Age of Anxiety – An American Journey

Das Festival des NDR nimmt die amerikanische Kultur des 20. Jahrhunderts in den Fokus.

Alan Gilbert
Alan Gilbert © Peter Hundert

The USA in the 20th century – a nation marked by new departures and radical change. There were chances and hopes on the one hand, fears and crises on the other. The great emigration myth of the »land of unlimited opportunity« was still valid, the belief in equal opportunity and freedom in a democratic, prosperous and modern society. But then the American Dream suddenly turned into a nightmare. After the disaster of World War Two, life in the United States was determined by the rivalry with the enemy in the East: the nuclear arms race, proxy wars, and widespread suspicion and mistrust during the McCarthy Era. On the one hand, the civil rights movement, on the other the assassination of reform president John F. Kennedy and of black-rights pioneer Martin Luther King. In 1947, the far-sighted Anglo-American writer W. H. Auden called this stress-laden era the »Age of Anxiety« in his poem of the same name. It was a troubled and restless time, but also a time of new departures, of the search for identities and ideals.

And not least in the cultural context, the 20th century was first and foremost an era when America set out to find itself. Thus Auden’s poem, on which Leonard Bernstein based his Second Symphony, has been chosen as the ambiguous title for this year’s NDR Festival. After »Stravinsky in Hamburg« last season, the NDR presents a wide panorama of American music in the 20th century.

It goes without saying that Charles Ives’s Fourth Symphony, »the big bang of modern American music« (Alan Gilbert), is on the programme. But works by other American composers such as Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and John Adams, and by immigrants like Stravinsky and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, paint a picture of an America of great cultural creativity and diversity, critical and cosmopolitan – an America that has recently seemed to be under serious threat.