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The Lads That Will Never Be Old

The Lads That Will Never Be Old

  • By James Bassi
  • Release 28/11/2013
  • Media Format CD
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Price: $24.74

Product Notes

The Lads That Will Never Be Old Popular and Art Songs From and About World War I Many people collect World War I sheet music for the cover art. I've always been just as interested in what's inside, however unsophisticated the tunes and lyrics tend to be. The cheerful, drum-thumping blitheness of some of these lyrics can be startling, but then the songwriters were not interested in the horrors of the battlefield but in romanticizing and exalting war in the name of King and Country or Uncle Sam. In 2007 in NYC, I presented a program I dubbed War and Peace (Only Shorter): Songs of the Great and Not-so-Great Wars, with my wonderful longtime collaborator, the late Paul Trueblood, at the piano. In 2013, in anticipation of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, I decided to focus on the "Great War" alone, exploring the disconnect between the naive, golly-gee-we're-off-to-war and often jingoistic popular song lyrics of the period and the darker work of the great English WWI poets. Although some of the era's poets mine the sentiment that traditionally attaches to soldiering, others brutally evoke the carnage of this bloodiest of wars. I allowed myself a certain amount of license in my song selections, as some poems (and music) pre-date the War but gained special meaning during the conflict. The Gershwins' "Strike Up the Band", on the other hand, was written in 1927 but looks back a decade. I've paired it with their "Yankee Doodle Rhythm", a song about the spread of American popular music that, to us in the 21st century, can sound like a dark metaphor for latter-day American military aggression. It wasn't easy to choose among the thousands of war-related songs published during World War I (more than 7,000 in the United States alone!), and I began by limiting myself to songs from England and the United States. You'll recognize some chestnuts, but there are plenty of rarities, too. I'm proud to include two contemporary settings of WWI poems, written especially for me: Isaac Rosenberg's "Returning, We Hear the Larks" is set by my cousin Tristan Axelrod, a gifted composer and writer who has nevertheless opted for law school; and Rudyard Kipling's bitter "Mesopotamia" is given a stunning setting by Tom Flaherty, a cellist and professor of composition at Pomona College. When I first performed it, in 2007, the United States was deeply involved in the Iraq war, and the parallels were precise and chilling. They still are. I also include a reading of Siegfried Sassoon's "Trench Duty" as a placeholder until my new musical partner, Jim Bassi, writes a setting of it for me. Jim Bassi is a triple-threat musician - an extraordinary pianist in both classical and popular genres, a fine singer (listen to Track 17) and a sought-after composer - and it has been a joy and privilege to work with him on this project. In addition to Paul Trueblood and Jim Bassi, my greatest thanks go to friends, supporters and colleagues who have made this recording possible in various ways - principally Karen Horton, Alicia Horwitz (the piccolo player for Ives's He Is There), Peter Karl, Rob Klingon, Gary Norden, Alan Siegal, Diana and Don Wagner, and William Wendroff. The recording is dedicated to all the Lads (and Military Women) That Will Never Be Old. - Andrea Axelrod, New York, November 2013 War was declared by Britain on August 4, 1914 (the Germans having declared war on France a day earlier). Popular opinion, no doubt fostered by government propaganda, was that the war would be over by Christmas. It was supposed to be a great adventure for British farm boys and Oxbridge grads alike, but massive casualties early in the war brought the truth home pretty quickly to the British public: Troops were unprepared, war matériel was in short supply, military leadership was woefully inept, and there was no romance in trench warfare. And so, to boost morale and recruit troops, romance and heroism filled the popular songs. (1) Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile, published in 1915 in London, won a wartime competition for a marching song and was a hit in the music halls, pubs and army camps. (2) Your King and Country was billed as "The Women's Recruiting Song" and surely has one of the most passive-aggressive lyrics ever written ("Oh we don't want to lose you...but we think you ought to go..."). Perhaps one of the most beautiful and lasting morale-boosting songs ever written is Sir Hubert Parry's (4) Jerusalem, now a popular if unofficial British anthem sung at soccer games and Royal weddings alike. It's moving text, by William Blake, is based on the legend that Jesus walked in England's West Country during Britain's Roman period. Parry distanced himself from the song when it was taken over by a rightist party but took pride in it's being reclaimed by the Suffragist movement. World War I soldiers were encouraged to sing themselves, for morale, for discipline, to pass the time, for marching in rhythm, even to develop their lung capacity. One of their favorite songs was (3) Roses of Picardy, whose lyricist was also responsible for the words to "Danny Boy." Shell-shocked British veterans sang the song in rehab to regain their powers of speech; Picardy is the region in northern France that includes the infamous Somme battlefields. (5) Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers was a hit for Al Jolson after it made the rounds of such British performers as Billy Murray. It's composer, Herman Darewski, was a staff composer for Francis, Day and Hunter, publisher of many British World War I popular songs. Just as we marvel that Belarus-born Irving Berlin could capture the American idiom as he did, it's worth noting that Minsk-born Darewski managed to write the music for a sparkling English-language tongue twister and the stuttering hit K-K-K-Katy. The American composer Arthur Foote set Rupert Brooke's sentimental (6) The Soldier as one of three war songs in his Opus 79: "If I should die, think only this of me: / That there's some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England..." It is followed by a reading of Siegfried Sassoon's brutal account of a stretcher-bearer on (7) Trench Duty and Isaac Rosenberg's (8) Returning, We Hear the Larks. Rosenberg, considered one of the great war poets along with Brooke, Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, was killed in combat on April 1, 1918. The fourth "art" song in this grouping is Arthur Somervell's 1904 (9) The Lads in Their Hundreds, a setting of one of A.E. Housman's poems from A Shropshire Lad (1896). The Second Boer War (1899) served to make Housman's cycle of lyric nostalgia and melancholy a best-seller, and World War I saw it's popularity expand still further. He writes of "the lads that will never be old" - never to lose their beauty or their truth. The poems' wartime popularity, despite their dark themes, derives in part from their encouraging a belief that the lads written about have died in glory, and not in vain. The United States entered the war on April 6,1917. Irving Berlin's prescient (10) Ragtime Soldier Man, first heard in London in 1912 in a show called Hello Ragtime, became popular again and was one of many "ragtime" war-era songs. Charles Ives published "Three Songs of War" in April 1917 - "In Flanders Fields" and the two included here, (11) He Is There!, with it's references to Civil War music, and (12) Tom Sails Away, which, among it's other musical borrowings, pays homage to George M. Cohan's megahit of the war, "Over There". (13) The USA Will Lay the Kaiser Away is typical of the songs making fun of the German Kaiser; it's lyric "We will take the germ out of old Germany" is priceless. The tag is my own. So many popular American songs of the era were written in march time, yet "The March King" - John Philip Sousa - is represented by a grand scena of a setting of John McCrae's (14) In Flanders Fields, perhaps the most popular poem of the war. McCrae, a Canadian polymath, was a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium. He died of pneumonia, age 45, in Boulogne in January 1918. Soldiers used to write parody versions of hit songs. While this CD doesn't represent that genre, (15) Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! Is an example of how a "patriotic version" adds a martial stanza to a number most people would have known. General John J. Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in Europe and was a truly heroic - and paternal - figure to Americans, as shown in our (16) General Pershing Medley. Rather than include Irving Berlin's great WWI hit, "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning", we've included three other songs from it's source, Yip-Yip-Yaphank, the show Berlin wrote at Camp Upton in Yaphank, Long Island: (17) Kitchen Police, I Can Always Find a Little Sunshine in the Y.M.C.A. and We're on Our Way to France (to which we've added a countermelody from "La Marseillaise"). Once we land in France, we pay tribute to Elsie Janis - sweetheart of the AEF and one of the first performers ever to perform at the front - with (18) When Yankee Doodle Learns to Parlez-Vous Français and, representative of the falling-in-love-with-a-war-nurse song genre, I Don't Want To Get Well, in which a doughboy plans to go to war to be shot, just to fulfill that romantic mission. The mood changes abruptly with (19) Mesopotamia. Kipling began by being one of the war's greatest boosters and propagandists; the poem reflects his bitter disillusionment after his son was killed in the fighting. (20) Strike Up the Band is often sung on patriotic holidays, but not with it's original 1927 lyrics, included here. It was the title song of a show in which an imaginary war over cheese is made to appear no more absurd than the war America had fought a decade earlier. Yankee Doodle Rhythm (with some now politically incorrect lyrics) was originally written for their show Rosalie. We end with the always stirring (21) Keep the Home Fires Burning, by the British Ivor Novello and American Lena Guilbert Ford...and may the boys, indeed, come home. - Andrea Axelrod PS Lyrics and additional information are available on my website.

Details

Title: The Lads That Will Never Be Old
Release Date: 28/11/2013
Label: CD Baby
Media Format: CD
UPC: 700261395043
Item #: 909737X
This product is a special order