How did the Second World War affect Africa?

How the First World War influenced music

When the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (article picture) premiered his "Story of the Soldier" in Lausanne in 1918, the world was in the final stages of a war of unprecedented proportions. Forty states were involved, sending a total of 70 million people into battle. Around 17 million people lost their lives in the First World War.

Music with economical means

Opulent works could hardly be performed at this time. There was a lack of good musicians and the necessary money. The big theaters and opera houses were still closed. Stravinsky, who had gone to Paris as a young man and then lived in Switzerland for a few years, composed his story of the soldier whose soul was robbed by the devil with simple means for a small traveling orchestra.

Classic sounds from Belgium: the Oxalys Ensemble

The line-up with winds and strings fits exactly for the eight-member Oxalys Ensemble from Belgium, which performed the story of the soldier at the Beethovenfest in Bonn. For their concerts, the members choose pieces of music that are historically related to each other. "We see music in a historical context and also in relation to other arts," explains violinist Shirly Laub from Oxalys. "For example, we're juxtaposing French music with German music and trying to find out the influences of impressionism and expressionism."

How war robs people of their souls

Igor Stravinsky used Russian fairy tales as a model for his traveling theater piece with a small cast with the princess, the devil and the soldier: A soldier exchanges his violin with the devil for a book that promises him wealth. He remained ignorant in the service of the devil for three years. When he wants to return home, there is no longer a home for him. His fiancée married someone else a long time ago. Although the soldier can use a trick to get his violin back and find happiness in love with a princess, he is no longer allowed to return to his old home, where the devil is waiting for him. When he violates this requirement, his soul is lost.

Soldiers fought bitter trench warfare on the western and, as here, on the eastern front

"We know that people were really lost after the war. Europe had changed a lot," says Shirly Laub. "During the war, many composers were alone and did not notice the zeitgeist." Some had emigrated to London, others had been living in seclusion in the country for years in their own world. Or they were - inspired by patriotism - at the front themselves.

The violin as the soldier's soul, the devil as a personified war: this is how the "story of the soldier" is interpreted in many ways. The baritone Dietrich Henschel, who often works with Oxalys and slipped into the various roles excellently as a speaker, sees another interpretation: "Stravinsky's soldiers have ragtime and dances that point forward". This suggests that one shouldn't stay too attached to tradition, says Henschel. Stravinsky himself wrote: "You build on a tradition in order to make something new."

Music shaped by nationalism during the war

The new thing was its broken rhythms and harmonies. He also incorporated music from the American continent such as jazz and tango into his piece.

Other French colleagues, who were still nationalistically minded, resorted to classical forms of music at this time. Just like Maurice Ravel in his suite "Le tombeau de Couperin". Ravel wrote this funeral music for his friends who died in the war and quoted baroque dances. He wrote to a pupil that he would forego the Marseillaise, but certainly not quote tango. The Pope had already put this dance on the index before the war, which from the church's point of view was extremely offensive.

Poster for "Petrushka", one of the world-famous ballet works by Igor Stravinsky from the pre-war period

Ravel's compatriot, the patriot Claude Debussy, also draws on baroque music in his suite "En blanc et noir" for two pianos from 1915. The Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon will perform the piece with his wife Izabella Simon on the occasion of Debussy's 100th year of death on September 16. perform at the Beethovenfest in Bonn. "The second movement is a real piece of war," says Várjon. "There are many musical quotations, including from Luther's chorale 'Ein Feste Burg'." The strong castle as a symbol for the German enemies. Later echoes of the Marseillaise for France's hoped-for victory. Debussy died before the end of the First World War. He did not live to see the times when people tried to overcome nationalism.

New sounds from a young generation

Title page of the magazine "Der dada" from 1919

For the next generation, the romantic, tone-painting sounds of the prewar period no longer suited the horrors of war. Satire, caricature and exaggeration into the grotesque were popular stylistic devices of the time. In his "Rapsodie Negre", 18-year-old Francis Poulenc made fun of the rampant African fashion of the upper classes.

The piece is based on a nonsense text by an imaginary African poet. "The whole work has a surreal component and is therefore a grotesque caricature," says Dietrich Henschel, who sang the baritone voice at the concert. "The text is completely Dadaist abstract." As early as 1916, the author Hugo Ball brought the artistic movement "Dada" into being with his meaningless sound poems - as a protest against the First World War and as a provocation against the bourgeoisie and artists who belonged to the authorities.

Music in the economic boom of the 20s

When the First World War was over, the economy experienced a boom due to advancing industrialization. Passenger planes shortened the distances between the countries, jazz from the USA also came to Europe. Artists propagated abstract art, musicians had experimented with atonal music. On the other hand, psychoanalysis studied the subconscious and many artists are into metaphysics. It was a fast moving time. A time in which the nationalism of the First World War was believed to have been overcome. One wanted to be cosmopolitan and modern, also in music.

Fast communication channel in the twenties: Telephoning via the operator

"The musicians began to be hungry to hear what others had composed at the same time," says violinist Shirly Laub from the Oxalys ensemble. "There were evenings with Stravinsky, with Ravel and all the others to see what the music of the time was." Gustav Mahler, for example, wanted his music lovers to know what Schoenberg and Busoni wrote. Igor Stravinsky supported Francis Poulenc and recommended the young colleague to his publisher.

Music becomes political

"In the social situation before and around the First World War, the function of music changed," explains Dietrich Henschel. "Music and theater were increasingly seen as social and political statements." In 1928 Kurt Weill wrote the Threepenny Opera with Bertolt Brecht, a "beggar" opera with popular melodies, until 1933 one of the most successful musical theater productions in Germany.

Ernst Krenek's opera "Jonny plays up" was just as popular. It premiered the year before, in 1927, but was already disrupted by supporters of the National Socialists. The jazz opera of the "new era" was a worldwide success.

But the upswing was short-lived. The global economic crisis at the end of the 1920s played into the hands of the National Socialists. They promised work and wanted to restore "order". Many artists and musicians went into exile in the USA before the Second World War, including Ernst Krenek and Kurt Weill. The National Socialists had banned their music. Francis Poulenc secretly set texts by resistance against the Nazis to music in France. Stravinsky stayed in France for a while. In 1940 he also emigrated to the USA.