Radio 3 tells story of World War One through its music

For two weeks, Radio 3 will shine new light and provide contextual programming on the musical experience of millions as they lived through this historic conflict. Roger Wright, Controller, BBC Radio 3 and Director, BBC Proms
Category: Radio 3
  • Radio 3 presents two weeks of programmes tracing the musical experiences of the different sides of the conflict in World War One
  • An historic Radio 3 Live in Concert from Sarajevo as the Vienna Philharmonic marks the centenary of the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand with a concert broadcast across Europe (28 June)
  • New recordings by BBC orchestras of works not heard since 1919, including a commemorative piece by Charles Villiers Stanford, and compositions from the lost musical generation who died at the front
  • Radio 3 partners with the National Trust for three events from properties with World War One connections
  • The BBC Concert Orchestra recreates the musical world of British and German internment camps in A Captive Audience
  • An in-depth focus on poet and combatant composer Ivor Gurney, including a drama about his life by pianist Iain Burnside
  • The artistic upheaval of the war assessed by guest contributors including Dr Kate Kennedy, artist John Keane, BBC correspondents Allan Little and Lyse Doucet, poet Ruth Padel, cartoonist Martin Rowson, cellist Steven Isserlis

BBC Radio 3 is to tell the story of World War One through the music of the time. For two weeks (23 June-6 July) the station will dedicate much of its schedule to exploring war-time composers and musicians from Britain, Europe and across the globe, charting the impact of the war on the classical music world, its orchestral and chamber music, the spread of the gramophone, trench songs, the rise of jazz and the music of non-Europeans swept into the war by Empire.

The programmes show how a rich variety of music powerfully expressed the nationalism, pride, escapism, nostalgia, camaraderie, entertainment, grief and loss of a society at total war.

Each day, Radio 3’s schedule will be a showcase for the musical and cultural experience of one of the major participants - Germany (25 June), Austria (27 June), France (30 June), Russia (1 July), the USA (2 July), Empires (3 July) and three days on the UK (23, 24, 26 June). Across each day Radio 3 programmes including Breakfast presented by Petroc Trelawny and Clemency Burton-Hill, Essential Classics and Afternoon on 3 will focus on the work of the ‘Combatant Composers’, who swapped concert halls across Europe for the front lines – many of whom like Germany’s Rudi Stefan and Scotland’s Cecil Coles were never to return. Dr. Kate Kennedy, Research Fellow at the Cambridge of University and a leading researcher on the music of World War One, will be Radio 3’s resident expert throughout the season, joining Sarah Walker in Essential Classics to offer insight and context.

On 28 June, BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert joins broadcasters across Europe for an historic event. 100 years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Vienna Philharmonic goes to Sarajevo and joins forces with the Opera Choir of the National Theatre of Sarajevo for music from France, Germany and Austria in a tribute to peace and international friendship. Sara Mohr-Pietsch visits Sarajevo to explore the significance of the concert.

Radio 3’s Live in Concert hosts special programming for the centenary: the BBC Concert Orchestra present A Captive Audience, a moving evening live from Watford Colosseum exploring the life and work of the musicians who were held in two civilian wartime internment camps - Alexandra Palace in London and Ruhleben in Germany (26 June). Further Live in Concert highlights include a concert by James Gilchrist and Iain Burnside at the City of London Festival, who pay homage to composers who enlisted and were killed at Gallipoli (24 June), the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in a concert of music from wartime figures including Butterworth, Joseph Jongen and FS Kelly (27 June), and a performance of World War One choral works by the BBC Singers at St Paul’s Knightsbridge (29 June).

All of the BBC’s Performing Groups will be contributing to the season, performing works from the World War One period that have not been heard since the war, including the Ulster Orchestra with two works by Charles Villiers Stanford, A Song of Agincourt and the Heroic March and Finale, written and performed to commemorate pupils from the Royal College of Music, in a concert recorded on 13 June at Ulster Hall, Belfast.

Radio 3 presents a week of programmes reassessing the work of Ivor Gurney (29 June – 4 July), musician and poet of great promise, sent to the front and later suffering a series of mental breakdowns. Gloucester-born Gurney never achieved the wide-spread fame of the best-known war poets and throughout the week Radio 3 will celebrate and reassess his words and music. In Composer Of The Week, Donald Macleod is joined by Dr Kate Kennedy to dedicate a week of programmes to Gurney, including specially recorded unpublished material from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, while Drama on 3 broadcasts A Soldier and A Maker Iain Burnside’s musical drama about Gurney’s life based on his poems, letters and songs.

Radio 3 continues its relationship with the National Trust for three events at properties with First World War connections. Sean Rafferty presents In Tune live from Dunham Massey, used as a military hospital during the war (26 June), Ian Macmillan hosts The Verb at Batemans, the former home of Rudyard Kipling, who lost his son in the war, and Live In Concert presents a recital of songs and violin music (6 July) from St Lawrence’s Church, Shaw’s Corner, the former home of George Bernard Shaw, who supported conscientious objectors during the war.

Through the season, in The Essay series Minds At War, Radio 3 paints ten portraits of the revolutionary change brought about by the war on leading thinkers from the arts and sciences. Contributors include BBC Correspondents Allan Little on painter CWR Nevinson and Lyse Doucet on novelist Edith Wharton; cartoonist Martin Rowson on artist Otto Dix, biographer Sarah Lefanu on writer and war-time nurse Rose Macaulay, Ruth Padel on sculptor Kathe Kollwitz, Ian Christie on film director Sergei Eisenstein and Santanu Das on poet Sarojini Naidu.

On In Tune, each weekday afternoon, David Owen Norris presents a series of features exploring how few aspects of musical life were left untouched during the war, including the fate of the highland bagpipers who led their regiments over the top, the makeshift instruments used to create music on the front lines, and the compositions written in support of the beleaguered King Albert of Belgium. All will be available to download.

In Radio 3’s arts and ideas programme Free Thinking, Matthew Sweet debates the role of literature in shaping ideas about heroism in the years before and during the war, including John Buchan’s Thirty Nine Steps (24 June); Anne McElvoy considers the idea of the “Great Powers”, crucial to the pre-World War One balance of power in Europe (26 June); Samira Ahmed discusses Paul Nash’s 1918 painting We Are Making a New World and explores the impact of war on woodlands and landscape (30 June); and Rana Mitter puts the "world" into World War I as he talks to writers of fiction and history about the role of Turkey, India, China, Japan (3rd July).

Roger Wright, Controller, BBC Radio 3 and Director, BBC Proms, says: "For two weeks Radio 3 will shine new light and provide contextual programming on the musical experience of millions as they lived through this historic conflict. As the home of classical music, the station will be presenting well known and unfamiliar work, with a focus on musicians and artists of the time, specially created live music events and a unique range of speech programmes, drama and jazz, all designed to give our listeners a new insight into the music and culture of World War One."

Kate Kennedy of the University of Cambridge, consultant to the Radio 3 World War One programming says: "The arts have a unique role to play in expressing the shockwaves that run through culture in light of a cataclysmic event such as the First World War. Music, above any other art form has the ability to offer solace, express patriotism, and act as a vehicle for public and private grief. In these two weeks I’m delighted to work with Radio 3 on programming that will assess and explore the music of war; music that reflects the panoply of emotions engendered by the conflict."

Further highlights of BBC Radio 3’s World War One season include:

  • Cellist Steven Isserlis hosts two editions of war-themed Saturday Classics (28 June and 5 July)
  • World War One: Cradle of Jazz?: Alyn Shipton, presenter of Jazz Record Requests, argues that the war was the unintended mid-wife to the birth of Jazz – sending African American troops across the USA and Europe and with them, their ground-breaking music (6 July)
  • John Keane, former official British war artist, is Michael Berkeley’s guest on Private Passions (29 June).
  • Jay Winter of Yale University, leading cultural historian of WW1, editor of the newly published Cambridge History of the First World War. is Rob Cowan’s guest in Essential Classics and guides him through the international experience of the war (30 June – 4 July).
  • In Drama on 3, playwright Angela de Angelis adapts Greece’s most famous novel about the conflict, Life in the Tomb for a brand new radio version, bringing to life a lesser-known picture of the Great War, far from the Western Front (6th July). And to support this Balkan theme, in the Sunday Feature Maria Margaronis searches for the real Gavrilo Princip, assassin of Sarajevo (28 June)
  • Words and Music takes a thematic journey through the war across the fortnight – with three programme of readings and music on the theme of Outbreak (22 June), Displacement (29th June) and Aftermath (6 July).
  • In Sound of Cinema Matthew Sweet introduces music from the vast range of films inspired by the First World War (28 June). 
  • CD Review survey’s recordings of Elgar’s Cello concerto and Ravel’s La valse in Building a Library (21 & 28 June). 
  • Music Matters looks at the effects of the First World War on the course of musical history in the first quarter of the 20th century (28 June).
  • As part of 14-18 Now, a major cultural programme across the United Kingdom to mark the centenary of the First World War, five Essays curated by writer Lavinia Greenlaw take Robert Graves’ phrase Goodbye to All That as their starting point, five writers from countries involved in the First World War reflect on a turning point in their own histories and interpret the phrase with the ambiguity that Graves intended (11 July).

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