British Composers and the First World War: Choral Expressions of Wartime Experience by Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst

Galbreath, Daniel
Despite the coincidence of the so-called "British Renaissance" of classical music and the First World War, two events central to British cultural development at the turn of the century, little research exists regarding their interrelation. Using primary and secondary documents found in Laramie and London, this project seeks partly to fill that gap, examining two choral works which served as their respective composer's reactions to WWI. Gustav Holst's "Ode to Death" and Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Dona Nobis Pacem" were both analyzed for motivic, formal, and orchestrational means used in settings of war-related texts. Additionally, biographical information and correspondences were used to provide context for the works and to elucidate opinions and emotions the composers had toward the war and its affiliated issues, including violence, politics, and the spirituality of mortality. These feelings were complex and occasionally contradictory. A variety of musical means were found to be used to communicate these nuanced opinions; the composers' perspectives defy such restrictive designations as "pacifist" or "hawkish," and these pieces reflect this.
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