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Artistic Expressions and the Great War, A Hundred Years On

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Edited By Sally Debra Charnow

The Great War set in motion all of the subsequent violence of the twentieth century. The war took millions of lives, led to the fall of four empires, established new nations, and negatively affected others. During and after the war, individuals and communities struggled to find expression for their wartime encounters and communal as well as individual mourning. Throughout this time of enormous upheaval, many artists redefined their role in society, among them writers, performers, painters, and composers. Some sought to renew or re-establish their place in the postwar climate, while others longed for an irretrievable past, and still others tried to break with the past entirely.

This volume offers a significant interdisciplinary contribution to the study of modern war, exploring the ways that artists contributed to wartime culture – both representing and shaping it – as well as the ways in which wartime culture influenced artistic expressions. Artists’ places within and against reconstruction efforts illuminate the struggles of the day. The essays included represent a transnational perspective and seek to examine how artists dealt with the experience of conflict and mourning and their role in (re-)establishing creative practices in the changing climate of the interwar years.

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11. The Politics of Nostalgic Waltzes in Post-World War I Paris (Tristan Paré-Morin)

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TRISTAN PARÉ-MORIN

The Politics of Nostalgic Waltzes inPost-World War I Paris

ABSTRACT

After World War I, attitudes towards the waltz rapidly changed in France. Circumstances of the war such as the restrictions on theatrical and social activities, and the rapprochement between French and American cultures, contributed to the rapid transformation of the waltz into a symbol and product of musical nostalgia, where listeners and dancers could assign to the genre their own regrets and desires about the fate of the nation after the most devastating conflict the world had ever seen. This chapter explores the tensions in discourses surrounding waltzes in various sites, from dance halls to concert stages, in order to expose the role of the French government, the media, and the musicians in promoting musical genres deemed socially, culturally, and nationally adequate (or inadequate) during the period of transition to peace that followed the armistice of November 1918.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the waltz was one of the most characteristic genres of popular music in France. However, World War I caused a rapid change of attitudes towards the waltz. After the Armistice, writers and critics frequently spoke of the genre in the past tense, saying for instance that ‘today, the languid ecstasy of the waltz is as far from us as the ceremonial rites of the minuet or pavane’.1 After almost five years of a ban on public dancing that was finally lifted on 3 April...

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