The Australian War Memorial and The Music from the Great War

This year The Australian War Memorial has decided to showcase the songs and music of one of the bleakest times in human history, the First World War, in its aptly named ‘Music from the First World War’ project. This collection will include things like sheet music and concert programs, in order to achieve this, they have gone and catalogued, digitised and recorded over a hundred different musical works from their archives for everyone to listen to, enjoy and hopefully learn about this point in history.

Several of the musical pieces recorded in the collection were done so by the Artistic Director and Memorial’s own musical artist-in-residence Christopher Latham. In an interview about the project Latham talks about how the many forms of music played at this time played a significant role in World War I. Music was often performed by many of the soldiers and helped them come to terms with their situation. Latham believes it was the songs that helped them process many of the war’s indeterminable paradoxes, “slaughter and heroism, kindness and savagery, beauty and barbarity – which lived side by side throughout the war”. He believed the music acted as a remedy to the many traumas they faced and helped ground them and hold onto their humanity.

The Memorials Director, Dr Brendan Nelson also believes that music was important at this time, and that it provided those who were involved with a way to frame and understand their experiences. Music was often a brief escape for the people of the war, sailors, soldiers, airmen and nurses all from different walks of life, music became important to these people in this bleak time and that music, one of the few bright memories would have stayed with them long after the war had ended. That is why he believes its important that we remember these songs, tunes, musical number and so on, they are far more than just an amusement of the era, they are one of the things these brave people used to keep going through the hardest of spells.

It’s not just the popular music of the era that’s included in collection, there are also many works that are related to the war time experience as well as songs that were written by the men and women who served too. Naturally these songs can be hard to find usually, being quite rare, however the Memorial are making them available through their website so that all can hear them. As well as the music, anecdotes that were recorded in letters home, notes on concert programs and diaries will be included in their presentation along with information about the men and women who wrote them too.

Throughout this year (2019) 100 tracks will be released through the Australian War Memorial’s website, they will also be releasing them through many of the most well-known streaming services so you can listen to them wherever you are.