‘What the soldier in battle dress is singing now will be sung by the entire German people in rare unity.’ – Soldiers’ Songs as Collectors’ Items
Soldiers’ songs have as their content soldierly life and experiences and are – in contrast to the officially prescribed battle songs – utterances which are sung ‘voluntarily and out of habit’. In them soldiers express ‘what moves them and they otherwise cannot and do not want to say themselves’, as the folklorist John Meier put it in 1916. Solders’ songs have a variety of content, which ranges from patriotic appeals and calls to battle to laments and protests. During the First World War large collections of them were compiled out of not only patriotic but also folkloristic interest.
In Austria the Musical History Headquarters (Musikhistorische Zentrale/MHZ) of the Imperial and Royal War Ministry was established in April 1917. It was headed by Bernhard Paumgartner, who had already published a number of booklets of soldiers’ songs. The aim of this institution was to collect folk and soldiers’ songs, which were intended on the one hand to commemorate the heroic deeds of soldiers and on the other to contribute to understanding and solidarity within the Monarchy.
Bernhard Paumgartner, who was born in Vienna, was a composer, conductor and musicologist who from 1914 to 1917 had been in charge of the Vienna Tonkünstler-Orchester and in 1916 had published four booklets of solders’ songs commissioned by the War Press Quarters (Kriegspressequartier/KPQ). He was in close contact with Béla Bartok, who together with Zoltán Kodaly had contributed the Hungarian part of the collection for the MHZ. The idea of promoting the notion of the unified state and overcoming national differences in this way ran into difficulties, because there were not many suitable collectors and the priority given to songs in German was at odds with according equal value to the cultural creations of all ethnic groups.
In addition to folk and soldiers’ songs the MHZ collected pipe and military music, as well as signals and ‘expressions of the soldierly spirit which interesting from the point of view of cultural history and which are closely connected with folk songs’ (as Paumgartner put it in 1918) such as soldiers’ sayings, customs, jokes, rhymes, riddles and letters.
Finally, in 1918 a concert organised by the MHZ was given in Vienna. This presented the results of the collection in a historical section and one devoted to contemporary material. The programme booklet contained the songs performed as well as illustrations and essays, for example by Béla Bartok on the melodies of Magyar soldiers’ songs, by the folklorist Hans Commenda on soldiers’ songs, and by Felix Petyrek on the soldiers’ folk songs of the Slavs. Further concerts followed in Budapest, Linz, Salzburg, Baden in Lower Austria and possibly also in Brno. Some parts of the collection, especially soldiers’ songs which had been sent in, are today no longer extant.
In Germany, too, soldiers’ songs were documented and continually published. In 1916 John Meier published an edited collection entitled Das deutsche Soldatenlied im Felde (The German Soldiers’ Song on the Battlefield), which was systematically enlarged by means of a questionnaire sent to soldiers. The aim was to bring out a song book ‘for army and people’ after the end of the war in order to be able to draw ‘a generally valid picture’ of soldiers’ songs in the World War. In this way it was intended to show how the ‘re-evaluation of all values … brought new life to old’ and also how the creative power of the war developed fully in revised or newly composed songs. ‘What the soldier in battle dress is singing now will be sung by the entire German people in rare unity,’ a reviewer commented on Meier’s publication.
In 1926 the Weltkriegslieder-Sammlung appeared in Dresden; this ‘collection of World War songs’ contained more than 700 texts of songs and war poems gathered with the help of participants in the war.
Translation: Leigh Bailey
Gerdes, Aibe-Marlene: Populäre Kriegslyrik als Sammelgegenstand. Die Weltkriegssammlungen im Deutschen Volksliederarchiv, in: Deterin, Nicolas, Fischer, Michael, Gerdes, Albe Marlene (Hrsg.): Populäre Kriegslyrik im Ersten Weltkrieg, Münster 2013, 97-120
Hois, Eva Maria: Die Musikhistorische Zentrale – ein Kultur- und Zeitdokument ersten Ranges. Schriften des Heeresgeschichtlichen Museums, Wien 2012
Hois, Eva Maria: Soldatenlied, in: Österreichisches Musiklexikon. Unter: http://www.musiklexikon.ac.at/ml/musik_S/Soldatenlied.xml (20.06.2014)
Weltkriegslieder-Sammlung im deutschen Volksliederarchiv. Unter: http://www.volksliederarchiv.de/modules.php?name=Werke&query=Weltkriegs-Liedersammlung (20.06.2014)
Tonaufnahme Landwehrlied „Jeder Schuß ein Russ’ (1914)“. Unter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLw4zrTHNpM (20.06.2014)
„re-evaluation of all values ...“: Helm, Karl: John Meier. Das deutsche Soldatenlied im Felde, in: Hessische Blätter für Volkskunde VX, 1916, 148-150, hier 148, zitiert nach: Gerdes, Aibe-Marlene: Populäre Kriegslyrik als Sammelgegenstand. Die Weltkriegssammlungen im Deutschen Volksliederarchiv, in: Deterin, Nicolas, Fischer, Michael, Gerdes, Albe Marlene (Hrsg.): Populäre Kriegslyrik im Ersten Weltkrieg, Münster 2013, 97-120, hier: 111 (Translation)
„What the soldier in battle dress ...“: Weltzien, Kurt: Das deutsche Soldatenlied im Felde, in: DVA S 0198, zitiert nach: Gerdes, Aibe-Marlene: Populäre Kriegslyrik als Sammelgegenstand. Die Weltkriegssammlungen im Deutschen Volksliederarchiv, in: Deterin, Nicolas, Fischer, Michael, Gerdes, Albe Marlene (Hrsg.): Populäre Kriegslyrik im Ersten Weltkrieg, Münster 2013, 97-120, hier: 111 (Translation)
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