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The Rest is Noise: Politics and Spirituality

Updated Wednesday, 30th October 2013

2/3 November: Boom. Bust. Globalisation. Religion. Hope. The Rest Is Noise looks at the late 20th Century.

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Henryk Górecki Creative commons image Icon Work found at / CC BY-SA 3.0 under Creative-Commons license Henryk Gorecki This is the tenth weekend in a series of events at the Southbank Centre exploring 20th Century music.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, life behind the Iron Curtain slowly began to change—and by the 1970s the Soviet Union under Brezhnev was beginning to modernise.

Symbols of the West such as jeans and rock music became popular in Soviet Russia, signalling anew era of cautious thawing of Cold War relations.

In the West, the 1970s and ’80s were fast-paced decades—first a recession then economic boom years, where advertising and communications technology rapidly accelerated the pace of modern life. 

To counter this materialism, some composers offered a return to spiritual values, and others resorted to overtly political music.

Much of this religious music came from the Soviet Union and its satellite states, where religious belief had been marginalised under the official state atheism.

More surprising were the commercial possibilities in this sacred music.

The simple, consonant songs of lamentation in Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony unexpectedly sold over a million copies when it was released to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.

No composer exemplified this turn to the sacred more than Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, whose work conveys an intense and profound spirituality.

Hans Werner Henze gave voice to oppressed peoples and political radicals such as Cornelius Cardew who tried to sweep aside the bourgeois norms of the musical establishment.

Listen to talks from the weekend

Bites: 15 minute talks by OU experts

The following talks were given as 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.

The shock of the old: Art music in the 1960s, by Dr Robert Samuels (Saturday 12:30pm). One of the surprising habits of some avant-garde composers of the 1960s was to re-use older music wholesale within their works. The most prominent example is the Italian Luciano Berio, nearly all of whose works are at some level a self-conscious reinterpretation of earlier music (sometimes by Berio himself, sometimes by others). This talk explores how art music of this time managed both to be Modernist, developing and going beyond what had been done before, and Postmodernist, where the past and the present could sit side-by-side in the same musical universe.

Birtwhistle's The Mask of Orpheus and the recreation of music, by Dr Robert Samuels (Saturday 2:30pm). The Mask of Orpheus, premiered in 1986, remains the most ambitious piece of music theatre in Birtwistle's long career. An immense work which took more than a decade to write, it involves singers, mime artists, and recorded electronic music created in the IRCAM research centre in Paris. Its subject is the myth of Orpheus, which is also the myth of the creation of music and of language. At the time of its creation and first performance, Robert Samuels was able to interview the composer, the librettist, and the composer of the electronic music. This talk gives an insight into how this enormous work was produced and how it sums up the new music of the '80s.

Stonehenge and mid-summer gatherings, by Dr Graham Harvey (Sunday 12:00pm). “Free music and nature spirituality under Thatcher’s glare”. From 1973 until 1985 popular midsummer gatherings at or near Stonehenge were often portrayed as “rock festivals” but were also venues of religious and social experimentation. Founded by Wally Hope, the Stonehenge People’s Free Festival was deliberately located in or near “the Stones” as the hub of various spiritual concerns. A cultural event without tickets or merchandise seemed increasingly radical when confronted by Mrs Thatcher’s forceful marketization project, and the Festival was crushed by a series of police actions, culminating in the “Battle of the Beanfield” (1985). Nonetheless, the effects of the subsequent Stonehenge (access) Campaign have continued to influence further activist movements and their musics and spiritualties. This talk will focus on the expression and performance of nature-centred and eco-activist spiritualties in music by groups associated with Stonehenge.

Don't let houses rot: Squat! by Dr Richenda Power (Sunday 12:00pm). These words are the title of a song ‘The Stepney Sisters’, a rock band, sang in April 1976 at the first National Women’s Aid Federation conference in York University. The logic of squatting in London then was in a context of many buildings being condemned, due for demolition, for lacking indoor toilets and bathrooms. Families had been moved out to tower blocks or to housing estates beyond London, say, in Essex. Squatters moved in to use the boarded up properties, battled moves to evict them, eventually obtaining licences to squat. Some formed housing cooperatives and obtained funding from the Housing Corporation to restore and develop their streets as communities again. Apart from this material preservation of parts of an earlier London, squats also provided seed beds of feminist activism, gay and anti-racist politics, ecological and pacifist movements.

Battle of the Beanfield, by Dr Graham Harvey (Sunday 2:00pm). In 1985, groups of people wishing to participate in Stonehenge Festival were not only prevented from doing so but were violently assaulted by the police and vilified by much of the media. Few reached Stonehenge that solstice and it took several years before solstice celebrations resumed within what is, for many “the temple”. This talk will outline events in the summer of 1985 (linking the Beanfield assault to wider events, e.g. the miners’ strike that was met with similar police tactics) and consider some of its after-effects. These included a campaign for free access, a proliferation of solstice gatherings elsewhere, the spread and diversification of bardism, and the development of practices that would sustain (anti-) road and globalisation activists in the 1990s.





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