The Role of Popular Music in the First World War

The First World War was a pivotal moment in history, one that changed the world forever. It had a major impact on all aspects of society, including culture and music.

The outbreak of war led to an upsurge in nationalistic feelings, which manifested itself in various ways throughout the world. For example, songs about love were replaced with songs about liberty and freedom; church hymns were replaced with folk songs; and popular dances like the waltz gave way to new dances such as the foxtrot. Moreover, many famous composers began producing war-themed pieces during this period, some of which are still played today.

How Music Was Provided To The Soldiers

The First World War was a war of unprecedented scale, one that caused as much suffering in the civilian population as it did in the armed forces. Musicians became a prominent part of the war effort by providing troops in the field with uplifting music, which helped alleviate the stresses of war and provided solace to the wounded and dying.

In the early stages of the war, musical performances were given by bands of the Allied and Central Powers troops, who played live music to boost the morale of the men and encourage camaraderie between the opposing troops. However, in the later stages of the war, live music was replaced by phonograph recordings. The use of gramophones enabled troops to receive music in the most inhospitable of environments, including trenches and dugouts, where the risk of discovery by an enemy was always a real threat. Moreover, they were fairly convenient to transport and store; when large bands were usually impractical. They were also more economical, as the equipment and discs could be re-used. In the early stages of the war, the use of gramophones was rare, as the majority of discs released were light orchestral pieces, which would have been out of place in the trenches.

The Importance of Music in Times of War

Throughout history, music has played a crucial role in times of war. For citizens at home, it has been a source of comfort and reassurance, but for troops in the field, it has served as a source of inspiration and emotional uplift, helping to bolster morale and stiffen resolve. When under threat from enemy troops, citizens at home may have been comforted by their ability to sing in order to display their resolve and to communicate their sense of unity. Troops in the field may have been inspired by their ability to sing as a method of emotional uplift, helping them to stiffen their resolve and maintain control in dangerous situations.

Impact of Media in War and Propaganda

During the First World War, the role of music in motivating troops was augmented by its use as a propaganda tool. For example, many songs employed war imagery in order to stir up nationalistic feelings and to encourage troops to fight with greater ferocity and determination. One such song was ‘The March of the Australians’, which was played for the troops as they marched into battle at Gallipoli in 1915. It was written to stir up feelings of patriotism in the troops and to inspire them with a sense of urgency and determination. Music was also used during the First World War as a method of propaganda directed towards the civilian population in enemy territory. During this period, songs were distributed by both the Allies and Central Powers in order to stir up feelings of patriotism and hatred towards the opposing forces.

Such songs were distributed in a variety of forms, including gramophone discs, which were played in public places (often at great risk), and as sheet music leaflets, which were dropped from airplanes.

The Role of National Anthems

National anthems are a relatively recent phenomenon, yet they have become an important symbol of national identity in many different countries. The first national anthem was ‘God Save the King’, adopted as the anthem of Britain in 1745, while the French adopted ‘La Marseillaise’ in 1795. National anthems were adopted by other countries in the early part of the 20th century.

During the First World War, national anthems began to take on an even greater significance, as they were adopted by the armed forces of different countries as a way of uniting them and inspiring them to action. In many cases, such anthems were adopted by the armed forces while they were training in their home countries, and they would be played both as a means of martialing troops and of instilling a sense of national pride in new recruits.

Dance as a Symbol of Solidarity and Unity

Dance has often been used as a means of uniting different communities, such as when it is performed as part of a ceremony. During the First World War, dance began to be used as a symbol of solidarity and unity across many different countries. For example, in Britain the ‘Scottish War Whirl’ was performed at social events, while in France ‘La Carmagnole’ became a popular symbol of unity and defiance. Dance also featured as part of social functions held in support of the war effort, such as fundraising events and fundraising concerts. Such events were held in many different countries, including Britain, France, and the United States. In Britain, ‘Saturday afternoon dances’ were held, while in the United States ‘dance marathons’ became popular.

In particular, the foxtrot dance became popular in America during this period. It was a slow dance that involved two people standing close to each other, arms around each other’s waists, in a wide stance. Due to the slow nature of the dance, it was considered to be a rather modest choice when compared to other dances that were popular at the time. It was therefore seen as a good dance to do in public because it didn’t involve wildly gyrating around and showing too much leg or skin. It also allowed couples to stay close to each other, which was seen as a symbol of solidarity and unity between the Allied Forces in America.


The First World War was a time of great cultural upheaval, and many of the symbols and motifs that were used during this period are still familiar today. Indeed, many artists who produced pieces during this period went on to become well-known figures whose music remains popular to this day. During this period, the role of popular music in society changed significantly. Certain genres of music became more prominent than others, and the content of certain songs morphed to reflect the events that were taking place.

The First World War was a time of great upheaval, and many of the symbols and motifs that were used during this period are still familiar today.