The Music of Hemingway’s Youth
A Playlist for Volume One (1907-1922)
Hemingway witnessed an extraordinary number of historic events in his lifetime: World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II, to name only a few. Such watershed moments during the 20th century indelibly shaped his writing, and many of his classic works—such as A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises—would not be the same without them. In anticipation for the release of the first volume of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, we’ve compiled a playlist that captures the tumultuous times that Hemingway not only lived through, but also evoked in his writing.
Since the first volume begins with his childhood in Illinois and leaves off with his arrival in Paris in 1922, we chart a handful of popular artists and songs that emerged in the early 20th century.
Turn of the 20th Century
Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1899—incidentally, the same year Scott Joplin composed “Maple Leaf Rag.” His mother, Grace Hall-Hemingway, was a musician herself (she frequently performed in neighborhood concerts) and music was a regular part of the household. Elsewhere in America, popular music was undergoing a transformation: American ragtime music took off, and thanks to artists like King Oliver, jazz took root in New Orleans and spread quickly to Chicago and points north.
“Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin (1899)
“A Bird in a Gilded Cage” by Harry Von Tilzner (1900)
“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” by Irving Berlin (1911)
World War I
Before young men like Hemingway went off to the first World War—and before they came of age as the “Lost Generation”—they were still young, enthusiastic, and hopeful soldiers. Often sung before they were deployed, these war songs reflect their short-lived optimism and youth.
“It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” by John McCormack (1914)
“Over There” by George M. Cohan (1917)
“The Rose of No Man’s Land” by Henry Burr (1918)
Arrival in Paris
Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1922, along with his first wife Hadley Richardson. At the start of the Jazz Age, Paris was an exciting place to be, especially for American expatriates. The city’s music scene was electric: composers like George Antheil and Aaron Copeland studied and composed in Paris, while entertainers like Ada “Bricktop” Smith and Josephine Baker performed to sold-out crowds.
“Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin (1924)
“Ballet Mecanique” by George Antheil (1924)
“More than You Know” Vincent Youmans (1929)
Check out our Hemingway Facebook page for this playlist on Spotify.