Book review: Music Wars, 1937-1945

Patrick Bade, The Music Wars, 1937-1945. East & West Publishing, London, 2012. Pp. vii, 440. £17.36. ISBN-10: 1907318070.


The author, Patrick Bade, has worked at Christie’s Education, London, since 1981, where his expertise spans the visual arts and music. He has written extensively across varying artistic topics in an accessible and non-academic style. The Music Wars is no exception.

The ideal consumer of this book is the person who is interested in learning how music affected the Second World War in the political and cultural spheres, and conversely, how the war affected music. If you are searching for a purely academic thesis that comprehensively covers all aspects of music during the Second World War, then look elsewhere. If, though, you are interested in an introduction to the topic, Bade does a good job at delivering that. He has neither the time nor space to be all things to all readers, and we must appreciate that limitation. In the forward to his book, Bade acknowledges that he has chosen to focus his book on ‘…France, Britain, and the German Reich and occupied territories. The United States and the Soviet Union are largely viewed from a Western and Central European perspective. I was particularly intrigued by the clash of musical cultures in North Africa and the Middle East. This is something I hope to be able to explore in the future.

There is undoubtedly an interesting book to be written about the role of music in the Pacific and Far Eastern theatres of war, but not by me.’ (p. vi) Bade has clearly dictated the parameters of his research and therefore cannot be cited in his inability to address all aspects of music during the Second World War. The author distinguishes his own book to those of other wartime era music histories in that ‘…the primary source material is recorded sound. It is a sign of the astonishing times in which we live that I was able to listen to almost every one of the thousands of recordings cited in this book without leaving my own home.’ (p. v) He also relies on his own personal collection of music memorabilia augmented with a singular trip to the newspaper archives in North London. Additionally, ‘flea markets across Europe provided a valuable source of printed material.’ (p. vi)

The author begins the book with an overview of ‘Music: The Miracle Weapon’ in which he discusses Radio Paris at the height of the German occupation of 1944 and the usage of radio as a medium through which music was utilized as a propaganda tool. Throughout the book, Bade focuses on classical music and not the clichéd Glenn Milleresque swing dance music that is so often associated with the Second World War. Bade progresses to analyse orchestral concerts during the German Reich, where Bade’s typically colourful language describes a meeting in Berlin with the conductor Toscanini and others in which ‘…the atmosphere must have been crackling with musical testosterone.’ (p. 109) Bade continues with an overview of various geographic areas including the United States, with its influx of wartime ‘refugee conductors.’ (p. 156) The classical music scene in Russia was increasingly complex since, ‘After the outbreak of the war between Germany and Russia, the performance of Russian music was banned in the German Reich, while that of Sibelius, the national composer of Russia’s enemy Finland, which had never been as popular in Germany as it was in Britain and America, was now encouraged. A German Sibelius society was set up early in 1942 on the initiative of Goebbels.’ (p. 175)

In Britain, the classical music scene was problematic as, unlike Germany, in Britain there were ‘…no state-subsidized opera houses and only two more or less permanent houses, the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, both in London. At the outbreak of war, both closed for opera and did not re-open till 1945.’ (p. 191) There were, though, private operatic ventures such as the Russian Opera Company that formed in 1941 to entertain wartime Britain and performed at such independent venues as the Savoy Theatre. (p. 195) Musicians’ performances within underground air raid shelters during the Blitz are also mentioned as a way in which music added to the wartime experience for the average citizen.

Bade then paints a picture of the musical scene in North Africa, and the Middle East, about which he states, ‘Along the fault line between Western and Islamic cultures from Lebanon to Morocco, Europeans and Arabs were introduced to one another’s musical traditions during the war. However, music often proved to be a dividing rather than a uniting factor. With increasing numbers of European refugees arriving in Palestine in the 1930s, the Jewish community in Palestine became an important outpost of Western musical culture.’ (p. 225)

Lastly, the author devotes an entire chapter to music in camps. He states, ‘No previous war in history had seen so many men and women locked up for such long periods. Tens of millions found themselves in internment camps, prisoner of war camps, concentration camps and extermination camps. There was music in all of them.’ (p. 247) Bade describes the ever-present nature of music in camps and how music was generally executed by prisoners. ‘It is astonishing,’ Bade writes, ‘How much music was composed in captivity.’ (p. 248) Not only is it astonishing in regard to the amount of music generated but also with the breadth of music across nations during the Second World War, a legacy that is often overlooked by historians. Bade has successfully addressed this issue in The Music Wars.


Jennifer Daley
King’s College London


2 thoughts on “Book review: Music Wars, 1937-1945”

  1. This is a fascinating subject for a book, but I’m none the wiser about Music Wars from this review. A review, I think, should do two things: situate the book within the existing literature on the subject, and critically evaluate its argument. This one, sadly, does neither. Don’t, for example, tell us to just ‘look elsewhere’ for a ‘purely academic thesis that comprehensively covers all aspects of music during the Second World War’. Tell us where to look! This is not the only example of such vagueness, either (‘The author distinguishes his own book to those of other wartime era music histories…’). Every time there is a sweeping reference to ‘other’ books on the subject, I get the itch of a suspicion that the reviewer isn’t really aware of what this other literature is or how it compares to the book in question.

    On top of this, the appraisal of the material is superficial and little sense of the broader argument is given. The reviewer writes, for example, that ‘Bade focuses on classical music and not the clichéd Glenn Milleresque swing dance music that is so often associated with the Second World War’. But is this a strength or a weakness? Why is swing music clichéd? That seems very snobbish; all music, no matter how deep into the rabbithole of the Second Viennese School you wish to go, relies on idiom and trope to some extent. Isn’t there a value in evaluating popular music and its cultural/societal role in WWII? Similarly, the penultimate paragraph just quotes the writer at length, failing to provide any commentary or critique to speak of at all.

    Finally, the reviewer concludes that ‘[the book is not only] astonishing in regard to the amount of music generated but also with the breadth of music across nations during the Second World War, a legacy that is often overlooked by historians’. But how is its breadth astonishing when we’ve already been told that a huge swathe of music – i.e. the popular – has been excluded? How is the ‘legacy’ of music in WWII ‘often overlooked’ when we’ve been told repeatedly about the ‘other’ literature on the subject (and, as an aside, when Alex Ross’s ‘The Rest Is Noise’ has delved into this area in the last five years to enormous commercial and critical success)?

    This is a fascinating area of study which has an awful lot of importance to post-war music both popular and academic – Stockhausen used discarded American military equipment to make much of his music in the 1950s and 1960s, for example, and it was during WWII that the vocoder was invented, too. But I’m none the wiser from this review about whether Music Wars is a book I should invest time and/or money in, for the reasons above. I’m sorry to be harsh.

  2. I feel that the above comment on the review of my book is indeed unduly harsh. I understand the wish for a more critical and polemical review, but it is quite untrue to suggest that the review gives no idea of the book. In fact I have rarely read a review that indicates so precisely what is inside the tin. This is certainly in refreshing contrast to a review by Jennifer Daley’s colleague at Kings’s College, Kate Guthrie for the online journal Music and Letters. Ms Guthrie is so busy striking fashionable academic poses (“engaging in current academic debates” as she would have it) that her reader would have not the slightest idea of the content or the approach of the book.
    I have no problem with Ms Daley’s reference to an imaginary book that “covers all aspects of music during the Second World War”. Of course such a book does not exist. There have been a great many excellent books that cover particular aspects of the subject with a more academic approach than I take. I would particularly recommend Michael Haas’s recent “Forbidden Music” that covers a lot of the same ground as my book from a completely different perspective.
    I believe that you have misinterpreted Ms Daley’s comment about “cliched Milleresque Swing”. I take it to mean that my book is not yet another celebration of musical nostalgia. In fact, over 130 pages of my book are devoted to popular music. I certainly do not share Kate Guthrie’s opinion that emotional responses to Vera Lynn and Glenn Miller were essentially different or less valid than those to Beethoven and Mozart.
    I greatly appreciate Ms Daley’s straightforward way of dealing with my book and I am glad that she is not just another puffed academic who wants to blow her own trumpet.

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