The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On this Veterans Day, what music best marks today’s centennial of the armistice that ended World War I? | November 11, 2018

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By Jacob Stockinger

In August of 2014 the world marked the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.

It was supposed to be over by that Christmas.

It wasn’t. It lasted for more than four years.

It was supposed to be “The war to end all wars.”

It didn’t. In fact, most historians agree that World War I directly set up the conflicts and conditions that led to World War II.

It was supposed to be the war that “made the world safe for democracy.”

It didn’t do that either, although it did lead to the overthrow of many kings and royal rulers in Russia, Germany and Austria.

The one thing World War I did do was kill people, especially the trench-bound soldiers, on a scale never before seen. It was nothing short of a bloody meat grinder of a war that saw the introduction of air warfare and chemical warfare.

Four years later – today, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 – we mark the centennial of the armistice that, 100 years ago, that ended the war on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

That is why the holiday was called Armistice Day before it became Veterans Day.

Anyway, what music is appropriate to the occasion?

Rather than reinvent the wheel, The Ear is giving you this link to the other centennial celebration post that mentioned , via links to other web sites, a lot of works and a lot of composers.

Many of those favorites remain relevant today — although Benjamin Britten’s epic War Requiem (you can hear the opening in the YouTube video at the bottom) and Samuel Barber’s moving Adagio for Strings (also at the bottom, conducted by Leonard Bernstein) still seem to tower over all the others.

Use this link to read about music and let us know what thoughts you have about the centennial of the armistice and the music you would listen to mark it.

And, finally, here is The Ear’s fervent hope that — given the rise of the far right and of populist, nationalistic politics here and around the globe — we are not working our way back to World War I rather than away from it.


  1. Not only did the war (like all wars) kill people, it killed progress. In Wisconsin, it made the German language a casualty too. War is always anti-progressive.

    Barber’s Adagio for Strings is fitting music for it and other wars.


    Comment by fflambeau — November 12, 2018 @ 9:29 pm

  2. I don’t have a clear “best”, but two strong candidates are Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat” and Ravel’s “La Valse” — both major works that deal with the “fall from grace” theme that was central to the WW I experience. Another one, written many years later, was Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem”, using the bitter poems of British WW I poet to drive the narrative.


    Comment by Tim Adrianson — November 11, 2018 @ 1:44 pm

  3. The Elgar Cello Concerto. He composed it in the aftermath of World War I. It is both contemplative & elegiac, and yet it also contains moments of hopefulness & even humor.


    Comment by jim — November 11, 2018 @ 10:05 am

  4. It’s still Barber’s Second Symphony (the original score) to my mind. It troubled him so much he tried to destroy it, it cuts close to the bone.


    Comment by slfiore — November 11, 2018 @ 8:12 am

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