May 27, 2021

Music in Memory of Past Military


As a child, Tomoko experienced World War II in Japan. Her father and brother were conscripted to help the war effort as civilians, and the entire nation suffered hardship because of the war. After the war, Japan was occupied by U.S. military personnel, and Japan had to agree to never re-establish an offensive  military force.

Tomoko’s husband Desy also suffered from military action as his country, Hungary, was under the policies imposed by the Soviets. He was able to escape during the Hungarian Revolution, safely arriving in the United States -- poor but hopeful.

Composers have often expressed their feelings about war in their music, as the following examples of Ravel’s work demonstrate.

In World War I Maurice Ravel wanted to join the war effort, and so he drove a supply truck to support French troops. His piano suite Le tombeau de Couperin memorialized his friends who were killed in the war, a couple of whom were shot dead their first day at the front.  

In 1914 pianist Paul Wittgenstein a war bullet pierced his right elbow, resulting in amputating his arm. In his honor, several composers wrote pieces that could be performed solely by the left hand, including Ravel.  His left-hand piano concerto became Wittgenstein’s favorite composition to play.

Ravel’s compositions Frontispice (1919) and La Valse (2020) captured his own war-based psychological trauma and grief. Similarly, his Sonata for Violin and Violoncello (1922) and Sonata for Violin and Piano (1927) enabled his musician colleagues to share their mutual grief through duet performances.  

Music can be a powerful cathartic experience, both for a performance and for a listener, to address and remember times of war and suffering: to bear the grief and hope for peace.