This is the sixth weekend in a series of events at the Southbank Centre exploring 20th Century music.
‘The world turns on its dark side’, proclaims the opening movement of Michael Tippett’s pacifist oratorio A Child of Our Time, written during the darkest period of death, destruction and cruelty the world had ever seen.
Totalitarian regimes in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin saw a nightmare of state oppression, show-trials and genocide, and would lead to the Second World War’s catastrophic loss of human life.
Artists lived in constant fear for their lives and livelihoods, and many suffered at the hands of capricious censors.
In the Soviet Union, Stalin’s campaign of terror meant that every thought, movement and pronouncement was policed, with awful consequences for dissenters.
Composers were no exception—Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony caused him to be denounced as an ‘enemy to the people’, and had to be withdrawn from publication.
Nazi Germany denounced ‘degenerate music’ by black and Jewish musicians, and many composers fled to America and other nations.
Hitler’s systematic extermination of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and disabled people claimed millions of lives—an unimaginable evil that the subsequent decades would struggle to come to terms with.
Listen to recordings from the weekend
Secret Police. Concentration camps. Denunciations. Segregation. The despotic mania of Hitler and Stalin shaped the course of the arts in 20th-century Europe.
This weekend of talks, events and debates explores how totalitarian states attempted to monitor and control every aspect of music, politics and the arts. Join world experts for a fascinating weekend of discovery.
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.
A plan for a new world: Nazi architecture and urban planning, by Dr Katy Layton-Jones (Saturday 1:00pm). In early May 1945, the Russian army entered a shattered Berlin. The grand edifices of Hitler's capital city lay scarred and obscured by smoke, This dystopian vista was the antithesis of the grandiose World Capital envisaged by the Führer a mere six years earlier. Examining both individual buildings and the grand urban plan as a whole. this talk explores Hitler's vision for a Welthaupstadt Germania (World Capital Germania) and its implications for the physical and social fabric of Europe.
The uncomfortable and compelling masterpieces of Leni Riefenstahl: Documentary? Propaganda? Art? by Fred Davis (Saturday 1:00pm). Riefenstahl managed to do all in the '30s for Hitler with Triumph of the Will (1935) and Olympia (1938) but then fell out of favour as Goebbels preferred the more specific and Jewish films like Jud Süß (Harlan, 1940) or grand spectaculars right up to Kolberg (Harlan, 1945). She always protested that she had been misunderstood and duped but her career ended and she remains a controversial figure.
The vile spider of the Swastika: an English poet's rejoinder to fear, by Professor Robert Fraser (Saturday 2:30pm). The British poet David Gascoyne's reaction to the rising panic around him in Paris in 1939.
The music of total war, by Dr Robert Samuels (Sunday 12:30pm). The experience of war was all-absorbing in the years of conflict from 1939 to 1945, and left its shadow long after. Creative artists found themselves caught in a terror which they could not ignore but in which they would not acquiesce to the representations of events by either side. Three works demonstrate how music sought a path of resistance. In the early years of conflict, Michael Tippett’s oratorio A Child of Our Time universalises the horror of the rise to power of totalitarianism in the 1930s. And in the years of Cold War in the 1960s, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was written as a national War Memorial in sound, first performed in the Coventry Cathedral rebuilt in the ruins of bombing. At the same time, in the Soviet Union which refused permission for its artists to travel, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Babi Yar Symphony condemns the atrocities of the Nazis whilst ironically commenting on the oppression of his own day.
Eisenstein and Stalin: The father of montage against socialist realism, by Dr Tony Keen (Sunday 12:30pm). The immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution was an enormously creative period for all forms of art within the Soviet Union. Cinema was particularly creative, with a number of moviemakers, of whom Sergei Eisenstein was the best-known in the west, developing a theory of Formalism in cinema—that movies could be more than verite recordings of reality. Eisenstein argued for a 'montage of attractions', the employment of editing to create specific responses of the audience; he demonstrated this in works such as Strike (1924), and his masterpiece, Battleship Potemkin (1925). However, as the 1920s progressed, Russian formalism ran up against the rival concept of 'socialist realism', endorsed by Stalin. This talk looks at Eisenstein's early formalist triumphs, his unsuccessful 1930s trip to the Americas, and his second masterpiece, Alexander Nevsky (1938), in which he was required to confirm to a socialist realist approach. The figure of Stalin looms large throughout this story, and his caprices affected Eisenstein, sometimes for worse and sometimes for the better.
Fine arts and archives: Confronting a land of ruins, by Dr Veronica Davies (Sunday 12:30pm). At the end of World War II, as British military forces took control of the part of Germany that was to be the British Zone, they encountered a landscape of rubble that offered a powerful metaphor for the defeat of the Third Reich. Amongst these troops were officers of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) branch, many of them artists or art historians, part of whose duties were to evaluate the damage and destruction of heritage sites and to help re-establish the artistic and cultural life in their zone of occupation, sometimes in the face of continued military operations. Also present in Germany at the time were British artists and writers who were still on active service, such as the poet and art historian Alan Ross. Ross’s experiences led to the publication of a volume of poetry, The Derelict Day (1947), which will form a counterpoint to the more official and bureaucratic measures that had to be taken to deal with a landscape of ruins, both metaphorical and physical.
The Swastika design, by Richard Henry (Sunday 3:30pm).
These presentations are included in the Day or Weekend Passes. For more details about Bites across all the weekend events, visit the Southbank Centre website.