivational aspect of much wartime music, it is perhaps unsurprising that the vast majority of works discussed in this issue involve texted music, whether for sheet music for solo singers, choruses, and even an opera. As these essays make abundantly clear, poems and song lyrics are well suited to communicate pro- and anti-war sentiments directly to mass audiences and elite listeners alike.
Each of these articles aims to cross boundaries, including those enforced by the conflict, inherent in musical creation, performance, and distribution at the time, and that have since been reinforced in traditional scholarship. Aaron Ziegel’s “National Service and Operatic Ambitions: [End Page 411] Arthur Nevin’s Musical Activities during World War I” profiles one Illinois composer’s simultaneous efforts as a community song leader at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois while completing and premiering his opera A Daughter of the Forest with the Chicago Opera Company. As a song leader, Nevin programmed Foster’s parlor songs alongside newer works from Tin Pan Alley, all while producing an original, extended composition that, inevitably, would be viewed as deficient in comparison to revered European models. Although heightened by the exigencies of the war, this moment in Nevin’s career nonetheless embodies the fundamental challenge faced by most composers within the United States who aspired to success in the concert sphere even as their everyday careers were based on less elite, more accessible music making. Perhaps such musical contradictions explains Nevin’s response to an interviewer (whom Ziegel quotes) who asked if the new opera “introduced any typically American music.” Nevin answered bluntly: “What is typically American music? I for one have never been able to find any.”
Marianne Betz offers an in-depth consideration of composer George Chadwick’s musical responses to the war. Trained in Leipzig, Chadwick struggled with the role of German music in contemporary American musical life. As Betz observes, Chadwick wrote four original, unabashedly patriotic choruses intended to assist with developing community singing within military organizations. Additionally, Betz examines the impact of the Great War on what would be the composer’s final symphonic poem, Angel of Death, which he completed in Boston on January 3, 1918, two days before the premiere of Nevin’s Daughter of the Forest. As Betz and Ziegel both demonstrate, similar impulses—writing patriotic and accessible works for the masses alongside serious compositions informed by the ongoing conflict—inform the activities of these two composers during the war, along with a shared trajectory that started with enthusiasm and ended in disillusionment and heartbreak.
The last two articles explore little known publications originating in or at least discussing events beyond the United States. My article on English language sheet music issued in Canada highlights the conflicting image of an emerging national consciousness under the governance of colonial rule. While the songs often refer to British musical sources, the song texts and topics take an increasingly independent view of Canada’s role in the war and its relationship to...