The free atonal style developed by Peter Racine Fricker (1920-90) acted as an influential antidote to British insularity during the immediate post-Second World War years but was soon eclipsed by the avant-garde music of the "Manchester School", Alexander Goehr (1932- ), Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (1934- ) and Sir Harrison Birtwistle (1934- ). Davies' earlier expressionist style, developed in such diverse theatrical works as the Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969), Versalii Icones for naked male dancer and instrumental ensemble (also 1969), and the opera Taverner (first produced in 1972), has been superceded by a calmer, more classically-oriented idiom as revealed in the First Symphony (1976) and the series of Strathclyde Concertos, works completed following Davies' move to remote Hoy in the Orkneys. Birtwistle's development has been similar in certain ways, the portrayal of frequently gratuitous violence in his ritualistic opera, Punch and Judy (1967), giving way to a more approachable scenario, the quest for self-knowledge, in Gawain (1991). Among more conservative figures, the fluent and adaptable character of the music of Richard Rodney Bennett (1936- ), ranging from film music in various pastiche styles, via jazz, to a melodious twelve-note idiom, attracted several commissions early in his career, including three large-scale operas, beginning with The Mines of Sulphur for Sadler's Wells. And the warmth and richness Nicholas Maw (1935- ) derives from a mixture of radical and traditional elements permitted him to produce a successful romantic comedy for Glyndebourne, the opera The Ring of the Moon (1970), and the expansive voyage of self-exploration for orchestra, Odyssey (1972-90).
For composers born during the 1930s, the range of styles a composer could explore was wide; for those born during the next decade, the range was even wider. At one end of the spectrum, Brian Ferneyhough (1943- ) has composed works such as the Sonatas for String Quartet (1967) on the knife-edge of intelligibility and playability, providing a model for younger composers of "The New Complexity" such as James Dillon (1950- ). In contrast, composers belonging to the "English experimental tradition", often owing allegiance to Cornelius Cardew (1936-81), who himself was influenced by Satie and Cage, can take the simplest of tonal materials but arrange them so as to undermine tonal music's onward momentum, as in Lento (1991) for orchestra by Howard Skempton (1947- ). Another possibility is the "neo-romanticism" of David Matthews (1943- ), who has drawn on Mahler's alternately soaring and plunging lines (as well as Tippett's metric flexibility) in his Third Symphony (1985). Finally, an individualist such as John Tavener (1943- ) lies to a certain extent outside current trends, being dragged into the limelight as fashion dictates. Following an early success with the dramatic cantata The Whale (1966) at a Proms performance in 1968, a period of relative neglect was succeeded by another Proms success, the ecstatic Protecting Veil (1987) for cello and strings, which for a time achieved something of a cult status.