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World War II Its Music: Propaganda or Patriotism?
From Wilhelm Richard Wagner to Irving Berlin, the music of World War II was used on both sides of the conflict to gain support at home and give a feeling of patriotism and boost morale. Interestingly, it was also used as a vehicle to express a vision of government, to attract the enemy troops to propaganda, and encourage the home troops as well. Looking at the music of this time provides insight into the attitudes and cultural tone of the political leaders to all different levels of society
Hitler and Wagner
Adolf was a fanatical admirer of Wagner since his teens. His passion for Wagner knew no bounds and a performance was almost like a religious experience to the young Adolph. Adolph was carried away by Wagner's powerful musical dramas, the evocation of a heroic, sublimely and distant mystical Germanic past. Adolph's first and favorite Wagner opera was Lohengrin, which is the saga of a knight of the grail, the epitome of the Teutonic hero, who was sent from the castle of Monsalvat by his father Parzival to rescue Elsa who had been wrongly condemned, but ended up betraying her.
Adolph's philosophy was built upon the works of Wagner which can be seen in his statement “These criminals who wanted do away with me have no idea what would happen to the German people, they don't know the plans of our enemies, who want to annihilate Germany so that it never can rise again. If they think that the western powers are strong enough without Germany to hold Bolshevism in check, they are deceiving themselves… I am the only one who knows the danger, and the only one who can prevent it.” The author Ian Kershaw sums up Adolph's statement “Such sentiments were redolent, through a distorting mirror, of the Wagnerian redeemer-figure, a hero who alone could save the holders of the Grail, indeed the world itself from disaster – a latter-day Parsifal.” (Page 851). Adolph thought he could save Germany and the world, but how wrong he was in his thinking that he was an epic hero.
As fascinated with Wagner as Adolph was “One cannot help but wonder what Richard Wagner would have thought about Adolf Hitler, one of his all-time biggest fans!” (Ferguson). Would Wagner consider Adolph and epic hero? One has to think not, but one could be wrong.
Due to Hitler's fascinating with Wagner and especially the Germanic culture that Wagner promoted, the Nazi's took a strong interest in promoting the music and culture of their remote ancestors through the use of radio and at the same time promote their propaganda. As with most dictatorial governments the Nazi's had an obsession with controlling and promoting the culture of the people and as a result the common people's taste in music was kept secret, but many Germans were able to use their radios to listen to Jazz which was hated by Hitler but loved by the world. Soldiers in the German army were “expected to learn a repertoire of marching songs and traditional songs that they could perform on demand”. (Les Cleveland page 8). Which is a type of propaganda.
One of the most popular songs of World War Two was Lili Marlene which was popular with both the German and British forces. Based on the German poem “Das Mädchen unter der Laterne” which was set to music in 1938. The song was recorded in both German and English versions.
Vor der Kaserme vor dem großen Tor
Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate,
Due to the popularity of the song it was used throughout the war not only as a popular song, but a propaganda tool.
The best understanding of German Music from World War Two has to come from official Nazi government policy. Regrettably as the losers in the war, Nazi songs and German music from this time period has not been assigned the high heroic status as have British and American popular music of this time period.
Although First World War poets [Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon] are often presented as the literature of wartime, popular songs were important in keeping up morale. Those from World War II have become especially well known. Some songs were overtly nationalistic, such as There'll Always Be An England. Other music was popular because it evoked emotional states common in wartime, for instance a sense of nostalgic sadness and loss. ( Modern History Sourcebook: There'll Always Be An England and other War Music.)
Without question the most popular vocalist of World War Two would be Vera Lynn who sang almost ever well known war time tune in her concerts including Lili Marlene and There'll always be an England but her best know songs were We'll meet again and White cliffs of Dover.
These songs just give a hint of the differing varieties of wartime songs, other popular music genres included music with lush instrumental compositions as well as just silly songs.
During the war, many people in the US and Great Britain found an escape by listening to the radio. Hit songs were a nice form of catharsis for the public; the lyrics were often about situations the average person could relate to, and it helped the listeners to feel that they were not alone. So, naturally, songwriters wanted to provide music that would be uplifting, encouraging, and of course, patriotic American Songs.
A list notable songs of World War Two from America would have to include hits such as Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy which was composed by Don Raye and Hughie Prince and was recorded on January 2, 1941, nearly a year before the United States entered the war The storyline of the song told about, a renowned Illinois street musician is drafted into the United States Army during the draft. In addition to being famous, the bugler was the "top man at his craft," but the Army had little use for his talents and he was reduced to blowing Reveille in the morning, which caused the musician to become dejected. Other hits were: Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me), I'll Be Home For Christmas, Juke Box Saturday Night, Kiss The Boys Goodbye , Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition, and God Bless America which was written by Irving Berlin in 1918 but made famous by Kate Smith in an Armistice Day radio broadcast in 1938. This list could go on with all the notable songs from this time period but space and time will not permit.
Music goes much deeper, and reaches into our psyches for reasons other than its initial sound. Music evokes emotions of patriotism, fear, jubilation, sadness and many more emotions. As well as invoking emotional responses, music is used as a propaganda tool to get people fired up for a certain cause whether in war or even politics. Was the music of World War Two patriotic or was it propaganda, or was it both? It all depends from which side you view the question. Usually the winning sides music was patriotic and the losers propaganda
In closing Susan Burns states from the article “War, music, and evolution”. “No doubt, it's dismaying to realize that warfare is so deeply a part of our makeup that we'll never have "the war to end all wars." Those war songs touch a deep, dark chord. Yet, I consider myself better off for having this perspective on warfare.”(Burns 2003). What kind of music will be used as patriotic music in the next major war? What music will be used as a propaganda tool? We may have to wait for the answers to these questions, but one thing is certain, as with all past wars, music will have an influence.