The Rest Is Noise festival is one of The Southbank’s most ambitious classical music undertakings to date, a cultural and musical history of the 20th century told through 250 events, concerts, films, talks and debates spread over 12 months in 2013. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Four and The Open University are major partners of the festival –there has never been a festival like it.
The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 left an indelible mark, killing 114,000.
This dark vision of destruction by a new technology, combined with the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, showed humanity as fragile and vulnerable to annihilation.
Western Europe’s victory was achieved at such great cost that it felt like defeat, and in the absence of a common enemy, nations quickly turned against each other in mutual suspicion.
Thus began the Cold War between the USA and its European allies, and the Soviet Union and its satellites – a period of constant anxiety and vast expense.
The shattered landscape that greeted composers after the war was even bleaker because of the disastrous propagandising use to which music had been put – with the past tainted, there was no option but to start from scratch, with a complete rejection of all that had gone before.
A new generation of composers, led by the fiercely brilliant young Boulez and Stockhausen, set about creating innovative, influential and radically new music out of the fire of post-war impossibility.
Visit the Southbank Centre 5-6 October
In the six years of the Second World War, art, music and technology had been used to manipulate and destroy. Composers saw no option but to start from scratch and set about creating radical new music in the aftermath of war. Buy a weekend or a day pass as we look at the music that came from the ashes of war. A new, post-atomic world had emerged.
Bites: 15 minute talks by OU experts
The following talks are part of the Festival’s Bites presentations—a collection of 15 minute talks which provide the audience with an intense, whistle-stop tour through the needs-to-know of the topic.
Pierre Boulex and John Cage: Friends for a time, by Dr Robert Samuels (Saturday 12:30pm). John Cage first met Pierre Boulez on a visit to Paris in 1949. He was 37, Boulez 24. The two immediately developed a firm friendship which was maintained mostly through letters over the next few years. What drew the men together was their passionate belief in the role music had to play in the new artistic scene coming into being on both sides of the Atlantic in the years following the Second World War; and also the lack of intellectual company they felt in their respective societies. The question of how new music should be constructed was one they discussed at length, often in the context of a new work one or the other was composing. In these years, Boulez became more and more drawn to ways of extending Schoenberg’s serial method to embrace every aspect of music, to create works radically new in their independence from previous methods. At the same time, Cage began to explore the radical idea that selecting musical sounds at random might be the best way to achieve exactly the same result, a music genuinely new and in tune with its time.
Jacques Lacan, by Dr Lynda Morgan (Saturday 12:30pm). This talk will address the contribution of Lacan’s ideas to post-war thinking, and in particular their influence on feminism and their relationship to theorising authoritarianism. It will also discuss their limitations in terms of understanding, and bringing about change.
Monstrous bombs: Literary apocalypses from Beckett to the Beat Generation, by Dr Nicholas Foxton (Saturday 4pm). Nicholas will be talking about literary responses to the Atomic Age from Beckett to the Beat writers, and looking at how the threat of apocalypse shaped post-war literary movements such as Existentialism, Absurdism and the Beat Generation.
Lyricism after Auschwitz: The poetry of Paul Celan, by Dr Peter Lawson (Sunday 12:00pm). The talk will begin with Theodor Adorno’s famous pronouncement that ‘to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’, and go on to examine this theory in the light of possibly the most celebrated Holocaust lyric, Paul Celan’s ‘Todesfuge’ (‘Fugue of Death’), published in the 1940s. The Anglo-German poet Michael Hamburger’s translation will be consulted, and the poem’s nightmare world explored. It will be shown that through Celan’s brilliantly bleak ballad, the Holocaust becomes a poetic trope, a symbol of a surreal nightmare which was all too real. As a result, the language and imagery of the Holocaust became available for subsequent poets who were neither Jewish nor Holocaust survivors.
Sylvia Plath and the Holocaust, by Dr Peter Lawson (Sunday 2:00pm). This talk will consider the American poet Sylvia Plath who approached the Holocaust in her collection Ariel (1965). Plath’s poems were written in the wake of the well-publicised trial in 1961-62 of Adolf Eichmann, who played a central role in organising the death-camps. I will show how the language and symbols of the Holocaust became widely available at this time to Anglophone poets who were not necessarily Jewish or Holocaust survivors. As the critic Leon Wieseltier has remarked, ‘Auschwitz bequeathed to all subsequent art perhaps the most arresting of all possible metaphors for extremity.’ This talk will refer principally to Plath’s poems ‘Daddy’ and ‘Lady Lazarus’.
The Beat Generation and French Existentialism, by Dr Constantinous Athanasopolous (Sunday 2:00pm). Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg are two of the key protagonists in the American effort to incorporate French existentialist ideals into urban American culture. Their time shows a remarkable similarity to our time in many respects and perhaps their ideas can help us identify and solve some of our most important cultural and social problems.
Find details, includings links for tickets, at http://www.open.edu/openlearn/whats-on/events/the-rest-noise-post-war-world