Beethoven and the Great War: British Reactions to German Music During World War I

At the outbreak of the First World War, British musicians, audiences and critics faced a dilemma: embrace wartime nationalism and purge the country of its popular Germanic musical culture, or accept that Wagner, Mozart, and Beethoven had nothing to do with the continental conflict. Based on concert programs, articles from contemporary journals such as The Musical Times, and memoirs from 20th century composers and conductors, it is clear that the British musical society picked the latter option, as music from Germanic artists remained popular. Conductors such as Thomas Beecham and Joseph Holbrooke attempted to wrest England from Germanic musical influence through concerts such as the "All English" and "No German" performances, but to little avail. Despite critical and popular acceptance of the Germanic musical canon in Britain during the war, audiences used the calamity as an excuse to exacerbate hatred towards already controversial composers such as Richard Strauss and Arnold Schoenberg. Ultimately, wartime patriotism had little effect on the musical culture in Britain, as audiences saw little need or desire to rid England of the likes of Wagner and Beethoven. Despite the triumph of music over nationalism, the war forced the British to reflect on their own lagging musical culture, and required composers and conductors to grapple with what it meant to have an "English" sound.