IT’S A SAD FACT that much of the world’s music is about war. Music is very useful in boosting soldiers’ courage as they go into battle…
… and of course when a war is over people like to tell stories about it to keep the memory alive – and often those stories are told in song. One of the most famous folk songs of the Middle Ages was L’Homme Armé. ‘Oh, beware the armed man,’ says the first line.
This tune was used dozens of times by church composers as a basis for church pieces like settings for a mass.
In all cultures, being a good soldier was a quality a king or aristocrat had to have – which is why courtly music is full of war music or war songs.
It’s the same in Western classical music, which in its early days was attached to the courts of kings and aristocrats. Courtly vocal music from the Middle Ages right up to the baroque era was nearly always about love or war. Songs of Love and War is the title of a famous song collection by one of the great baroque composers, Claudio Monteverdi.
The military band was one of the ancestors of the orchestra – which is why marching rhythms, kettle drums and trumpets are still very common in classical music. Here’s a typical example from Haydn’s Mass No. 11 in D minor (Nelson), also known as the Kettle Drum Mass.
But in our own times, war has changed – it’s no longer led by brave aristocrats fighting with style, it’s become mechanised and impersonal, and involves thousands if not millions of innocent civilians. This is why in the past hundred years war music has changed.
It often strikes a note of horror…
....or protests against war