The Symphony of the Front

Glenn Watkins

in Proof through the Night

Published by University of California Press

Published in print December 2002 | ISBN: 9780520231580
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520927896 | DOI:
The Symphony of the Front

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Peace is marked by an uneasy stillness, war by a tumultuous roar, and in Henry V William Shakespeare tapped a terrifying reality known to every Tommy, Fritz, and poilu on the front: War is Noise! That the sound of uninterrupted bombardment was the most difficult aspect of life in the trenches to accept was depicted by poets, musicians, and painters of numerous nationalities throughout the Great War. Robert Graves complained that a soldier's leave was particularly difficult because people at home could not understand life at the front. This Symphony of the Front lasted for four years, and in its final season Cecil Barber wrote an article for The Musical Times of London called “Battle Music” that dramatized the reality of these observations. There were occasions when music was performed right on the battlefield with fife, drum, bugle, and even bagpipe—each of which carried historic military connotations. A particularly startling reminder of its role was played out in the Battle of the Somme—the bloodiest offensive in world history.

Keywords: Great War; trenches; poets; musicians; Symphony of the Front; music

Chapter.  6969 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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