How the 1918 Flu Pandemic Shaped Classical Music

A hospital orchestra during the 1918 flu epidemic, West Baden, Indiana (Photo: National Archives)

In the June issue of BBC Music Magazine I look at various ways in which composers were impacted by the flu epidemic of 1918-20. The virus, which wreaked havoc for nearly three years and left at least 50 million people dead including about 675,000 in the U.S., impacted music in ways both significant and modest. There were several escapist ragtime songs about “the grip,” and at least one chamber music piece: Darius Milhaud’s Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Piano, which ends with a dirge for the victims of the epidemic. 

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