Monday, February 17, 2014

War Songs in the Kabinettskriege Era

The best known Kriegsleider of the 18th Century: Der Choral von Leuthen

As any soldier will tell you, the portions of soldierly life which get focused on in the movies (battles, hard marches, etc..) make up about 2% of the actual life of a soldier. This was equally true in the Kabinettskriege  era. However, like today, soldiers found things to occupy their time, and calm their nerves in face of impending danger. 

One of the most easily traceable pastimes of soldiers in the eighteenth century are the songs which they sung in camp and on the march. Different cultures sung different types of music at different times, and for different reasons. 

The most famous eighteenth century soldier's song is likely the Der Choral von Leuthen, a religious hymn, sung by the Prussian army as they departed the battlefield of Leuthen, on December 5, 1757.  This song, the Lutheran hymn, Nun Danket Alle Gott, was the subject of a film made during the Nazi period. While most of the film is not worth seeing, the actual scenes depicting the soldiers singing are quite haunting. 

Here are the English lyrics: (note, the English lyrics are not a direct German translation, but the version sung in American Lutheran churches.) 

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and bless├Ęd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

As you can see, this is a perfect hymn to be sung on the march after a victorious battle. It is a hymn of thanksgiving. Many soldiers in the eighteenth century sang religious songs, but they also concentrated on song which discussed their way of life. In Germany, a popular song was Prinz Eugen Der Edle Ritter or, Prince Eugene, the noble knight, which discussed the victory of Prinz Eugen von Savoy over the Ottomans at Belgrade on August 17, 1717. Since the lyrics are in the song, I will not list them. 

This song, popular with the Austrians, celebrates a great victory of one of the greatest Austrian generals of the Kabinettskriege era.  However, not all soldiers songs in this period focused on the protection of God or the skill of a general. Some even seem to protest warfare as harmful. 

These two songs, sung by modern band, are a take on two traditional eighteenth century soldiers songs. The first song, which discusses the somewhat questionable recruiting practices of the day, still emphasizes the benefits of military life: "a scarlet coat, a fine cocked hat, a musket at your shoulder," in addition to pay. 

The second song discusses the difficulties of family and military life. The young man, (mostly likely an officer if he could afford to buy his lady a horse), is called away to fight the king's war in "High Germany." This term describes Germany between the Danube and the Alps. This indicates that the war in question is either the War of Spanish Succession or the War of Austrian Succession, when conflict ranged into that part of Germany.  Both of these songs portrayed warfare in a negative light, as destructive, and harmful, but were still sung by soldiers, often as a way of protesting the hardships of their profession. 

Soldiers sang about things that mattered to them- God, victories, and the hardships of their way of life. Soldier's songs formed an important part of the social bonds which held eighteenth century armies together, and are worth listening to every now and again. 

Thanks for Reading! 

Alex Burns 

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