THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Music blog

2 posts from August 2014

20 August 2014

War, Women and Song: British Library, 30 August 2014

On Saturday 30 August (6.30pm) the British Library Conference Centre will host the premiere performance of War, Women and Song, a unique theatrical recreation of the entertainments given for troops on the front line in the First World War.  Written and directed by Anna Farthing and Bea Roberts, the production is inspired by the remarkable story of the actress and acting manager Lena Ashwell (1872-1957) and her series of YMCA Concert Parties. 

 Lena Ashwell concert parties

During the course of the war more than 600 actors, musicians and entertainers – mostly young women – signed up for tours of duty as members of up to 25 companies, travelling throughout France and as far afield as Egypt to bring succour and morale-boosting diversion to war-weary soldiers.  War, Women and Song is inspired by the surviving programmes, photos, and archival materials that document the content and style of the entertainments, as well as the backgrounds and motivations of some of the performers themselves

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The first concerts took place in France in early 1915, with support from the YMCA.  Concerts were given in tents, fields, or huts – often to hundreds of soldiers – with up to three performances per day (more than 5,000 concerts in total were given between 1915 and 1919).  A typical ensemble consisted of a soprano, contralto, instrumentalist, tenor, baritone or bass, entertainer, and accompanist, allowing scope for a mixed entertainment of classical works interspersed with readings from poetry, and popular WW1 classics still familiar to us today – such Roses of Picardy and Keep the Home Fires Burning

Lena_Ashwell

Ashwell later wrote about the concerts in her book Modern troubadours: a record of the concerts at the front (London: Gyldendal, 1922).  Music, she claimed, offered ‘the straightest road to the unseen world of spiritual beauty [and] fulfilled more than its tangible function of cheering up the men… Music ministers with magical results to minds distressed, destroying the seeds of despondent thoughts, the black moods that dullness, pain, or loneliness sow in the most gallant hearts, for “where music is, there can no ill thing be”’ (p. 8).

War, Women and Song was conceived by Harvest Heritage Arts and Media and features a professional cast including Samantha Barron, Nick Blakeley, Hannah Lee, Bryan Moriarty and Cassie Webb.  The performance on 30 August forms part of the international conference ‘The Music of War: 1914-1918’ (29-31 August), presented by the British Library to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. The conference is supported by the Royal Musical Association, Music & Letters, and the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities.

For tickets, please follow this link to the BL Box Office.

 

14 August 2014

Pax Aeterna (1917): silent film screening at the British Library, 29 August 2014

On 29 August at 6.30pm the British Library presents a rare screening of the classic World War I silent film, Pax Aeterna.  Directed by Holger-Madsen, this feature-length film was first screened in Denmark in 1917.  Its message of peace was warmly received by war-weary audiences throughout Scandinavia and Europe in 1917 and 1918, but the film has long since fallen into obscurity. 

This exclusive performance reunites the film, which survives in the archives of the Danish Film Institute, with a musical accompaniment by the Viennese composer Franz Eber.  Eber’s score was composed for screenings at the Wiener Konzerthaus organised by the Red Cross to raise funds for tuberculosis relief in March 1918.  The musical accompaniment was originally performed by a full orchestra, but a piano reduction which survives in the archives of the Konzerthaus will form the basis for the reconstruction at the British Library, to be recreated by the renowned silent film pianist John Sweeney

Pax aeterna still

With stunning visual imagery, the film explores utopian themes of love and peace in the midst of conflict, charting the fate of the fictional King Elin XII, a peace-loving leader of a European nation, and his son Crown Prince Alexis.  The King has dedicated his life to the pursuit of eternal peace (pax aeterna) between nations, an ideal supported and propounded in the writings and lectures of the Professor Baron Claudius. Alexis is in turn in love with Claudius's daughter Bianca, but is unable to profess his love because of her lower social status.  The King's death on the eve of war with a neighbouring state thrusts Alexis into power and highlights the tragic personal consequences of war, as Claudius's son meets one of his friends (a student of Claudius) in battle.  The battle is duly won by the new King Alexis, but at great human cost. Instead of trying to take advantage of the fortunes of war, Alexis sends a peace expedition to the neighboring state as well as to all other European nations.  His ensuing popularity allows him to win public acclaim for his match with Bianca.

The British Library screening is presented by arrangement with the Danish Film Institute and the Wiener Konzerthaus.  It is made possible by the research and generous assistance of Anna Katharina Windisch and forms part of the international conference ‘The Music of War, 1914-1918’ (29-31 August), presented by the British Library to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.  The conference is supported by the Royal Musical Association, Music & Letters, and the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities

For tickets, please follow this link to the BL Box Office.