Composers Datebook®

World War One in Europe, Bach in America

Composer's Datebook - July 28, 2023


On today’s date in 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, effectively beginning the First World War.

Early in the course of that war, a French composer named Albéric Magnard became a national hero when he died defending his home against invading German troops. Maurice Ravel tried to enlist as a French pilot but was refused because of his poor health. Instead, he became a truck driver stationed at the Verdun front. British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was too old to be drafted, but he enlisted as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Another British composer, George Butterworth, would be killed by a sniper during the Battle of the Somme.

The Austrian violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler served briefly in the Austrian Army in 1914 before being wounded and honorably discharged. He arrived in then-neutral New York on November of 1914 and remained in America through the war years.

In 1915, Kreisler made a recording of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, performing with the Russian violinist Efrem Zimbalist. Austria and Russian may have been at war in Europe, but in a cramped New Jersey recording studio, at least, the music of Bach provided a brief island of peace and harmony.

Music Played in Today's Program

J. S. Bach (1685 - 1750) Double Concerto (recorded 1915) Fritz Kreisler, Efrem Zimbalist, vn;string quartet Buddulph CD 21/22

On This Day


  • 1893 - Danish composer Rued Langgaard, in Copenhagen


  • 1750 - German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, age 65, in Leipzig; He died "a little after" 8:15 p.m. and was buried at St. John's cemetery on either July 30 or 31; In 1894 his body was exhumed, examined, and reburied in the Leipzig's St. Thomas Church, where he had served as Kantor

  • 1838 - Finnish composer Bernard Henrik Crusell, age 62, in Stockholm

  • 1969 - American songwriter and musical composer Frank Loesser, age 59, in New York City


  • 1717 - Handel: "Water Music" on the river Thames (Julian date: July 17)

  • 1823 - Spohr: opera "Jessonda," in Kassel

  • 1840 - Berlioz: "Symphonie funebre et triomphale," in Paris, with the composer conducting (with a sword) over 200 marching musicians


  • 1741 - In Vienna, burial of Italian composer and violinist Antonio Vivaldi

  • 1850 - To mark the centenary of the composer's death, The Bach Gesellschaft is founded in Leipzig; Their goal is to publish a complete edition of Bach's works

  • 1954 - Premiere of Columbia Pictures film "On the Waterfront," with a score by Leonard Bernstein

  • 1997 - Ligeti: opera "La Grand Macabre" (revised version), in Salzburg at the Grosses Festpielhaus

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®