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Music in Britain from 1920s to the Present Day

1920s – Young people listened to ragtime and jazz.

1930s – Swing became popular. Benny Goodman and his Orchestra were the ‘King of the Swing’, as were Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw. The music was fast and frantically paced and led to dances being banned from dance halls, as the young women being flung into the air by their partners showed their stocking tops and underwear. Jazz continued to be popular.

1940s – The Second World War brought fast, frantic (and often American) dance music – boogie-woogie or jitterbug. Dances were held in church halls, village halls, clubs, Air Force bases – everywhere! But slower, romantic songs were also popular as loved ones went away to fight, such as Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and the song about coming home again, ‘The ‘White Cliffs of Dover’.

After the war ‘skiffle’ bands became popular. These bands used household items, such as washboards and tea chests, as part of their set of instruments! Tommy Steele, who later became very famous, first played in a skiffle band.

1950s – Rock and Roll became very popular.

1960s – The Beatles began their career. They leapt to fame in 1963 with ‘Please, Please Me'.

The Beatles moved through the late 1960s as favourites of the ‘flower power’ generation – many young people enjoyed ‘hippie’ music. Other teenagers preferred the music of the ‘Mods’ – ska music and The Who.

1970s – The first big new sound of the 1970s was “Glam Rock”, the main figures of this were David Bowie, Elton John and of course Gary Glitter. In the bleak political backdrop, these larger that life British bands and characters brought a welcome relief with their platform boots, sequins, nail varnish and colourful hair.

The punk movement of the late 1970s began in England. Great British bands of this scene were The Sex Pistols and The Clash. The Punk style was Mohicans, bondage clothes, safety pins, piercings and bovver boots.

1980s – The 1980s saw the rise of hip hop and rap music, with American influences powerful once again in the form of such groups as Run DMC and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. It also saw the rise and fall of the ‘New Romantics’, typified by groups like Adam and the Ants, who dressed as pirates and highway men and wore huge amounts of makeup.

1990s – Britpop This was the general name given in the 1990s to a new wave of successful British bands who made a big impact in the United States and Europe, as well as in England. The most successful have been Radiohead, Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Massive Attack and The Spice Girls.


Michael Tippett


Sir Michael Kemp Tippett OM CH CBE (2 January 1905 – 8 January 1998) was one of the foremost English composers of the XX century.

Sir Michael Tippett Tippett was born in London of English and Cornish stock. His mother was a charity worker and a suffragette, and he was a cousin of suffragette leader Charlotte Despard. Although he enjoyed his childhood, after losing their hotel business in southern France, his parents decided to travel through and live on the Continent, and Michael and his brother attended boarding schools in England.

At that time, Tippett won a scholarship and studied at Fettes College, Edinburgh, but he soon moved to Stamford School after some extremely unhappy personal experience. This, combined with his discovering his homosexuality, contributed to making Tippett’s teenage years lonely and rather stressful. Although he was open about his sexual orientation, it seems that he started to feel emotional strain from a rather early age, and this later became a major motivation to his composition. Before his time at Stamford, Tippett hardly had any contact with music at all, let alone formal musical training. He recalled that it was in Stamford, where he had piano lessons and saw Malcolm Sargent conducting, that he decided to become a composer, although he did not know what it meant or how to start.

He registered as a student in the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition with Charles Wood and C. H. Kitson, and the former’s teaching on counterpoint had profound influence on Tippett’s future compositional style; many of his works, despite the complicated sonority, are essentially contrapuntal. At the RCM, Tippett also studied conducting with Adrian Boult and Malcolm Sargent. In the 1920s, living simply in Surrey, he plunged himself into musical life, conducting amateur choirs and local operas. Later, he taught at Morley College.

Tippett was regarded by many as an outsider in British music, a view that may have been related to his conscientious objector status during World War II. His pacifist beliefs led to a prison sentence during the war: in 1943, at the height of the war, he was summoned to appear before a British government tribunal to justify his conscientious objector status. Instead of receiving an absolute exemption, he was ordered to do full-time farm work. However, Tippett refused to comply with this ruling and was subsequently imprisoned for three months at HMP Wormwood Scrubs.

For many years his music was considered ungratefully written for voices and instruments, and therefore difficult to perform. An intense intellectual, he maintained a much wider knowledge and interest in the literature and philosophy of other countries (Africa, Europe) than was common among British musicians. His (sometimes quirky) libretti for his operas and other works reflect his passionate interest in the dilemmas of human society and the enduring strength of the human spirit.

Tippett was never a prolific composer, and his works, completed slowly, comprised five string quartets, four concerti, four symphonies, five operas and a number of vocal and choral works. His music is typically seen as falling into four distinct periods. The first period (1935 – 1947) includes the first three quartets, the Concerto for Double String Orchestra, the oratorio A Child of Our Time (written to his own libretto at the encouragement of T.S. Eliot and first performed by Morley College Choir) and the First Symphony. This period is characterised by strenuous contrapuntal energy and deeply lyrical slow movements.

The second period, from then until the late 1950s, includes the opera The Midsummer Marriage, the Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli, the Piano Concerto, and the Second Symphony; this period features rich textures and effervescent melody.

The third period, the 1960s and ‘70s, is in stark contrast, and is characterised by abrupt statements and simplicity of texture, as in the opera King Priam, the Concerto for Orchestra and the Second Piano Sonata. The fourth period is a rich mixture of all these styles, using many devices, such as quotation (from Ludwig van Beethoven and Modest Mussorgsky, among others). The main works of this period were the Third Symphony, the operas The Ice Break and New Year, and the large-scale choral work The Mask of Time.

Unlike his contemporaries William Walton and Benjamin Britten, Tippett was a late developer as a composer and was severely critical of his early compositions. At the age of 30, he studied counterpoint and fugue with R.O. Morris. His first mature compositions show a fascination with these aspects.

Tippett was knighted in 1966, and awarded the Order of Merit in 1983. He remained very active composing and conducting. His opera, New Year, received its premiere in 1989. Then came Byzantium, a piece for soprano and orchestra premiered in 1991. His autobiography, Those Twentieth Century Blues also appeared in 1991. A string quartet followed in 1992. In 1995 his ninetieth birthday was celebrated with special events in Britain, Canada and the US, including the premiere of his final work, The Rose Lake.

In 1996, Tippett moved from Wiltshire to London. In 1997, in Stockholm for a retrospective of his concert music, he developed pneumonia. He was brought home to England, where he died early in 1998.



items of self-study work


1. Early music of the British Isles.

2. Historical and cultural background of Victorian Age.

3. Folk music traditions and festivals in Great Britain.

4. Celtic music and dance.

5. Irish dance. King of the Dance.

6. The Lute in Britain: A History of the Instrument and Its Music.

7. Music in the theatre.

8. Patrons and Musicians of the English Renaissance.

9. English Opera: history and present day.

10. The British musical renaissance 1860 – 1918.

11. Musical education in Great Britain today.

12. Royal Philharmonic Society.

13. Life and creative activity of Benjamin Britten.

14. Edward Elgar – the musician of great invention.

15. Britain as a “cradle” of the world’s rock music.

16. Maestro A.L. Webber.

17. Rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar: History of performance.

18. Contemporary musical life in England.

UNIT 2. Painting



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