Welcome to music of the second world war era—Page 6
Beethoven's 5th Symphony—victory, defeat, & the serious side of war
Morale-boosting fun like This Is the Army was the exception. Most of the time the mood was somber and serious. Entire nations were focused on reaching the goal at hand—victory. Defeat was unthinkable.
Sacrifice was the order of the day. On the battle grounds people were dying. At home, it seemed as though every consumable worth having was rationed or scarce—gas, sugar, meat, rubber tires, metals, candy, coffee, whisky, sleep. Even cooking fat rendered from fry pans was collected in the kitchen and donated.
Among the Allies, the letter "V" stood for victory. Even during the darkest days of the war, everywhere he was seen in public Winston Churchill (Winnie) would form a V with the first and second fingers of his raised right hand, symbolizing eventual Allied victory over the Nazis. In America, the "V" became the national symbol after the bald eagle.
In Morse Code, the code used by telegraphers over wires or on the air, the letter "V" is represented by three dots and a dash. This code is vocalized by forming the sounds dit (for dot) and dah (for dash) as dit-dit-dit-dah in rapid succession, with the stress placed on the dah.
By a fortunate coincidence, the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony sound this exact musical pattern. As a whole, the Fifth Symphony is a rousing piece of music, seemingly a sober call for action and victory, just what was needed for wartime motivation. It was to be expected, then, that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony would become the musical symbol of victory throughout the Allied world.
The irony that Beethoven was a German was not overlooked. The choice of the Fifth was sweetened by the fact that Beethoven had been a champion of individual liberty (witness Beethoven's Ninth Symphony) and had stood against Napoleon and dictatorship everywhere (witness Beethoven's Third Symphony).
The Nazi party had its own gesture symbolizing German victory. Upon meeting, passing, or presenting himself to a superior, a loyal party member, citizen, or soldier was expected to raise his arm in a salute and say the words, Sieg Heil—in English, hail victory or to victory. Since Hitler symbolized national unity, when an expression of loyalty to the leader or the common cause was called for, the raised arm greeting changed to Heil Hitler, or Hail Hitler.
Der Fuehrer's Face—the humorous side of war
War humor raised moral, relieved stress, and was an essential outlet for anger and resentment. War music contributed greatly to the expression of these feelings.
One of the most successful and prominent aggregations to produce music of this kind was billed as Spike Jones and His City Slickers. There was nothing subtle about Spike's brand of humor—the more vulgar, the better, so long as it wasn't indecent. The cornball band didn't just record music; it played on the radio and appeared in films; it played on stage before (what at that time) were large audiences; and it toured the country with a Jones-style musical review that featured the musicians as performers.
The satiric song called Der Fueherer's Face made its debut in 1942, when the war was going badly for the Allies. It immediately became one of Spike's signature tunes. It was just what the country needed for comic relief in a time of uncertainty, loss, and dread.
There's no way to describe Der Fueherer's Face; it has to be heard to be appreciated—washboard, kazoo, washtub bass, and all.
Hitler was lampooned by all the media, not just music. In the movies, the great Charlie Chaplin, who created out of whole cloth the immortal character known as The Tramp, played the role of Hitler in The Great Dictator. Chaplin believed that once he turned his movie-making talents to social criticism his career would be over; the actor known as the Little Vagabond should never play a role that could be identified with a real person. He made the movie believing that for this reason it would be his last, and he was correct.
The Three Stooges also made a movie satirizing Hitler and his three stooges.
Listen to a portion of The Last Time I Saw Paris: click here.
A fondness for France and things Parisian has waxed and waned in America going back to the time of Ben Franklin, when the decisive French aid that turned the tide of battle at Yorktown helped win its freedom from England.
WWI saw a resurgence of these sentiments. This time, Americans had come to the aid of France; the two countries were allies once again. WWI doughboys could discover the allure of France and Paris firsthand; even in wartime, the excitement and modernity of this sophisticated city convinced many to return if possible.
The magnetism of postwar Paris only increased its allure. The city experienced an economic, artistic, and cultural renaissance. In a word, it flourished. Vigorous young Americans, men and women in their prime, flocked to Paris during the 20s and 30s. Developing artists from around the world intent on establishing their careers went there to work and study with masters like Debussy and Boulanger. Noguchi, Copland, Calder, Cage, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Gershwin, Picasso, Piatigorsky, Rubinstein—anyone who was anybody invested prime time drinking from the golden pond. Many identified the city and their life there with their coming of age or with a first love. To them, Paris was like a lover; their relationship with it was a romance.
But time eventually took the edge off the revelry and excitement; the outpouring of artistic furor waned. With the 30s, many who had found what they had come for went on to greener pastures. The Nazis rose to power and by the mid 30s war clouds had cast shadows over all of Europe. With the German Army approaching Paris' city gates, many fled for their lives.
Most who had experienced the Parisian outpouring realized that, like their youth, it could not be recaptured. Yet they tucked their love for Paris into a permanent corner of their minds as they left; it was special to them and it would always be so. Many carried this nostalgia to their graves.
In part, the 1942 movie Casablanca is about two former lovers who meet in Casablanca after the German occupation of Paris in June, 1940. Flashbacks depict their affair in Paris in the spring, just prior to the invasion. But the Germans occupy Paris now and there's no going back. Its theme song, As Time Goes By, captures a bit of what it was like to feel nostalgia for pre-wartime Paris. Max Steiner, who won an Academy Award for his film score, wove As Time Goes By (words and music by Herman Hupfeld) into his music until it was an indelible part of the movie experience.
It wasn't just the French who felt violated; many citizens of the world took the occupation of Paris by the German Army in June, 1940 as a personal insult. Paris had been declared an open city; the German Army had just marched in unopposed. Adding to the irony and humiliation was the fact that the Germans dictated that the armistice between Germany and France be signed in 1940 in the same railroad car on the same siding near the same French town of Compiègne as had been the WWI armistice between the Allies and Germany in 1918. A newsreel showing Hitler sightseeing from a balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower circulated around the world.
To the French and their American allies these events were like an affront to a beloved beauty. The occupation was a blemish, a shame, a festering, lingering sore that had to be revenged to save a lady's sacred honor. The eventual liberation of Paris in 1944 brought back Allied pride and, with it, a collective sigh of relief.
Jerome Kern penned the Last Time I Saw Paris with Oscar Hammerstein II in 1940 on the occasion of the loss of Paris. Their song expresses well the kind of feelings many had at that time.
Here, The Muse Of Music plays a portion of a 1940 recording of The Last Time I Saw Paris sung by Lanny Ross accompanied by Roy Bargy's orchestra. The Muse has chosen this version because Ross sings all of Hammerstein's words; most other versions omit parts of the lyric.
Notice that the introduction sets the scene by catching the rhythms of Parisian traffic. This motif reappears in subsequent sections. Auto horns were a trademark of the city. Prewar Paris was known for its taxicabs and their rubber-bulb horns, which drivers reputedly squeezed in preference to applying brakes. To many, the horns and hubbub of Parisian traffic symbolized the city's pace and excitement. Another to use this musical idea was George Gershwin in his An American in Paris. Parisian authorities didn't outlaw unnecessary horn-blowing until decades later.
Hammerstein expresses his feelings about what happened to Paris as if she were a woman seen through a man's eyes. The lyrics contain lines like, "...she has left the Seine," "...she has left her old companions," "...lonely men with lonely eyes are seeking her in vain," and "...no matter how they change her."
Paris is known as the City of Light, but 1940 was a somber time in the war. Hammerstein's lyrics offer little encouragement about what the future might bring. His line, "...'til the town went dark," is partly a reference to blackouts, which were the order of the day, and partly a reference to the spiritual pall cast by the Germans.
Kern's and Hammerstein's 1940 assessment was pessimistic; they bemoaned the fall of Paris but gave no indication that there might ever be a return to the gaiety of old. Both men lived to see Paris retaken by the Allies.
the Last Time I Saw Paris—the song and the movie
In 1954, Hollywood produced a movie depicting a recovering postwar Paris which featured the Kern/Hammerstein song and bore its name. The movie starred Van Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor. Not only is the movie's title taken from the song, the song is played so liberally in the background it may be considered its theme song.
The movie is based loosely on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, Babylon Revisited, originally published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1931. Who better to write such such a story than Fitzgerald, an eminent American writer and Francophile who lived through both postwar eras?
Like the story, the movie is set in Paris in the post-WWII years immediately following the liberation of Paris by the Allies. Unfortunately, to its disadvantage, the movie adaptation departs from the story. It is a maudlin melodrama that focuses on the meeting, falling in love, marriage, and slow decay of the relationship between two American star-crossed lovers living abroad.
As an artistic endeavor, the movie version of Fitzgerald's story is much-maligned, probably for good reasons. Nevertheless, regardless of the unfavorable critical opinions of many who have seen it, The Last Time I saw Paris is interesting and worth seeing because it sheds light on Parisian life as it was on the day of liberation—the day the lights went back on—and afterward. The camera paints idealized but representative pictures of buildings, streets, bridges, inhabitants, dress, people, and other scenes as they existed then and gives glimpses of Parisian lifestyle.
During the 1944-45 occupation of France by the Allies and after their WWII victory, American fondness for France and the French recurred, no doubt stimulated by direct contact between GIs and the French people. Americans had come to the aid of France once again and a grateful French nation reciprocated with warm, appreciative feelings.
Despite their mutual admiration and friendship, the contrast between the two periods is stark. As in the 1920s, there was a postwar WWII renaissance in French culture and art, but nothing like before. Europe, which was in a state of turmoil, shock, and economic collapse, desperately needed to concentrate on recovery. Some Americans chose to stay behind when the troops demobilized after the war, but most were anxious to return to America to get on with their lives or to start new ones. Paris was still a city of light, but the post-WWI mystique and majesty were gone, gone, gone.
more music of WWII features
Now journey back in time. Return with The Muse of Music to the era when the world was on fire, when tomorrow was often a lie, when life was cheap and short and exciting and had to be lived to the fullest. Visit one of the features in Music Of The Second World War Era:
More features about Music Of The Second World War Era are on the way. Check here from time to time to see what's new.
This web site and
its contents are copyrighted by
Decision Consulting Incorporated (DCI).
All rights reserved.
This web site and
its contents are copyrighted by
Decision Consulting Incorporated (DCI).
All rights reserved.