Music of World War One
This section of the web site will attempt to to draw together information about the music, in particular songs, that were current during the period 1914-18. Many of these songs will have been
written before this period; the composers may have been around for some time and will reflect those working across the genres of classical and popular.
Various web sites list songs and other musical events linked to particular years:
These web sites and many others can be used to research any individual or genre. My notes will be based on songs that I have collected which were in the possession of family members who were involved in the Great War.
Some of these are names that are very well known and played a significant role in the development of art music in the twentieth century. Others have been forgotten and indeed it has been very
difficult to find out anything about some composers. Where there exists a Wikipedia article or other biographical information I have inserted a link. I have looked for recordings of the songs I
have and have preferred older recordings by well known names to modern. Occasionally some songs have been recorded by outstanding singers of the modern era such as Bryn Terfel, but this is quite
If I have noticed any specific mention of the Great War in a biography, I draw attention to it.
He was an Australian composer who wrote the popular song 'The Bell's St Mary's' in 1917 after a visit to the church of that name in Southampton. The lyrics were by Douglas Furber; originally rejected by the publishers it became a big hit in the USA. One of the earliest recordings was made by Frances Alda, the colourful New Zealand born operatic soprano who often accompanies Caruso on stage at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Stephen Adams (1841-1913)
This was the pseudonym of Michael Maybrick. His family were musicians based at St Peter's in Liverpool and Michael went on to study keyboard in Germany and singing in Milan. By the 1870s he was singing his own songs, most with lyrics by Fred Weatherly which often achieved great popularity.
W A Aitken
He was a medical doctor as well as composer. He wrote 'Sigh no more', words by Shakespeare in 1911.
Frances Allitsen whose real name was Mary Bumpus was an English composer born in 1848 and died in 1912. She published around 50 songs and several orchestral pieces. She became especially well
known as a singing teacher.
Achille Edmond Audran (1840-1901) was the composer of several successful operettas and considered one of the most talented of Offenbach's successors. After initial success in Paris his works were regularly performed under his supervision in London.
La Poupee, his last comic opera, from which 'A Jovial Monk' comes, was produced in London in 1897.
The first complete recording of Bizet's Carmen was made in 1908; it consisted of 18 double sided discs, some 10 inch others 12 inch. Playing speeds differed and the discs were bought separately, not as a set.
Enrico Caruso made his first recording in 1902 and released a further 290 up until 1920.
Record players were much sought after during the First World War. A Cambridge press report notes an appeal by a nurse in France for one to be dispatched to the hospital she is working in in France.
Song of the Toreador sung in 1901 by Emilio De Gorza : he was one of the first professional singers to record.
May Brahe (1884 -1956)
She was an Australian composer, best know for her songs and ballads. 290 of her 500 songs were published, some under aliases such as Stanley Dickson. She was forced to do this as publishers were reluctant to publish more than four of her songs under her own name in any one year. She had established herself as a composer in London when she arrived in 1912 and rebrought her family to join her in 1914.
Recording of 'I passed by you window' (1916) made by Frances Alda in 1921.
J M Capel
No information about this composer
Strangely the only recording of his apparently popular song 'Love, could I only tell thee' first recorded in 1909 and sung by the well-known C Hayden-Coffin, is this one by a male voice
Robert Coningsby Clarke (1879 - 1934)
It is difficult to locate much information about Robert C Clarke. His most famous song is The Blind Ploughman recorded amongst others by Paul Robeson and Fyodor Chaliapin.
Gerald Francis Cobb (1838-1904)
His most famous songs were setting of Rudyard Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads.
An English composer of Creole descent who achieved great fame during his lifetime. He was helped by Edward Elgar and the premiere of Hiawatha's Feast was conducted by C V Stanford at its premier in 1898.
Frederic Hyman Cowen (1852-1935)
British pianist, composer and conductor. He wrote over 300 songs and many other orchestral works including four operas.
Garnet Wolseley Cox (1874-1904)
He came from a military background but very little is readily available about his life and compositions.
Two known songs are 'Since my love' and 'The butterfly is in love,' both published in 1898.
D'Hardelot, Guy (1858-1936)
This was the pen name of Helen Rhodes (nee Helen Guy), a French composer and pianist. She was born at Chateau d'Hardelot to an English father and a French mother. She studied at the Paris Conservatoire where she met Gounod and Massenet. She was very successful song writer and yet it was some time before her true merit was realised.
Reginald de Koven (1859-1920)
He was an American composer, particularly of comic operas. He studied at St John's College Oxford and in Stuttgart. His song 'Oh Promise Me' was one of the biggest song successes of its time and remains popular at weddings. The melody may have been based on an aria by Stanislao Gastaldon, 'Musica Proibita'. In 1890 De Koven wrote his most successful comic opera, Robin Hood. After the opening night, the contralto playing Alan-a-Dale, Jessie Bartlett Davis, demanded a song to better show off her voice, threatening to walk out of the production. So the song 'Oh Promise Me' was inserted. It sold over a million copies in 1890.
He wrote 'The garden of you heart' (1914). The only known recording of this was made in 1916 by the tenor Charles Harrison for Columbia Records.
He wrote 'Home that is calling for me' (1914).
Percy Elliott (1870-1932) in Dunstable
He wrote numerous songs including 'Mate o'mine' (1914)
Henry Ernest Geehl (1881-1961)
He was an English pianist, conductor and composer. He studied in London and Vienna and in 1919 joined the staff of Trinity College. He was well known for his arrangements for brass bands.
The song, 'For You Alone,' achieved great popularity, being recorded by Caruso, Lauritz Melchior, Jussi Bjorling and Mario Lanza.
Edward German (1862-1936)
He wrote prolifically for the stage and was seen as Arthur Sullivan successor in the field of English comic opera.
E. Carr Hardy
Your eyes have told me so (1908) sung by John McCormack
Hamilton Harty (1879 - 1941)
Born in Ireland, he moved to London aged 20 and became a distinguished piano accompanist. I composed a wide range of music and for 13 years was the chief conductor of the Halle Orchestra and a noted interpreter of Berlioz.
During WWI he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was posted for duties in the North Sea, rising to the rank of lieutenant.
Lane o'the thrushes (1907) performed by Isobel Baillie in 1945
The Grey North Sea 1915
One of the most influential British composers of the 20th century, he began to make his name in the early 1900s as a composer of songs and chamber music. One of his early successes was the 2nd
Violin Sonata completed in January 1917 and submitted to a competition organised to assist musicians in wartime.
Sea Fever (1913) sung by John Shirley-Quirk
The Bells of San Marie (1910) sung by Bryn Terfel
'A Perfect Day' was her greatest hit, released in 1910. This followed the parlor song, 'I Love You Truly' which made her the first woman to sell a million copies of a song. The difficulty she had
finding publishers for her music lead to her founding her own sheet music publishing company, very unusual at the time.
A Perfect Day sung by Webster Booth (year unknown)
'Out Here In God's Garden' (1910)
Keel was a composer of art songs, a baritone and an academic. He was an active member of the English folksong movement. During WWI he was interned at Ruhleben in Germany. He played an active part
in the musical life of the camp and gave many recitals.
Edward Frank Lambert (1868-1925)
Henry Lane Wilson (1871-1915)
Emile Lassailly (1874-1917)
Sometime when I am far away (1917)
Franz Lehar 1870-1948
An Austro-Hungarian composer known for his many operettas of which the most successful and best know is The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe).
Good morning brother sunshine (1916)
The Fairest Flower of All (1919)
Samuel Liddle (1868-1935)
How sleep the brave (1918) - this was sung at the Last Night of the Proms in 1918 as well as in prom concerts in 1919 and 1920.
Hermann Lohr (1871-1943)
Charles Marshall (1857-1927)
'I hear you calling me' (1908): this song was a best seller for the tenor John McCormack. Marshall, a struggling song writer at the time,
visited McCormack at his lodgings and played him the piece.
Easthope Martin (1882-1925)
Four songs of the Fair (1912)
St Nicholas Day in the Morning (1915)
Three more songs of the Fair (1917)
Born Jessie Daisy McGeoch in Partick, Glasgow, she spent most of her life in the south of England and died in 1963. Two Eyes of Grey, which sold 100,000 copies, is her most famous work.
Andre Charles Prosper Messager (1853-1929)
A prolific French composer whose output included 30 comic operas and operettas.
John W Metcalf
Frank Lewis Moir (1852-1904)
This was sung at two Proms concerts in 1900 and 1902.
Charles Mortimer (1880-1957)
Katie Moss (1881-1947)
Kate Emily Barkley Moss was a professional violinist, pianist and concert singer who studied at the Royal Academy of Music. The song, The Floral Dance, tells the story of an incident that
actually happened to Moss herself on a visit to Helston and the song was reportedly written down directly afterwards as she was going home on the train.
Moya (Harold Archdall Vicars) ( 1876-1922)
Harold Vicars was a British pianist, conductor and composer who conducted several Broadway productions in the 1910s. The Song of Songs was a big hit and was sung by Mario
The Nights (1900)
Frederick Norton (1869-1946)
Norton wrote the music to Chu Chin Chow which achieved the then world record run of five years at His Majesty's Theatre and 2,238 performances. It was written and produced by Oscar Asche,
wife of actress Lily Brayton.
The Call (1915)
Hastings Parry (1848-1918)
Seven Songs (1909)
English Lyrics (1918)
Gerald Peel (1977-1937)
Bright is the Ring of Words (1907)
Arthur A Penn (1875-1941)
More information about this famous song.
It's easy for you to remember (1909)
I wonder why (1906)
Paul Alfred Rubens (1875-1917)
I love you ma cherie (1909)
Your King and
Country Want You (1914) dedicated to HM The Queen sung by Edna Thornton
A Song of Home (1918)
The top of the hill (1918)
Wilfrid Sanderson (1878-1935)
Gather ye Rosebuds (1903)
My Dear Soul (1906)
Beyond the dawn (1911)
The Voyagers (1912)
o'mine (1913) sung by Albert Wiederhold (1915)
The Hills of Donnegal (1914)
Don't Hurry (1916)
Spanish Ladies (1910)
Walter Slaughter (1860-1908)
The Cap of Dunloe (1898)
Homeland sung by Peter Dawson
Henry Somerset, Lord (1849-1932)
Song of Sleep
All through the Night
William Henry Squire (1871-1963)
Jack (1904) sung by Richard Bonelli
In an old
fashioned town (1914) sung by Edgar Coyle
If I might
come to you (1916) sung by Felicity Palmer
My Prayer (1919)
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
the fair (1901) sung by John McCormack
Nights (1914) for choir
Day Op. 140 sung by Kathleen Ferrier circa 1950
Thomas Case Sterndale Bennett (1882-1944)
He was grandson of the composer William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875)
Seven What-Nots (1915)
Minstrel I sung by Peter Emery
Take a pair
of sparkling eyes sung by Webster Booth
Passing Hence sung by Peter Dawson
Chord (1877) sung by John McCormack
Arthur Tate (1870-1950)
Love's Devotion (1913)
Come Sing to me (1909)
Ralph Vaughan Williams 1872-1958
Vaughan Williams in 1914 at the age of 42 joined the RAMC as a private. He drove ambulance wagons in France and later in Greece. His friends considered that because of his age he must have found
the work especially hard. Even so, in 1917 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery and was in action in France from 1918. His hearing was damaged by the noise and lead to
deafness in later years. After the armistice he was director of music for the British First Army until demobilisation in February 1919.
William Wallace (1860-1940)
During World War One he served as inspector of ophthalmic units in Eastern Command with the rank of captain.
Son o'mine (1901)
Richard Henry Walthew (1872-1951)
The Gleaner's Slumber Song (1895)
Maude Valerie White (1855-1937)
Three Little Songs (1897)
Charles Willeby (1865- )
Crossing the bar (1903)
Coming Home (1914)
For background on this song follow this link. During WWI this song sold at the rate of 50,000 copies a month. After the war, the singing of this song was used to help soldiers
suffering from shell shock to regain their power of speech.
Amy Woodford-Finden (1860-1919)
Amelia Rowe War married Lieutenant-Colonel Woodforde Woodforde-Finden, a surgeon in the Indian Army in 1894 and it was in India that she wrote her most famous pieces: The Lover in Damascus and
Kashmiri Song. She lost her husband in April 1916; she moved back to London and passed away in 1919, it is said, while composing at the piano.