Concert Highlights The Impact Of War On Composers | WGLT

Concert Highlights The Impact Of War On Composers

Nov 6, 2019

A collaborative arts event in honor of Veterans Day highlights the creative efforts that emerged from the devastation of World War I. 

University Galleries in Uptown Normal hosts “Broken Harmony: Reconstructing Art” on Friday, Nov. 8, at 6:30 p.m. Featuring pianist Jason Terry and soprano Angela Yoon, the married pair will perform music composed in reaction to WWI amid artwork curated by ISU art professor Jessica Benjamin and her husband, Alphonso. 

Both Terry and Yoon spent months researching music of the World War I era to find just the right works to include in the event.  

“We started with some idea about it, and we based our research off of that,” Yoon explained. “A lot of the repertoire decisions were made after we did a lot of research. The last addition was a piece by Saint-Saens, 'The Hymn to Peace.' And that one we found at the very, very last moment. Jason had to arrange a trumpet part to it that didn’t exist. It existed as an orchestra score, but that score does not exist anymore. We had to be creative and think about possible ways to make this happen.”

Soprano Angela Yoon delved into music history to uncover music from the WWI era.
Credit Angela Yoon

Their research uncovered how much the war impacted composers such as Erik Satie.

“His music changed so drastically,” Yoon said. “It never returned to how it was before the war. Definitely with some artists, it impacted their musical color so much, it changed their style or approach to music.  We chose certain composers because they created repertories that were in reaction to the war.” 

Terry described the selection of music as wide and varied. It also holds a few surprises. 

“There’s some pieces of Scott Joplin. His 'Maple Leaf Rag' is going to be in the concert. And that clearly wasn’t affect by the war because it was written almost twenty years before. But Igor Stravinsky’s piano rag music, he claimed, was influenced because of the Harlem Hellfighters coming over from the U.S. as soldiers, bringing the ragtime music with them which he obtained that way.” 

Another piece included in the concert is a piano work by Maurice Ravel. 

“We know that Ravel was an ambulance driver during the war,” Terry said. “And he wrote a nice piano set after the war that he dedicated to six friends of his that had been killed in action. So, there’s a wide gamut that we’re going to explore in this concert.” 

Jason Terry uncovered the tragic history behind some of the pieces to be featured in "Broken Harmony: Reconstructing Art."
Credit Jason Terry

Both the Saint-Saens work and a piece by Kurt Weill in the program have languished in obscurity since the war. 

“As far as we know, these pieces have never really been performed,” Terry said. “The Kurt Weill piece, we received the manuscript copy from the Kurt Weill Music Foundation.  They told us that after Kurt Weill himself premiered the piece, the score was put away and it has not been published to date.” 

“It’s been interesting to find these pieces that were written as a direct reaction (to the war), but perhaps never received their intended purpose.” 

After the war, music took a darker, more somber, more confused turn, said Yoon. “It’s not the normal chords or harmonic structures.” 

“Spending the last 18 months with this style of music has been a learning experience,” Terry said. “To see all the music there is under the surface. And when you understand the context, that some of these composers had witnesses or at least read about in primary sources of the day, it makes the music a little more sensible.”

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