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The Great War At 100: Music Of Conflict And Remembrance

Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (who later became an American citizen) lost an arm in World War I. He commissioned composers including Maurice Ravel to write pieces for the left hand alone.
Bettmann/CORBIS
Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (who later became an American citizen) lost an arm in World War I. He commissioned composers including Maurice Ravel to write pieces for the left hand alone.

One hundred years ago today, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. The conflict drew in country after country and grew to an unprecedented scale. An estimated 9 million combatants lost their lives and more than 21 million were wounded in what came to be known as The Great War and, eventually, World War I.

Among the dead and the survivors were musicians. We've been listening to some of their creations. The extraordinary level of destruction inspired them in myriad ways. Some composers captured the war's violence while others seemed to counteract it by writing music that soothed. Still others came back wounded yet persevered. And all these years later, the war continues to resonate in works like the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night by Kevin Puts.

Have a favorite piece of music inspired by World War I? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter or Facebook.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: July 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous Web version of this story incorrectly said that George M. Cohan had earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was actually the Congressional Gold Medal.
Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.
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