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Texts and music music from around Europe at the start of World War I, with readings by Emma Fielding and Harry Hadden-Paton. Includes Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Berg and Debussy.

Words and music from around Europe at the start of World War I read by Emma Fielding and Harry Hadden-Paton. With words by Edward Thomas, Stefan Zweig, Edmund Blunden, Winston Churchill, Katherine Mansfield, Anna Akhmatova and Rupert Brooke and music by Vaughan Willliams, Berg, Debussy, Zemlinsky, Koechlin, Elgar and the recruiting songs which encouraged men to join up for the Front.
Part of Radio 3's WWI season, Music in the Great War.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:00

    Edward Elgar


    Performer: BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by John Wilson.
    • SOMMCD247.
    • Tr3.
  • Winston Churchill

    from his diaries 1914 read by Harry Hadden-Paton

  • 00:04

    Sergei Prokofiev

    Visions Fugitives

    Performer: Stefan Veselka.
    • VICTORIA VCD19024.
    • Tr28.
  • Jessie Pope

    The Call read by Emma Fielding

  • 00:06

    Ivor Novello

    Keep the Home Fires Burning

    Performer: John McCormack.
    • CD41 CD41001.
    • Tr9.
  • Katherine Mansfield

    from her diaries read by Emma Fielding

  • 00:09

    Sergei Prokofiev

    Sarcasms - Smanioso

    Performer: Stefan Veselka.
    • VICTORIA VCD19024.
    • Tr8.
  • Edmund Blunden

    Undertones of War read by Harry Hadden-Paton

  • 00:12

    Frank Bridge

    Oration for solo cello and orchestra

    Performer: Steven Isserlis (conducted by Richard Hickox).
    • EMI CDM7639092.
    • Tr7.
  • Stefan Zweig (translated by Anthea Bell)

    The World of Yesterday read by Emma Fielding

  • 00:16

    Sir George Dyson

    Epigrams for Piano - Sostenuto

    Performer: David Owen Norris (piano).
    • DUTTON CDLX7137.
    • Tr3.
  • Wilfred Owen

    1914 ready by Harry Hadden-Paton

  • 00:18

    Alban Berg

    Three Orchestral Pieces - March

    Performer: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis.
    • PHILIPS 4125232.
    • 5.
  • 00:26

    Johann Strauss

    The Radetzky March

    Performer: Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Herbert von Karajan.
    • EMI CMS7694372.
    • Tr10.
  • Béla Zombory-Moldovan (translated by Peter Zombory-Moldovan and to be published in August 2014 by NYRB)

    from The Burning of the World read by Emma Fielding

  • 00:29

    Ralph Vaughan Williams

    The Lark Ascending

    Performer: Iona Brown with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
    • ASV CDDCA518.
    • 1.
  • Helen Thomas

    World without End read by Emma Fielding

  • Edward Thomas

    Lights Out read by Harry Hadden-Paton

  • Mary Borden

    The Forbidden Zone read by Emma Fielding

  • 00:46

    Claude Debussy

    Berceuse Heroique

    Performer: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink.
    • PHILIPS 4387422.
    • Tr1.
  • 00:50

    Igor Stravinsky

    Souvenir d'une marche boche

    Performer: Thomas Adès.
    • EMI CDC5570512.
    • 32.
  • Alexander Gillespie

    from his war diaries read by Harry Hadden-Paton

  • Sarah McNaughton

    from her letters read by Emma Fielding

  • 00:54

    Al Piantadosi

    I Didn't Raise my Boy to Be a Soldier

    Performer: Peerless Quartet.
    • Retrospective RTR4236.
    • Tr13.
  • Erich Maria Remarque

    All Quiet on the Western Front read by Harry Hadden-Paton

  • 00:58

    Charles Koechlin

    Piano Quintet opus 80 – L’Assaut de l’ennemi – La Blessure

    Performer: Antigone Quartet, Sarah Lavaud piano.
    • AR20091.
    • Tr2.
  • Anna Akmatova translated by Stephen Edgar

    In Memoriam read by Emma Fielding

  • 01:02

    Anton Webern

    Cello Sonata

    Performer: Clemens Hagen and Oleg Maisenberg conducted by Pierre Boulez.
    • Tr12.
  • Rupert Brooke

    Peace read by Harry Hadden-Paton

  • 01:04

    F.S. Kelly

    Elegy for Strings: In Memoriam Rupert Brooke

    Performer: David Lloyd-Jones.
    • Tr4.

Producer's Note

As Radio 3 begins its Music in the Great War season, we’re devoting three editions of Words and Music to the First World War. Today, Harry Hadden-Paton and Emma Fielding read poetry and prose inspired by the outbreak of war. 


The programme begins with Elgar’s ‘Sospiri’. Elgar composed the bleak Adagio in the months leading up to the outbreak of the First World War: it was first performed in August 1914, just days after the start of the war. It’s heard with Winston Churchill’s description of the scene in London in the final hours leading up to the announcement of war.


Jessie Pope’s jingoistic call to arms, ‘The Call’ is an example of the kind of poem written before the horror of war became apparent. In a passage from Edmund Blunden’s memoir, ‘Undertones of War’ he is seen off by his mother at the railway station as he heads to the front. There he meets two older soldiers who are visibly and audibly moved by the sight of the boy heading off to war. The composer Frank Bridge was a pacifist and didn’t enlist for service. His ‘Oration for cello and orchestra’ is an elegy for those who died and a pacifist’s warning against future conflict.


The writer Edward Thomas only became a poet on the eve of WW1 after meeting and becoming friends with Robert Frost. He died in 1917 in the first hour of the Battle of Arras.  Although his work has become increasingly well known over recent years his wife, Helen Thomas’ intimate and controversial memoir, ‘World without End’ deserves to be far more widely read. Edward Thomas’ ‘Lights Out’ and a passage from Helen’s memoir are heard alongside Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’, written in 1914 and seen by some as expressing a fear of the loss of England’s culture and countryside.


Debussy’s ‘Berceuse Heroique’ was written in the first year of the war and intended as a tribute to King Albert and the Belgians. Its gloomy atmosphere and strange fanfares are heard with a passage from the nurse Mary Borden’s ‘The Forbidden Zone’ which tells the story of her time in a muddy wasteland in Belgium as part of an evacuation hospital unit.


A letter from a young man to his father warning him that his company is about to attack and assuring his father that he is happy contrasts with a letter from a Scottish nurse questioning the madness of sending boys to war. Al Piantadosi’s  ‘I Didn’t Raise my Son to be a Soldier’ is an American anti-war song influential in the pacifist movement and which was performed  in Britain during the war.


The programme ends with Rupert Brooke’s sonnet ‘Peace’, written on the outbreak of war and a declaration of determination and moral purpose with Frederick Kelly’s ‘Elegy for Strings’, inspired by the death of Brooke, his close friend and fellow officer. Kelly himself, having won the DSC at Gallipoli in January 1916, was killed in battle on the Somme at the age of thirty five years old.




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