The LSO in World War I

One hundred years ago today on 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and entered what was to become one of the deadliest conflicts in history. Today, along with the rest of the world, the London Symphony Orchestra remembers the sacrifices made on all sides so that we might have a future.

The LSO is one of very few orchestras today that was operating during World War I, and the only London orchestra. Formed in 1904, the LSO had just celebrated its tenth anniversary when fighting broke out. We will be marking the centenary of the war in several ways throughout 2014–2018, both in our artistic programme and online.

Telling the story

We hold an extensive archive, including the complete set of minutes of the Board and concert programmes from the beginning to the present day, which we realised would contain details of how the LSO dealt with and survived through these troubled times. How did it react to the news? Did the members go off to fight? What happened to those left behind? Did concerts continue under threat of attacks from the air? How did the repertoire change? With these questions in our minds, and many more, we set off on a journey.

In the coming weeks we will be telling the story of the LSO in World War I in a series of blogs. We hope to paint a picture of an orchestra and its role in conflict.Through research in our own archives, the National Archive, the London Metropolitan Archives, the Royal Society of Musicians, the Musicians Union, the Royal College of Music, and using the Imperial War Museum's Lives of the First World War digital memorial (and many more sources besides!) we have learned so much about our individual members who served in the military, the orchestra itself and the cultural scene in London during wartime. We hope that you will follow this story as it unfolds on this blog and on our Community page on Lives of the First World War:

And we will need your help! Despite our best efforts we are still lacking a lot of information and photos of our individual members who signed up to fight. We hope that through this process we can find some of our members' living relatives who can help us fill in the gaps. Today we remember trumpeter Sydney Moxon, who was killed in action in France. Click here for Sydney's story, and find out how you can help.

Artistic projects

World War 1 Remembered from the Battlefield
Monday 4 August 6.30pm, live on BBC2
A unique commemoration held in St Symphorien military cemetery in Belgium, where British, Commonwealth and German soldiers are buried alongside each other. For the first time ever, musicians from the LSO and the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle come together to mark the occasion by performing British and German music, alongside poetry read by serving soldiers and music by children's choirs.
Watch live on BBC2 and on the BBC iPlayer (UK only)

On the first weekend of November 2014 the LSO will be exploring the First World War and the role music in conflict in a series of public events:

Saturday 1 November 10am: Opera in a Day
LSO St Luke's
Bring your family and create and and perform in an opera in a day. We will take World War I as a theme and explore, via the medium of music, aspects such as London in war-time and what happened to the LSO (founded in 1904) and its musicians during the War. Families will move around LSO St Luke's, gathering stories, meeting LSO players and working with workshop leaders towards creating a mini-opera for everyone to perform together at the end of the day.
Tickets: £5 children, £7 adults, available from the LSO website or the Barbican Box Office on 020 7638 8891

Sunday 2 November 10am: Conference – Music, Poetry and the Trauma of War
LSO St Luke's
This one-day conference run by The Musical Brain explores the themes of war, music and the brain. Sessions include:
-The Cognitive Neuroscience of the Effects of War with Hugh McManners, Director of The Scars of War Foundation
-Psychotherapy in Response to Conflict with Lord John Alderdice, Founder of the Centre for Psychotherapy in Belfast
-Military Music in Operational Theatres with Lt Colonel Bob Meldrum, retired Principal Director of Music (Army)
-The Drums of War with Stephen Johnson, writer and broadcaster
-War, Poetry and Music with Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate
-Composing Equal Voices with Sally Beamish, composer Followed by Q&A
and a panel discussion chaired by Ian Ritchie
Tickets: £80 (includes a ticket to the evening concert), available from the LSO website or the Barbican Centre Box Office on 020 7638 8891

Sunday 2 November 7.30pm: LSO Concert, including the premiere of Sally Beamish's Equal Voices
Barbican Centre
The world premiere of a new work, Equal Voices, by Sally Beamish, commissioned by the LSO to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I. The idea for Equal Voices came from Sir Andrew Motion, whose powerful collection of poems Laurels and Donkeys reflects on many aspects of war. Sally Beamish has selected the poem ‘An Equal Voice’ which draws on the tragedy of shell shock and war-induced post-traumatic stress, from the Somme to Afghanistan. The poem uses the voices of patients and doctors, most of which are taken from A War of Nerves by Ben Shephard, and Beamish has juxtaposed the poem with some of the most beautiful passages in the Old Testament from the ‘Song of Songs’, thereby contrasting Motion’s dark and devastating imagery with this remarkable Middle-Eastern love idyll. The concert also contains Elgar's Carillon, a rarity first performed in London in January 1915 to demonstrate sympathy with Belgian suffering during World War I.
Tickets: £10–£37, available from the LSO website, or the Barbican Centre Box Office on 020 7638 8891.

Join the commemoration

Lights Out, 4 August 2014
"The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."
Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, August 1914.

Tonight at 10–11pm (BST) everyone in the UK is invited to turn out their lights, leaving a single light or candle burning to mark the moment Britain entered the war 100 years ago.
Find out more about Light Out on the 1418Now website.

Resources and links

There are many places online which are marking the First World War. If you would like to know more or research your own families connections, these are some of the best places we have found: