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Proof through the NightMusic and the Great War$
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Glenn Watkins

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780520231580

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520231580.001.0001

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The Old Lie

The Old Lie

(p.47) 3 The Old Lie
Proof through the Night

Glenn Watkins

University of California Press

Just as the call to arms in 1914 triggered a search for national identity and increased the pull of patriotism, so it soon became clear that not all the voices of caution and dissent could be silenced. In light of the negative reception given Romain Rolland's much milder questioning of the motives of those who wage war, it is not surprising that no major composer in any country undertook to complete and produce an opera that overtly advertised such a sentiment while the Great War was under way. Philosophers and statesmen have argued from time immemorial that a lie is sometimes a necessity when made in the public interest, but the view of war as a noble mission when coupled to sporting adolescent energy has held an appeal bested by few other fictions. This accounting of war, known as the “Old Lie,” provided an expedient point of departure for a satirical anti-war opera composed by the self-taught Havergal Brian, an idiosyncratic composer and devotee of Edward Elgar.

Keywords:   Great War, opera, Old Lie, Havergal Brian, Edward Elgar, patriotism

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