One hundred years ago today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, guns across Europe fell silent—an armistice had finally ended the Great War. Germany, Austria, France and England agreed to stop the killing, which had become untenable for all the great countries of Europe. In the aftermath, everyone began the difficult work of taking stock of what happened… and how much had changed.
Here in the United States, World War I doesn’t have the same resonance of World War II—the US only became involved toward the end of the conflict, and American soil had not come under direct attack. But on the other side of the pond, the war was an epochal event. Horrific casualties seemed to have wiped out an entire generation. Venerable cities lay in ruins. Several empires collapsed, and even those that survived intact were swept by profound social changes.
Many classical composers fought in the war, and their works were instrumental in describing the horrors of the war, reminding us what was lost, and facilitating the process by which the world sought to understand what happened and move on from the calamity.
In light of Armistice Day, I’d like to share a classical playlist highlighting composers who fought in the war, died in the war, and struggled to explain it to their audiences.
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