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Unit information: Music in Times of War in 2018/19

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Unit name Music in Times of War
Unit code MUSI30128
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Kate Guthrie
Open unit status Open

Technical knowledge of music (ability to read notation fluently is essential; music A level or Associated board grade 8 or equivalent may be required)



School/department Department of Music
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Unit Description

War has been a recurrent feature of modernity, defining and destroying nations, devastating cities and the countryside, and placing strenuous demands on human and social resources. Despite its longstanding associations with beauty, civilisation and humanitarian values, music has time and again been co-opted in times of war. Taking this paradox as its starting point, this unit explores the different roles that music has played in key conflicts in the history of Western Europe and America from the French Revolution to the contemporary War on Terror. Featuring a range of repertoire from populist propaganda songs to large-scale orchestral works, it asks how composers, musicians, policy-makers and audiences have negotiated the demands of war. More broadly, the unit aims to use war as a lens through which to examine the impact that characteristic developments of modernity, such as the expansion of the printing press, the creation of nation states, and the rise of the middle classes, had on musical culture.

Unit Aims

Students will have the opportunity to:

1) expand their knowledge of how music has been used in key conflicts in Western and American history;

2) think critically about the ideological values that have justified music’s co-option to wartime agendas;

3) engage in critical discussion about key debates in war studies and Western music historiography;

4) develop their ability to assess the relative value of primary and secondary source materials;

5) improve their skills in writing about a variety of musical styles and their reception.

Intended learning outcomes

Having completed the course, students should be able to:

  1. Describe how a range of music was appropriated in a variety of conflicts from the French Revolution to the War on Terror.
  2. Assess the ideological claims that have historically justified music’s role in war.
  3. Explain how particular uses of music in war exemplify wider social, political and technological developments of Western modernity.
  4. Critically analyse key issues and discourses in war studies and Western music historiography.
  5. Write clearly about how wartime demands impacted specific pieces of music, making appropriate use of both primary and secondary sources.
  6. Demonstrate a high level of critical skill in analysing, synthesising and critiquing primary and secondary sources.
  7. Show strong evidence of relevant further reading.

Teaching details

The unit will be delivered through 11 2-hour seminars.

Assessment Details

Students will be assessed through four summative assignments:

1) Weekly contributions to a class padlet (see, asking for responses to set readings. (10%) This exercise assesses ILOs 4 6.

2) 20-minute Group presentation (20%) and 3) a related written submission (3-page annotated bibliography) two days before hand (10%). This exercise assesses ILOs 1, 3, 6 and 7.

3) A 3,500 word research-based historical essay assignment (60%). This exercise assesses ILOs 1-7.

Reading and References

Baade, Christina. Victory Through Harmony: The BBC and Popular Music in World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Fauser, Annegret. Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Fulcher, Jane. French Cultural Politics and Music: From The Dreyfus Affair to the First World War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Guthrie, Kate. “Propaganda Music in Second World War Britain: John Ireland’s Epic March.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 139 (1): 137-175.

Hambridge, Katherine. “Staging Singing in the Theater of War (Berlin, 1805).” Journal of the American Musicological Society 68 (1): 39-98.

Mason, Laura. Singing the French Revolution: Popular Culture and Politics, 1787-1799. Ithican and London: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Watkins, Glenn. Proof Through the Night: Music and the Great War. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003.