The concert pianist in the United States during World War II, Pearl Harbor to victory

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Date

2002-05

Authors

Donegan, Kathleen Elizabeth, 1971-

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Abstract

The concert pianist in the United States suffered through the war years along with all Americans on the home front. Pianists experienced blackouts and air-raid drills, travel restrictions, and food shortages. They wanted to participate in the war effort just as everyday citizens did. Some worked in defense plants, and several joined the armed forces; however, what every pianist did was play, and unlike the average citizen, the pianist in the United States had his art to use in support of the war effort. Pianists toured the country, performing for the men in uniform at Army bases, Navy yards, and even the nightclubs they frequented. They played fundraisers for wartime charities and sold millions of dollars in defense bonds. They also put on free performances for the general public, to ensure that all Americans could find a morale boost in music. Those musicians that served in the military made music a part of regular Army life, giving strength and inspiration to their fellow soldiers who went into battle. In the process pianists created a new audience from the millions of soldiers and defense workers who flocked to their concerts. As pianists responded to the patriotic fervor that took over the entire country, their concert repertoire changed. They expressed their own patriotism by playing more pieces by American composers and by those composers from the Allied nations. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and other German composers were not discarded from the repertoire, but they did have to make room for America’s favorite composer—George Gershwin. The concert pianist in the United States experienced World War II like most people in America, although these musicians were in fact not like most people in America. They had a special gift to use: through their music, pianists helped Americans summon the courage needed to fight and win the most important war in modern history.

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