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The Rest Is Noise: America

Updated Thursday 14th March 2013

23/24 Mar: A new world discovers its voice. The Rest Is Noise looks at the emergence of America.

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Bessie Smith in 1936 Creative commons image Icon Work found at / CC BY-SA 3.0 under Creative-Commons license Besie Smith, nicknamed The Empress of the Blues in the 1920s and '30s This is the fifth weekend in a series of events at the Southbank Centre exploring 20th Century music. 

One of the century’s dominant stories was the emergence of America as a world power—in music, culture and world politics.

The fascinating story of America finding its voice takes in the Jazz Age, the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression and the New Deal, in a heady mix of race, culture and politics. 

The world would fall in love with America’s spirit and culture but this young nation had a glaring contradiction at its heart.

The tension between the democratic ideals of America as a nation and its history of slavery would soon demand resolution.

When Dvořák predicted the emergence of an American classical tradition in 1890, he could scarcely have foreseen the extraordinary explosion of creativity during the first half of the 20th century.

By the end of the Second World War, America was host to a wealth of musical innovators creating radical, internationally renowned music that was completely American in spirit and could thrill and move audiences in equal measure.

These innovators were not writing classical music however—they were blues, jazz and swing musicians, and more often than not, they were African-American.

Listen to recordings from across the weekend

America: the land of opportunities. During the first half of the 20th century, America became a major player in the fields of politics, finance, music, fashion and art, and a destination for millions of European immigrants.

This weekend of talks and conversations reflects the huge variety of fields in which Americans innovated and excelled and explores how the changing American population helped to define its cultural voice.

Visit the Southbank Centre to learn more about the weekend's events.

Bites: 15 minute talks by OU experts

The following talks were 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.

These presentations were included in the Day or Weekend Passes. For more details about Bites across all the weekend events, visit the Southbank Centre website.

The following talks took place across the weekend:

  • US race relations, by Alison Appleby (Saturday 12:30pm). A look at some of the causes of segregation and racism in the USA during this period, including how the attempt to maintain 'Wasp' supremacy manifested itself in the Ku Klux Klan, discrimination and segregation and what attempts were made to bring these to an end.
  • Pearl Harbour, by Alison Appleby (Saturday 2:00pm). Relations between the USA and Japan before the outbreak of World War Two, the reasons for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, conspiracy theories about Roosevelt’s possible complicity in the attack, and the consequences of America becoming a full participant in the Second World War.
  • The Spanish Civil War, by Dr Alan Sennett (Sunday 12:30pm). This illustrated talk looked at the war’s origins and nature as well as taking a look at the role of the Lincoln and Washington battalions, the American contingent in the International Brigades.
  • Filming the New Deal, by Dr Alan Sennett (Sunday 2:00pm). Possibly the greatest of the ‘New Deal Documentaries’, Pare Lorentz’s film traces the course of the mighty Mississippi river, from the Rockies down to the Gulf of Mexico. This illustrated talk considered the role of official film propaganda in ‘selling’ the work of one of Roosevelt’s key agencies, the Tennessee Valley Authority.

In addition, Dr Ben Winters held a discussion titled Korngold in Hollywood, consisting of a 20-minute talk, followed by a 40-minute conversation with classical music and dance journalist Jessica Duchen.

The discussion told the story of how a celebrated Viennese opera composer spent twelve years scoring films for Warner Bros. in the 1930s and 40s; how he brought with him the sound of European opera and operetta, transforming the film score in the process; and how Robin Hood saved his life from the Nazis. The story finishes with the composer's return to the world of the concert hall in an attempt to revive past glories, bringing a little Hollywood glamour back with him.

Entrance for this was also included in the day or weekend pass.

Free pre-concert talk: The Blues and its Influence

From its origins as the spirituals and work songs of the African American communities from 'Deep South' United States, the blues has provided an important foundation for modern Western popular music. 

Jazz expert Dr Catherine Tackley from The Open University was joined by musicians from Dune Music and Tomorrow’s Warriors to give an introduction to the blues and how it influenced the concert music of William Grant Still and Duke Ellington.

The talk took place on Sunday 24 March at 6pm in The Front Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall. 

This was followed at 7:30pm with a concert by the BBC Concert Orchestra, Nu Civilisation Orchestra and Keith Lockhart entitled 'Hidden Voices: Emergence of American Sound'. It featured music by Henry Gilbert, William Grant Still and Duke Ellington.





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