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New Beginnings: the International avant-garde, 1945-62

posted on 2023-06-07, 21:34 authored by David Osmond-Smith
No previous convulsion had so profound an impact upon the musical life of Europe at large as did the Second World War. In as much as they could, combatant nations clung to a vestige of the familiar and well-loved. Despite the emigration to the United States of a dismayingly large percentage of those who commanded a measure of cultural authority, opera houses and concert halls struggled to assert ‘business as usual’ in the face of daunting circumstance, and awaited better times. In consequence, the late 1940s and early 1950s were devoted to the restoration not just of the fabric of Europe's devastated cities, but of long-established cultural institutions. As was to be expected, the music-loving middle classes returned with gratitude to their cultivation of an authoritative classical repertoire. But for the generation of young European musicians who had passed their formative years amongst the constrictions of the later 1930s and early 1940s, the imperative was now to make their own the more radical currents of pre-war culture to which they had been denied access. The situation was particularly acute in Germany – subject since 1933 to stringent regulation of the culturally permissible by Goebbels's Reichsmusikkammer. Although Italian fascist cultural policy, as directed during the immediate pre-war years by the minister of culture, Giuseppe Bottai, had proved somewhat more encouraging of a carefully regulated innovation, its younger generation felt itself similarly cut off. The élan of French cultural life of the 1920s and 30s (strongly neoclassical and pro-Stravinsky) had been brought sharply to heel under German occupation, leaving Olivier Messiaen as a solitary beacon for younger composers with an interest in the modernist tradition.


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The Cambridge History of Twentieth Century Music



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A Pople, N Cook

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