In Their Own Words: 20th Century Composers

But Is It Music? (1945-1989)

Series 1 - Episode 2 But Is It Music? (1945-1989)



This archive trawl is both stymied and enriched by the randomness of available material, as it tries to weave a coherent tale of the revolution in sound during the latter half of the last century.

But Is It Music? begins with the relatively gentle challenges of Peter Grimes, which opened at Sadler’s Wells a month after VE Day. Benjamin Britten is shown at his most urbane, conducting at Aldeburgh, while Leonard Bernstein gets ratty during a 1985 recording of West Side Story. There are fleeting glimpses of Boulez, Stockhausen, Steve Reich, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – and, bizarrely, Philip Glass chatting about remixing an S’Express track.


A look at how the process of writing music in a postwar world was met in very different ways by the likes of Britten, Bernstein, Boulez, Stockhausen, Maxwell Davies, Reich, Adams and Glass. The programme features footage of John Tavener playing badminton while drunk and John Cage defending his four minutes and 33 seconds of `silence'. Delia Derbyshire, co-creator of the Doctor Who theme tune, also reveals how British techno music has its roots in the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop. Narrated by Rebecca Front.

Cast & Crew

Narrator Rebecca Front
Director Sophie Deveson
Executive Producer Jonty Claypole
Producer Sophie Deveson