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Proof Through the Night: Music and the Great War (A Roth Family Foundation Book on Music in America) [Hardcover]

Glenn Watkins

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Book Description

17 Jan 2003 A Roth Family Foundation Book on Music in America
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' 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.

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"a brilliant history of musical ideas publicly and privately formulated through the first two decades of the 20th century . . . the discipline of musicology is enormously enriched by this wonderful synthesis of social history, perceptive musical analysis and cultural critique."--"Irish Times

About the Author

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).

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In 1912 the future Nobel laureate Romain Rolland finished his grand novel, Jean Christophe, with a vivid premonition of war, yet the first en of his wartime journal, dated 31 July 1914, suggests that he was almost incredulous that it had arrived. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Six Star (******) Triumph of Cultural History 16 Mar 2004
By Craig Matteson - Published on
There was a period a few years ago when bestseller lists contained more than an occasional book on the First World War. For example, the John Keegan book was a concise military history recounting the politics and battlefield actions of the war. Niall Ferguson's "The Pity of War" set out to explain WWI and offers an iconoclastic view that attempts to show how it was not inevitable. What these and the others really do lack is a sense of the cultures that were torn apart, reshaped and died.
As I was reading "Proof Through The Night" I was shocked how vividly Professor Watkins evokes the cultural issues of the times leading up to the War, the convulsions during the War, and the cultural memory and recounting of these events that echo even today. Most of us know little of that time and we don't understand the roots of present issues. We see the surfaces and strange interactions. We see artifacts from the past, but do not understand their context and react all too anachronistically to them. While we are entitled to reinterpret the past and use what we will and how we wish to use it, there is so much to be gained by at least making an attempt to come to terms with what those who lived meant to say to each other and to us by inheritance. We cheat ourselves of our patrimony by only shallowly understanding the culture of a time.
Professor Watkins surveys cultural issues that were active in Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany - Austria, and the U. S. neighboring to the war years. He does this by demonstrating what was happening in painting, sculpture, drama, popular culture, and above all, music. He takes us deep inside a few pieces such as Ravel's "Tombeau de Couperin"(particularly the Toccata), certain paintings of Otto Dix and the music of Hindemith to the work of Matthias Gruenewald, and Britten's "War Requiem" to the resolution and memory of the Great War even in 1961.
There is so much in this wonderful book that I cannot even begin to list more than a few incidental points. I really do want you to get a copy and immerse yourself in it. Professor Watkins has provided us with so much that I found I had to take my time and read other things to get more background to get full enjoyment from this treasure.
There is a CD that contains 17 tracks of some of the most important pieces he refers to in the book. They are chosen well and you will never hear them the same after reading the deep context this book provides. There are also many wonderful pictures and illustrations in the book. The only wish I have is that at least some of them could have been in color. But you know how it is with "academic" books.
There are also many pages of footnotes (endnotes). Nowadays most footnotes are simply citations of references. Not here. There is a great deal of valuable and enlightening information on these pages and I encourage you to read them.
This book should not be ignored. I believe reading about the culture and the wrenching changes during and after the War will actually tell you more about your life today and its connection to that time than a shelf full of books on battlefield struggles, troop movements, and weapons development. It isn't the usual way to read about War, but it is terrific.
Everyone - at least everyone who cares about WWI- should read this book.
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