Suzy Klein explores music’s crucial role in the most turbulent years of the 20th century.
Part 1: Revolution
Suzy Klein takes us back to the volatile years following the Russian Revolution and World War I, when music was seen as a tool to change society. Suzy explores the gender-bending cabarets of 1920s Berlin and smashes a piano in the spirit of the Bolshevik revolution. She also reveals why one orchestra decided to work without a conductor, uncovers the dark politics behind Mack the Knife and probes the satirical songs which tried to puncture the rise of the Nazis. Suzy’s musical stories are brought to life with the help of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and its Chorus, as well as solo performers. This was a golden age for music, and its jazz, popular songs, experimental symphonies and classics like Rachmaninoff all provoke debate – what kind of culture do we want? Is music for the elite or for the people? Was this a new age of liberal freedom to be relished – or were we hurtling towards the apocalypse?
Part 2: Dictatorship
Suzy Klein reaches the 1930s, when the totalitarian dictators sought to use and abuse music for ideological ends. Suzy looks at the lives of Richard Strauss, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, who produced some of the 20th-century’s best-loved music whilst working for Hitler and Stalin. The political message of Peter and the Wolf is revealed as well as the secret code hidden in Shostakovich’s quartets and Strauss’s personal reasons for trying to please the Nazis. Suzy also uncovers why Hitler adored Wagner but banned Mendelssohn’s Wedding March; how Stalin used music to subtly infiltrate minds; and why Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, a Nazi favourite, appeals to our most primitive senses. Suzy also raises some intriguing questions: Can we pin meaning onto music? What are the moral responsibilities of artists? And did the violence and tyranny of those regimes leave an indelible stain on the music they produced?
Part 3: World War
Suzy Klein explores the use, abuse and manipulation of music in the Second World War – from swinging jazz to film soundtracks and from ballads to ballets. The war, she demonstrates, wasn’t just a military fight but an ideological battle where both sides used music as a weapon to secure their vision for civilisation. Suzy reveals how the forces’ sweetheart Vera Lynn was taken off air by the BBC for fear her sentimental songs undermined the British war effort. She reveals the war work of two British composers. Walton’s Spitfire Prelude became the archetype for a particularly British form of patriotic music. By contrast, Tippett was sent to prison for being a conscientious objector, but his anti-war oratorio A Child of Our Time was showcased at the Royal Albert Hall. Suzy examines Olivier Messiaen’s haunting Quartet for the End of Time, written in a POW camp. At Auschwitz, Suzy reveals how music was co-opted to serve the Nazis’ evil purposes.