Cosmopolitan Sympathies: Music and Writing of the First World War – An evening of readings, songs and music

30 October 2018 | Chloe Bowerbank

As we approach the centenary of the Armistice, the concert seeks to showcase some of the most haunting testimonies, literature and music arising out of the First World War and its aftermath. Cosmopolitan Sympathies takes us through the tumult of the times with an evening of writings, songs and music from men and women, combatants and non-combatants, civilians and pacifists, from belligerent, colonial and neutral countries in order to understand its international nature and the
‘peace’ following it.

The evening explores a diverse range of responses, from semi-literate Indian sepoys, South African labourers and Chinese workers to war-haunted women such as the American nurse Mary Borden and aggrieved mother and German artist Käthe Kollwitz to modernist writers such as Anna Akhmatova, Rabindranath Tagore and Virginia Woolf responding to the ‘peace’. To understand the varied responses in music to this global conflict, we place songs by the English soldier-poet-musician
Ivor Gurney and the Australian musician Frederick Kelly alongside those by established European composers such as Francis Poulenc, Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré and Sergei Rachmaninov as well as laments sung by the village-women in the Punjab when their men left for France and Mesopotamia.

Taking its title from a phrase in Isaac Rosenberg’s ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’, Cosmopolitan
Sympathies seeks to take us beyond the Western Front to a more diverse range of war experiences and memories from East Africa to South Asia to neutral European states to show how many of the reflections are disturbingly apt for our own times.

The evening will feature performances by the noted tenor Robert Murray and readings by the West End actor Matthew Camelle and the BBC presenter Kate Kennedy. Ian Tindale will be on the piano and the Punjabi folksongs will be performed by Jasdeep Singh and his team.

Cosmopolitan Sympathies was part of a major collaborative research project on ‘Cultural Exchange in a Time of Global Conflict: Colonials, Neutrals and Belligerents during the First World War’ (CEGC) funded by Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) from 2013 to 2016. The project was directed by Santanu Das, Professor of English at King’s College London, and was in collaboration with three academic institutions – in Berlin, Utrecht, and Poznan – and eight cultural organisations from across Europe, including the Imperial War Museum, London and In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres. Much of the research for the concert was conducted in the Imperial War Museum archives. To find out more about the project, partners, and our various activities, please visit

The concert will take place on Fri 2 November 2018 18:30 – 19:30 GMT

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