The rest is noise

Politics and Spirituality

Politics and Spirituality

In the late 20th Century

After Stalin’s death in 1953, life behind the Iron Curtain slowly began to change – and by the 1970s the Soviet Union under Brezhnev was beginning to modernise. Symbols of the West such as jeans and rock music became popular in Soviet Russia, signalling anew era of cautious thawing of Cold War relations. In the West, the 1970s and ’80s were fast-paced decades – first a recession then economic boom years, where advertising and communications technology rapidly accelerated the pace of modern life.

To counter this materialism, some composers offered a return to spiritual values, and others resorted to overtly political music.

Much of this religious music came from the Soviet Union and its satellite states, where religious belief had been marginalised under the official state atheism. More surprising were the commercial possibilities in this sacred music. The simple, consonant songs of lamentation in Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony unexpectedly sold over a million copies when it was released to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.

No composer exemplified this turn to the sacred more than Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, whose work conveys an intense and profound spirituality. Hans Werner Henze gave voice to oppressed peoples and political radicals such as Cornelius Cardew who tried to sweep aside the bourgeois norms of the musical establishment.

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(From 10am - 6pm. Note, passes do NOT include entry to concerts)

Boom. Bust. Globalisation. Religion. Hope.

By the 1970s, western influences began to creep under the Iron Curtain. We explore this era of change, and seek to understand why it provoked a political and spiritual response from composers across the globe.

We are pleased to announce that fashion and music maverick Pam Hogg will be speaking on Sunday 3 November as part of Politics and Spirituality. She will be discussing ‘Punk to Post-Punk at 2pm on Sunday with speakers including DJ and filmmaker Don Letts, Viv Albertine from The Slits and writer and historian Graham Robb

Book a weekend or a day pass to be a part of our jam packed programme of events.

View the full timetable here

Events include:


Author Karen Armstrong looks back at the global religious landscape of the 1970s and '80s. This period saw increasing secularism in the West and a return to the spiritual in the Communist bloc.

Author Alain de Botton investigates how spirituality fitted into an increasingly consumerist world.

We hear from Hanif Kureishi who captured all the tensions of Thatcherite Britain in his novel The Buddha of Suburbia.

Layla Alexander-Garrett, who worked as Andrei Tarkovsky’s translator on set, discusses the work and vision of the great Russian filmmaker with chair Gareth Evans, writer and film curator’


15 minutes on each of the need-to-know topics of the era including:

Sex Pistols: they lasted less than three years, but managed to kick-start the punk rock movement.

Could the government of the Soviet Union ever be open and transparent? We grapple with Glasnost.

MTV played its first video, 'Video killed the radio star' on August 1 1981 and began a global phenomenon.

As unemployment surged in 1980s Britain, a whole community of squatters reclaimed a bombed-out London for the homeless.


Grab a coffee and delve inside the music of The Rest Is Noise festival. Composer and presenter John Browne leads a fun and informal workshop on Gubaidulina's Offertorium on Sunday.


Don't know where to start? Let our music experts bring the music of Politics and Spirituality to life in these beginner's guides.


Gubaidulina's String Quartets Nos.3 & 4 performed by the Ligeti String Quartet.

Extracts from Cornelius Cardew's Paragraph 5 of The Great Learning by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and James Weeks.

Excerpts from Hans Werner Henze's Voices by musicians from the Royal College of Music.


Including Solaris, Tarkovsky's psychological space-race drama and Dekalog


Politics & Spirituality Saturday Day Pass - Saturday 2 November 2013. Book now

Politics & Spirituality Sunday Day Pass - Sunday 3 November 2013. Book now

Politics & Spirituality Weekend Pass - Saturday 2 - Sunday 3 November 2013. Book now

The Concerts

30 October - 27 November 2013

Separate tickets are required for each event

A Timeless Beauty 6 November 2013  Hear four seminal pieces by Arvo Pärt alongside a violin concerto by Sofia Gubaidulina that owes much to Pärt’s work in its ‘total surrender of the self to the tone’. Book Now


Schnittke's Vision Of The Future 30 October 2013  Schnittke's moving, emotion filled and energy-charged symphony reveals the paradoxes and parallels at the heart of modern life. Book Now

From The Canyons To The Stars 2 November 2013 In 1974, 18 years before his death, Olivier Messiaen gave birth to one of the most extraordinary musical creations of the last century. Book Now

Last Words 3 November 2013 The last utterances of two great musical friends - Britten and Shostakovich. Book Now

London Philharmonic Orchestra Future Firsts 6 November 2013 Galina Ustvolskaya's final work - a haunting setting of The Lord's Prayer. Free event

Sublime Polish Melodies 27 November 2013 Music of anguished beauty from Polish compatriots Penderecki and Gorecki.  Book Now

19 eighties: the rhythm of a decade 30 November 2013 Follow the progress of rhythm in a post-sampler, post-drum machine, post-Minimalist and post-remix world! Book now


For more information and to buy tickets for Politics And Spirituality, visit the Southbank Centre ticketing website