Outbreak of the war
End of the war

‘I’d like to dance, I’d like to shout for joy’ – Popular Music in the First World War

Despite the demand for a return to serious art not even the First World War could really reduce the popular appeal of ‘light music’. Both at home as well as at the front pieces of music which by nature were meant for entertainment enjoyed great popularity. This genre too adopted patriotic content and thus followed the contemporary trend.

Emmerich Kálmán’s Csárdásfürstin (The Gypsy Princess), with a plot and music where the blissful lilt of the waltz and the fiery blood of the czardas meet, had a dazzling premiere at the Johann-Strauss-Theater in Vienna in 1915 and had more than 500 further performances by the end of war. In 1914 Kálmán had already supplied his first patriotic contribution to the war, the musical play Gold gab ich für Eisen (I Gave Gold for Iron). In 1916 Die Rose von Stambul (The Rose of Stamboul) by Leo Fall celebrated its premiere in the Theater an der Wien; the same year saw the publication of compositions by him entitled Heitere Deutsche und Österreichische Soldatenlieder (Merry German and Austrian Soldiers’ Songs). Franz Lehár, whose brother Anton made a career for himself in the Austro-Hungarian army, also satisfied the demands of wartime propaganda for patriotically motivated works. In 1927 the Volga Song from his operetta Der Zarewitsch (The Tsarevitch) provided, posthumously, as it were, a memorial in popular music to the renunciation and obedience to the fatherland that characterized a soldier’s fate.

Together with Fall, Lehár and Kálmán, Oscar Straus is also regarded as one of the most important representatives of the so-called ‘silver age’ of operetta (from the turn of the century to approximately 1920). However, unlike them he did not support the war by composing militaristic music. Robert Stolz, who had been the musical director of the Theater an der Wien from 1905 to 1907, did war service from 1914 to 1918, for some of the time as the bandmaster of the Imperial and Royal Regiment no.4, known as the ‘Hoch- und Deutschmeister’, whose regimental march was provided with a wartime version by August Jurek. It is less well known that it was during the war that Robert Stolz composed songs that became all-time hits like Wien wird bei Nacht erst schön (Vienna does not become beautiful until night falls), Im Prater blüh’n wieder die Bäume (In the Prater the trees are in blossom again) and Das ist der Frühling in Wien (That is spring in Vienna).    

It was also during the war that Rudolf Sieczynski became famous thanks to some of his Viennese songs, including his first work, Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume (Vienna, City of My Dreams), composed in 1912 but not published until 1914. Sieczynski himself said of his song, for which he wrote a special wartime version of the lyrics, that it became ‘popular in particular during the war … with the soldiers in the field, who were thinking longingly of home’.

Even if we are threatened by war and hardship,
We submit to this with God.
We stand united with our German friend,
For firm and loyal stands the watch on the Rhine.

Whether young or old, everyone is looking lively
And ready to go into battle for the Emperor.
We give our possessions, we give our blood,
For Austria will last forever.

So, children, go happily to war,
For you are sure to return as victors.

Vienna, and only Vienna, will always be the city of all your dreams,
There where Habsburg’s banners fly,
There where the sturdy warriors stand.

Vienna, and only Vienna, will always be the city of all your dreams.
Go at once to the old Emperor,
To Vienna, to Vienna, to him.

Here it can be seen that Vienna takes on a special role as a surface onto which to project emotions in line with the spirit of the times. In Viennese popular songs an idyll of home is conjured up, in a form which, however, seems to become increasingly melancholy in the course of the war, with lines such as ‘I’d rather light up my good old pipe,’  – an old man sings, summing up his memories in a sentimental way  – ‘You were fine, you dear old days.’ At the end of 1915 Turl Wiener wrote lyrics which made clear who was responsible for the end of the world of the good old days: ‘May God punish England. May He punish her!’

As the war dragged on the number of Viennese popular songs published declined considerably, one reason for this being that many musicians had been sent to the front. Here their role was to entertain the fighting troops, as well as to serve in field hospitals and prisoner-of-war camps. 

Translation: Leigh Bailey


Glanz, Christian: Konjunkturritter der „großen Zeit“. Streiflichter zur Selbstmobilisierung der „leichten Muse“ in Wien., in: Bungart, Julia et al. (Hrsg.): Wiener Musikgeschichte. Annäherungen – Analysen – Ausblicke. Festschrift für Hartmut Krones, Wien 2009, 353-364

Mochar, Iris: Zum Wienerlied im Ersten Weltkrieg, in: bockkeller – Die Zeitung des Wiener Volksliedwerks, Ausgabe 1/2014, 5-8

Pfoser, Alfred: „Hoch der Rock, die Waffen nieder!“ Im Wien des Ersten Weltkriegs ging das Leben weiter. Und das Nachtleben konnte sich erst entfalten, in: Der Falter 01-02/2014, unter: (20.06.2014)

Tonaufnahme „Wien, Du Stadt meiner Träume" (Kriegsversion; Albert Schäfer 1915). Unter: (20.06.2014)

Tonaufnahme „Wolgalied“ (Richard Tauber). Unter: (20.06.2014)

Tonaufnahme „Im Prater blüh’n wieder die Bäume“ und „Wien, Du Stadt meiner Träume“ (Richard Tauber). Unter: (20.06.2014)



„popular in particular during the war ...": zitiert nach: Weber, Ernst: Schne Liada, in: Fritz, Elisabeth Th., Kretschmer, Helmut (Hrsg.): Wien Musikgeschichte. Teil 1: Volksmusik und Wienerlied, Wien 2006, 314, zit.iert nach Mochar, Iris: Zum Wienerlied im Ersten Weltkrieg, in: bockkeller – Die Zeitung des Wiener Volksliedwerks, Ausgabe 1/2014, 5-8, hier: 7 (Translation)

„I’d rather light up my good ...": Original-Couplet. Text: Turl Wiener und Franz Aicher. Musik: R.V. Werau, Op. 420. Wien 1915 (Translation)

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    War and art

    Many artists, intellectuals and writers welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. They saw it not as an apocalypse but as the opportunity for a change for the better. As such they joined in the patriotic fervour of the first weeks and months of the war. What motivated them not only to devote their artistic energies to the fatherland but also to take an active part in the fighting? How were anti-war sentiments articulated by artists? What other forms of relationship were there between art and warfare during and after the First World War?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    The role of the intellectual in the war

    The year 1914 brought about an incisive change in their private and professional lives of many intellectuals. Formerly international intellectual and artist circles collapsed, many intellectuals entered the war, voluntarily or not, and many of them failed to return.

  • Object

    The foreigner, the adversary, the enemy!

    To popularise the greeting “Gott strafe England” [“May God punish England”] and the response “Er strafe es” [“May He do so”] it was printed on posters, badges and postcards. The idea was to promote patriotism and hatred of England. Right after the start of the war, animosity and mutual attributions of blame by the two sides were manifest. Xenophobia was officially encouraged as a sign of patriotism. This singling out and denigration of the enemy was designed to strengthen solidarity and justify the country’s own war policy.