Cover Image


Proof through the Night

Music and the Great War

Glenn Watkins (Author)


Carols floating across no-man's-land on Christmas Eve 1914; solemn choruses, marches, and popular songs responding to the call of propaganda ministries and war charities; opera, keyboard suites, ragtime, and concertos for the left hand—all provided testimony to the unique power of music to chronicle the Great War and to memorialize its battles and fallen heroes in the first post-Armistice decade. In this striking book, Glenn Watkins investigates these variable roles of music primarily from the angle of the Entente nations' perceived threat of German hegemony in matters of intellectual and artistic accomplishment—a principal concern not only for Europe but also for the United States, whose late entrance into the fray prompted a renewed interest in defining America as an emergent world power as well as a fledgling musical culture. He shows that each nation gave "proof through the night"—ringing evidence during the dark hours of the war—not only of its nationalist resolve in the singing of national airs but also of its power to recall home and hearth on distant battlefields and to reflect upon loss long after the guns had been silenced.

Watkins's eloquent narrative argues that twentieth-century Modernism was not launched full force with the advent of the Great War but rather was challenged by a new set of alternatives to the prewar avant-garde. His central focus on music as a cultural marker during the First World War of necessity exposes its relationship to the other arts, national institutions, and international politics. From wartime scores by Debussy and Stravinsky to telling retrospective works by Berg, Ravel, and Britten; from "La Marseillaise" to "The Star-Spangled Banner," from "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" to "Over There," music reflected society's profoundest doubts and aspirations. By turns it challenged or supported the legitimacy of war, chronicled misgivings in miniature and grandiose formats alike, and inevitably expressed its sorrow at the final price exacted by the Great War. Proof through the Night concludes with a consideration of the post-Armistice period when, on the classical music front, memory and distance forged a musical response that was frequently more powerful than in wartime.

List of Illustrations

Chapter 1. In Search of Kultur
The Strasbourg Olympic Games in Music—Beethoven and Jean-Christophe—Romain Rolland and Richard Strauss—Above the Battle?

Great Britain
Chapter 2. Pomp and Circumstance
Defining Poland and Belgium—Countering Charges from Home and Abroad
Chapter 3. The Old Lie
Elgar’s Women and Fallen Heroes—Other War Requiems
Chapter 4. The Symphony of the Front
Christmas 1914—Concerts and Soldier Songs—National Airs and Popular and Retexted Tunes

Chapter 5. Mobilization and the Call to History
The Silent Muse and War Pages—En blanc et noir—Neoclassicism and National Identity
Chapter 6. War and the Children
Noël of The Children Who No Longer Have a Home—War in a Toy Box—Joan of Arc
Chapter 7. War Games, 1914–1915
A March, a Dedication, and a Drawing—Game Theory, War, and the Lively Arts
Chapter 8. Charades and Masquerades
Beethoven and Doggerel—Renard and a Soldier’s Tale—National Anthems
Chapter 9. Church, State, and Schola
Veteran, Monarchist, Classicist—The Legend of St. Christopher—Problems with Beethoven, Protestants, and Jews
Chapter 10. Neoclassicism, Aviation, and the Great War
"Trois beaux oiseaux du Paradis"—The Wounded Muse—The "Toccata" and the War in the Air—Flights of Fancy

Chapter 11. The World of the Future, the Future of the World
Futurism and Music—Visionary Classicist

Chapter 12. "Dance of Death"
The Lost Brigade—Jacob’s Ladder—A Vision for the Future
Chapter 13. "The Last Days of Mankind"
A March and a Soldier’s Tale—Momentary Fraternité

The United States of America
Chapter 14. "The Yanks Are Coming"
War Song as Interventionist Propaganda—Women and the War—Troop Entertainments Abroad
Chapter 15. "Onward Christian Soldiers"
Church, State, and Moral Reciprocity—Billy Sunday—Hymns, Sentimental and Militant
Chapter 16. The 100% American
"The Star-Spangled Banner"—The Four-Minute Men and the Movies
Chapter 17. "Proof Through the Night"
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra—The Boston Symphony Orchestra and "L’affaire Muck"—Good Citizenship—Opera and Ballet in New York
Chapter 18. "On Patrol in No Man’s Land"
The "Hellfighters" of the 369th Regiment—From the Tuileries to the Recording Studio—The "Damnable Dilemma"—Birth of an American Conservatory in Fontainebleau
Chapter 19. Coming of Age in America
John Alden Carpenter—Coming to Terms with the Avant-garde—Leo Ornstein: America’s Futurist—Charles Ives: Private Witness to the Great War

Chapter 20. "Goin’ Home"
Armistice and Celebration—"Goin’ Home"—"My Buddy"
Chapter 21. Ceremonials and the War of Nerves
Nerves, Jazz, and the "Lost Generation"—Antheil and the Suppression of Sentiment
Chapter 22. The Persistence of Memory
Twilight in Belgrade: Ravel’s Frontispice—Twilight in Vienna: La valse—Re-evaluating National Histories—A Concerto for the Left Hand
Chapter 23. Prophecies and Alarms
Triptychs: Grünewald, Dix, and Hindemith—Gershwin’s Strike Up the Band!

Chapter 24. Unfinished Business
List of CD Contents
Glenn Watkins is Earl V. Moore Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and author of Pyramids at the Louvre: Music, Culture, and Collage from Stravinsky to the Postmodernists (1994), Soundings: Music in the Twentieth Century (1988), and Gesualdo: The Man and His Music (1991).
“Full of new and intriguing material.”—Morris Eksteins American Historical Review
“Generously illustrated throughout and supplemented with a CD of musical selections, ‘Proof Through the Night’ is a scholarly triumph, an important history and a moving narrative. Watkins’s formidable work sends ripples through the mind, inspiring a reader to extend the book’s plot beyond its covers.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Dazzles by its sheer scope.”—David Schiff Times Literary Supplement (TLS)
“A thorough survey of how major composers of the day responded to the Great War.”—West Palm Beach Post
"[T]he contribution Watkins has made is so varied and robust that any social or cultural historian of the Great War simply cannot afford to do without it. Of how many of our colleagues’ work can we say the same?"—Jay Winter, Yale University

"The cover of Glenn Watkins’ book Proof through the Night: Music and the Great War shows an astonishing Stravinsky manuscript of an innocent march ambushed by the composer’s own Futurist-inspired paintings of exploding cannons – a perfect symbol for the book’s ground-breaking, earthshaking account of the varied and surprising roles that music played during the First World War. The first musician ever to speak to the international conference of World War I scholars at the Historial de la Grande Guerre in Péronne, France, Glenn Watkins once again leads the way in interdisciplinary cultural studies, weaving together the music, art, and socio-political histories of the early 20th century into a truly meaningful picture of the human condition in a time of international crisis. Glenn Watkins’ lectures on Music and the Great War, given at New York’s Lincoln Center in preparation for this volume, gave fair warning of an imminent attack on the idea of history as battle maneuvers without considering vital questions of culture. Only a lifetime of intellectual passion and rigorous, relentless scholarship could produce such a book."—Bruce Adolphe, composer and lecturer, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

"Music and History intersect magnificently in the scholarship of Glenn Watkins. Politics, nationalism, combat, technology, art, literature and, above all, the sounds - beautiful and horrible - that charged wartime life and accompanied mass death. All these, and more, suffuse the vast symphony of war that Professor Watkins presents so clearly and analyzes so convincingly. Proof Through the Night is a master's work of interdisciplinary, yet disciplined, writing about music."—David B. Dennis, author of Beethoven in German Politics, 1870-1989

"Glenn Watkins’s new book is a synthesis of biographical, music-analytical, literary, political, and historical information about European and American music between 1914 and 1918. He combines extremely diverse materials into a single story, by turns fascinating, entertaining, and sad . The book will be a rich source of information and judgments about music and culture in general at a crucial moment of modern history."—John Spitzer, Peabody Conservatory, Johns Hopkins University

"[Watkins's] narrative is vivid and enthralling, as it could hardly fail to be, and I suspect that even seasoned cultural historians specialising in this period will learn new things from Watkins's supremely well-managed synthesis. His background research and reading have reached into the furthest corners: very little of any possible relevance is missed."—Arnold Whittall

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