The Sound and the Fury: Free for All

Updated Friday 27th September 2013

The second episode looks at how music came under state control in the 1930s and serialism took over after the war.

Oliver Coates Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC The cellist Oliver Coates The second episode looks at how the freewheeling modernism that had shocked, scandalised and titillated audiences in the first two decades of the 20th century comes under state control.

Initially, many practitioners thought the totalitarian regimes would be good for music and the arts.

What followed in Germany was a ban on music written by Jews, African-Americans and communists, while in the Soviet Union there was a prohibition on music the workers were unable to hum.

In the USA, many composers voluntarily embraced music for the masses.

After the cataclysm of the 1940s, a new generation of 20-something composers—Boulez, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Nono, Ligeti—turned their back on what they saw as the discredited music of the past and decided to try and reinvent it from scratch.

Or, at least, from serialism, which became, as the 1950s wore on, as much of a straitjacket as the strictures of totalitarianism had been before.

But from this period of avant-garde experimentation, which many listeners found baffling and even terrifying, came some of the most influential and radical musical innovations of the century.

The story is told by a musical cast list including Pierre Boulez, Michael Tilson-Thomas, Peter Maxwell-Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and John Adams

Watch The Sound and the Fury

You can watch this episode of The Sound and the Fury on Tuesday 19 February at 21:00 on BBC Four.

See The Sound and Fury pages on the BBC website for information on repeat transmissions and iPlayer coverage.

 

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