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Music in the Time of War

On this edition of Exploring Music, Bill McGlaughlin takes us on a journey through conflict by examining how composers and musicians saw the wars taking place around them. On “Music in Time of War”, you will hear a variety of works praising victorious nations, lamenting death and destruction, or even describing a battlefield with terrifying accuracy.

 
Program 1

The first show focuses on the time of the Napoleonic Wars, when French Emperor Napoleon I was sweeping across Europe in such a way that inspired all sorts of perspectives, many of them from conquered nations that harbored negative sentiment towards the haughty military leader. The first piece lends its title to this show’s title—Mass in Time of War, by Joseph Haydn, an oddly cheery mass that Haydn wrote in the hopes that it would convince God to stop Napoleon’s advance into Austria. Next, Ludwig van Beethoven celebrates Napoleon’s defeat in Wellington’s Victory. Beethoven, fascinated by military maneuvers, uses the music to create a scene of battle in which the British and French are represented by a leitmotif from their respective countries of origin. And finally, Zoltán Kodály presents a similar scenario, as told through the eyes of his character Háry János, who tells a tall tale of how he personally defeated Napoleon and made him kneel at his feet.

Haydn: Paukenmesse (Mass in Time of War)
Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists/Gardiner          
Phil B0000032
37:50                                                                                       
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Beethoven: Wellington’s Victory, I 
LSO/Dorati
Merc 434360
8:16
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Kodály: The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon fr. Hary Janos
Philharmonia Orchestra/Leinsdorf
EMI 65923
3:42
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Program 2

The second show picks up where the first one left off, this time looking from a Russian perspective. Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s famous 1812 Overture tells the tale of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in a way suggestive of Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory, but in a matter that is fair to both sides…and of course, features cannons. We continue looking at Russian music of war by examining Sergei Prokofiev’s Battle on the Ice, written for the film score to Alexander Nevsky. The scene depicts Nevsky’s battle against the Teutonic Knights and how they are overcome by their own weight on a thawing frozen lake. This segment then concludes with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, subtitled Babi Yar after a location in Ukraine where thousands of Jews and gypsies were rounded up and massacred by the Nazis.

Tchaikovsky: Ouverture solennelle “1812”, Op. 49
New York Phil/Bernstein
Sony 47634
15:29
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Prokofiev: Battle on the Ice fr. Alexander Nevsky
London Symphony Orchestra/Abbado
DG 447419
12:00
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Shostkovich: Symphony No. 13, Babi Yar, I
CSO/Solti; Anthony Hopkins, nar.
Lon 444791
19:41
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Program 3

            The third segment travels to America, and features a great wealth of tunes regarding warfare relating to our own country. We begin with a William Billings New England minutemen tune that almost became the national anthem. Another William Billings song, “Chester”, is examined next in a version set for orchestra by William Schumann. Again from New England is the first of Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England, a monument to the first African-American regiment to march in the civil war, located in Boston. Morton Gould is next, with a popular patriotic piece called American Salute that can often be heard during patriotic holidays. It was composed during the Civil War to the sad tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home." Another piece from the Civil War days is Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Dona nobis pacem, which utilizes a couple of texts written by poet Walt Whitman for inspiration. We hear two: “Beat! Beat! Drums!” and “Reconciliation." Staying in the Civil War, we hear the Confederate 26th Regiment Quick-step, a popular Southern brass band tune. It was intended to keep soldiers’ spirits up while marching, something both sides utilized. Martial music would continue to be utilized into the days of the Second World War, an era when Samuel Barber wrote the Commando March for the US Army Air Corps marching band (before the days of an Air Force). The legacy of the Second World War lived on in documentary footage and in this piece by Richard Rogers, who was called on by NBC TV to write an opening theme for the television show Victory at Sea. Next is Aaron Jay Kernis’ second symphony, written in reaction to the Persian Gulf War of 1991. This segment closes with an oddly lighthearted piece; the opening to the TV show M*A*S*H.

Billings: Chester
Gregg Smith Singers & Ensemble
MMG 10052
1:57
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Schuman: Chester fr. New England Triptych
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra/Slatkin
RCA 61282
2:57
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Ives: Three Places in New England, I
San Francisco Symphony/Thomas
RCA 63703
8:50
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Gould: An American Salute
Boston Pops/Fiedler
RCA 6806
4:09
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Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem (excerpts)
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Shaw
Tel 80479
10:57
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Traditional: 26th Regiment Quickstep
American Brass Quintet
New World 80608
1:39
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Barber: Commando March
Cleveland Symphonic Winds/Fennell
Tel 80099
3:16
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Rodgers: Victory at Sea, I
Cincinnati Pops/Kunzel
Tel 80175
5:07
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Kernis: Symphony No. 2, I
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Wolff
Argo 448900
6:13
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Program 4

            The fourth and fifth segments are dominated by Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. It was written in 1962 for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War, and was intended to make as much use of the new space as possible. Before each section of War Requiem are two somewhat related pieces. First is the second and third movements of Vaughn Williams’ Pastoral Symphony, his third, written in memory of the friends he lost during the First World War. Second is Lovliest of Trees, a short, beautiful song written by George Butterworth. After Britten’s massive, piece closes, the show closes with another Butterworth piece, the song Lads of a Hundred.

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 3, Pastoral, II & III
LSO/Previn
RCA 89827
15:45
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Britten: War Requiem (excerpts) 
LSO/Britten
Lon 414383
35:15
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Program 5

            The fourth and fifth segments are dominated by Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. It was written in 1962 for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War, and was intended to make as much use of the new space as possible. Before each section of War Requiem are two somewhat related pieces. First is the second and third movements of Vaughn Williams’ Pastoral Symphony, his third, written in memory of the friends he lost during the First World War. Second is Lovliest of Trees, a short, beautiful song written by George Butterworth. After Britten’s massive, piece closes, the show closes with another Butterworth piece, the song Lads of a Hundred.

Butterworth: “Loveliest of Trees” & “The Lads in Their Hundreds” fr. Shropshire Lad
Terfel, bs bar.; Martineau, p.
DG 445946
2:36, 2:19
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Britten: War Requiem (excerpts)
LSO/Britten
Lon 414383
25:57, 22:42
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Harris: When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Zimdars, p.
Albany 105
1:46
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The Exploring Music streaming website is made possible by Mr. & Mrs. William Gardner Brown and Susan & Richard Kiphart.
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Steffen Demeter
This is simply one of the very best radio programmes in the medium!...The study of the people, the times, and the events that inform the music we otherwise enjoy and even, heaven forbid, take for granted, brings the entire world of the music and the composer to life.
Walther Davies
There isn't a program you broadcast on Exploring Music" that isn't of interest. I find them all engaging. It is a combination of variety of subject, intellectual curiosity and your obvious enthusiasm which characterize your satisfying programs.
Michael Sanders
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Kourtney
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Christine Anderson
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