Tonic to the Nation: Making English Music in the Festival of Britain  book cover
1st Edition

Tonic to the Nation: Making English Music in the Festival of Britain

ISBN 9780367229429
Published February 7, 2019 by Routledge
272 Pages

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Book Description

Long remembered chiefly for its modernist exhibitions on the South Bank in London, the 1951 Festival of Britain also showcased British artistic creativity in all its forms. In Tonic to the Nation, Nathaniel G. Lew tells the story of the English classical music and opera composed and revived for the Festival, and explores how these long-overlooked components of the Festival helped define English music in the post-war period. Drawing on a wealth of archival material, Lew looks closely at the work of the newly chartered Arts Council of Great Britain, for whom the Festival of Britain provided the first chance to assert its authority over British culture. The Arts Council devised many musical programs for the Festival, including commissions of new concert works, a vast London Season of almost 200 concerts highlighting seven centuries of English musical creativity, and several schemes to commission and perform new operas. These projects were not merely directed at bringing audiences to hear new and old national music, but to share broader goals of framing the national repertory, negotiating between the conflicting demands of conservative and progressive tastes, and using music to forge new national definitions in a changed post-war world.

Table of Contents


List of Figures and Tables 1

Acknowledgements 2

Introduction 3

  1. Old music…: British repertory in London 4
  2. …and new: Commissions and premieres 5
  3. On stage…: Festival opera productions 6
  4. …and off: The opera commissioning scheme 7
  5. This is our moment: National elements in Festival operas 8

Afterword 9

Appendix 1: British music performed in the London Season of the Arts 10

Appendix 2: Commissions and premieres in the Festival of Britain 11

Appendix 3: Timeline of the open opera commissioning scheme 12

Bibliography 13

Index 14

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Nathaniel G. Lew is Associate Professor of Music at Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont, USA.


"This book will be of great interest to musical, social and political historians as they seek to better understand the cultural implications of post-Second World War Britain, and the attempts made to mould an artistic response to the both the optimism and the hardships following the end of hostilities."

- John France, MusicWeb International

"...impressively-researched, compelling and highly useful addition to the literature about the Festival of Britain."

- Nicholas Clark, Britten–Pears Foundation in EuropeNow, September 2017