Apart from the American Civil War (1861-1865), the First World War was the first war in which economic superiority (and here above all the ability to completely mobilise the economy) was crucial for victory or defeat. Lasting more than four years, the war had both major political and serious social, economic and financial effects. The strain on the national product was greater in the countries on the losing side than in the victorious powers. In some countries of central Europe, attempts were made to change the social structure following the Russian October Revolution in 1917.
In times of war music frequently serves as a means of propaganda. It is charged with patriotic sentiment to justify going to war and used to raise the morale of soldiers going into battle. As a march it can make sure that a group of men keep in step, as a battle song it can incite feelings against ‘the’ enemy, and playing music together can distract people from the reality of war, cheering and comforting them in difficult situations.
Even if they were only a tiny minority: the fact that many artistic talents did not live to see the end of the war, because they died on the battlefield, is one that is mostly suppressed. This is particularly true of music. There were others who overcame their wartime experiences in their compositions.
While Richard Strauss’s musical output continued apparently uninfluenced and unimpressed by the terror of the First World War, there are two major connecting lines to be drawn between the music of Alban Berg and the war.
As the war progressed, the enthusiasm for it was replaced by revolutionary dissatisfaction; the composition of the workforce also changed.
An ‘industrial war’ lasting for years changes the structure of an economy, because it leads to the expansion of heavy industry, which in turn gives rise to problems in the peace economy after the war.
Despite all the problems, the production of armaments in the Austro-Hungarian Empire reached its peak in 1916 and 1917. The decline in production in the last year of the war was all the more dramatic. At the same time, social disputes intensified.
Large empires such as Austria-Hungary, which had been at an advantage in the armed disputes of the 19th century because of their large populations, proved in the First World War to be incapable of bearing the burdens of modern war because of their weak economic basis.
In economic terms, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was not prepared for a long and major war. It was above all the illusion as to the duration of the war that prevented a comprehensive economic ‘rearmament’.