Australian War Memorial shines new light on music from the First World War

04 February 2019

As part of its Music from the First World War project, the Australian War Memorial will showcase its rich collection of sheet music and concert programs for the first time by cataloguing, digitising, and professionally recording 100 musical works from the archive.

Artistic Director and musical artist-in-residence Christopher Latham has recorded a series of musical pieces from the Memorial’s collection, selected by senior curator Theresa Cronk.

Latham has said it should come as no surprise to discover that music of all kinds played an important role in First World War.

“Music was performed or sung by soldiers, often in the most modest and humble of circumstances,” said Latham.

“It helped them come to terms with the war’s unresolvable contradictions – slaughter and heroism, kindness and savagery, beauty and barbarity – which lived side by side throughout the war.

“It provided an antidote to the traumas of the day and helped the men to recover and to regain a sense of self.”

Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson said that in many ways music provided people with a way to frame and understand their experiences of war.

“With the conclusion of the centenary it is important to remember the impact war had on all aspects of society, especially in the decades that followed,” Dr Nelson said. 

“Music created and popularised during the war went on to become incredibly important to the soldiers, sailors, nurses, and airmen who served, and the music stayed with these men and women long after they returned home.”

Musical works related to the wartime experience, and those owned or written by the servicemen and servicewomen themselves, have also been included to document this aspect of the First World War.

These selections, often rare, are being made available on the Australian War Memorial’s website. They will include links to anecdotes about the music as recorded in diaries and letters home, notes on concert programs, as well as information about the men and women themselves.

There are currently 20 songs that can be listened to and downloaded on the Memorial website and all good streaming services.

Another 80 songs will be released to the Memorial’s website throughout 2019.

CONTACT:  Media team                                media@awm.gov.au      02 6243 4575       0409 600 038