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(#18) Unit 4: Modernism: An Introduction to Modernism (Early 20th Ce)
Transcript of (#18) Unit 4: Modernism: An Introduction to Modernism (Early 20th Ce)
Music and Modernism
In this new unit, we will deal with music from around 1900 on. Starting in this era, we begin to see phenomena that apply to today's society.
Music will become available to the masses, not just to a few select groups.
Technology will become more important to the development of music.
A split will develop between classical music and popular music.
Different Modernist Niches
Impressionists- artists tried to paint/ create music that had vague impressions of everyday life. Art was vaguely realistic, but the artists said it was very realistic compared to what the romantics had done.
Not every movement we just talked about can be directly applied to music, but the general tendency to shock and experiment certainly can be.
Debussy and Impressionism
Claude Debussy occupies the border between late 19th century and early twentieth century styles. (In terms of "far-out" music, he was pretty tame, but still innovative.)
His penchant for rich harmonies and emotion reminds us in some ways of the romantic era. In some ways, however, it defies it. He avoids the heavy sounds of Wagner and Mahler and tries for a more transparent, mysterious sound.
The 19th century was fueled by hope and progress. As we entered the 20th century, we are going to see that this progress has changed the world at an alarming rate and has shaken some of people's deepest beliefs.
How did this affect art?
If the traditional biblical laws, laws of physics, and psychological certainties were being questioned, you can bet art was being questioned.
The Classical and Romantic eras were characterized by incredible melodies. Toward the end of the Romantic era, however, melodies written by people like Wagner became so complex that some people said they were hard to follow. Arnold Schoenberg took these melodies and warped them even further so that they were almost unrecognizable as melodies.
Claude Debussy took melody away almost entirely and only had vague shadowy suggestions of melodies.
In the late Romantic era, non-European music began to infiltrate into classical music. This was further emphasized in the modern era. In 1889, at the World's Fair in Paris, Debussy heard his first non-Western music played by native musicians. This music used many different scales...
In this period, classical music experienced a split from itself as well.
There was "modernist" music, and then there was more traditional music.
The Modernist movement is not a movement that refers to something that takes place in the present. It is a specific artistic/ intellectual movement that happened between 1890-1940.
The modernists are characterized by radical experimentation and anti-traditionalism.
The chief composers we will associate with the modern era are
These composers are considered part of the original "avant-garde"
movement. "Avant-garde" means "vanguard," which is a military
term for those who are on the front edge of a fighting force.
Einstein's theory of relativity
Technological advances being used for war.
One such assumption from the Romantic era was the idea that art had to represent something from the world. Authors such as James Joyce began to challenge this. (His book Finnigan's Wake is half English and half words he invented) Painters began to paint abstract or
Symbolists- revolted against realism completely. These writers/artists wanted words/pictures to perform their symbolizing function without having to precisely denote or define something.
With pure nails brightly
flashing their onyx
Anguish at night
holds up (Lucifer!)
A multitude of dreams
burnt by the Phoenix...
The beginning of a
symbolist sonnet by
Expressionists- sought to express emotion without attaching it to everyday literalness. Feelings like anguish and hysteria could be represented by harsh colors or bold patterns.
Fauves- imitated a very primitive, shocking
style of painting with potentially grotesque subjects.
In music, the melody and tonality that had taken hundreds of years to establish took a hit from the modernists.
Debussy was an impressionist.
See if you can get the impression he's trying to create in this piece.
Pentatonic scale- used in Asian music, a five note scale that leaves out the fourth and seventh notes of a major scale.
Whole-tone scale- divides the octave into six equal parts and all the intervals are whole steps. This makes the music sound dreamy and ambiguous (Nuages is based on this scale)
Octatonic scale- a scale that fits 8 different pitches into an octave, to have 9 notes total. This was a specialty of Stravinsky.
Foreshadowing Alert: These scales will be the inspiration for serialism, which we will get to later.
Also, as melody grew more complex, and possibly less intuitive, it grew more dissonant.
Here we see "the emancipation of dissonance,"
meaning dissonance didn't always needed to be followed by consonance.
Dissonance followed by consonance gave us a sense of tonality. All of these modernist innovations pushed us away from tonality, until finally we were left with music that had no tonal center anymore. It was known as "atonal."
Vincent Van Gogh painted
the way Debussy composed
Debussy and Mahler were contemporaries, but sounded quite different. Mahler treated his orchestra contrapuntally, with each instrument trying to stand out as a hero. Debussy treats his orchestra as a whole, pulsing entity, with individual instruments blending into each other to create an image best viewed from afar.
Stravinsky and the Primacy of Rhythm
Igor Stravinksy's earliest works sounded very much like his teacher's: Rimsky-Korsakov "The Mighty Handful." As he developed his own style, however, his works became harder, edgier, and very rhythmic. It compares very much to the fauve style of French painting.
Stravinksy is best known for the music he wrote for three ballets to be performed by the Ballets Russes in Paris:
The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).
In the Rite of Spring, Stravinsky boldly and brutally imagined the fertility rites of prehistoric Slavic tribes. Here Russian folk music, broken down into repeated fragmentary motives, is treated as the source of primitive rhythmic and sexual energy.
Did people like this? NO! They thought it was barbaric, unemotional, and loud! They rioted after the premier performance in Paris!
Tchaikovsky Nutcracker (1892)
Sacrificial Dance from Rite of Spring (1913)
Stravinsky rejected Romantic
sentiment. In Austria and Germany,
however, composers pressed
forward with music that was
increasingly emotional and complex.
Arnold Schoenberg, an example of a musical expressionist, was one of these composers that took Romantic emotion and used it to express hysteria, nightmare, and insanity.
The Scream, by Edvard Munch
A clear example of this is "Erwartung," a
monologue for soprano and orchestra written by Schoenberg in 1909. In it, a woman comes to meet her lover in a dark wood and spills out her
terrors, shrieking as she stumbles upon a dead
body she believes to be his. One cannot tell if the scene is an actual hysterical scene, an allegory, or a Freudian dream fantasy.
Deborah Voigt on "Erwartung"
Schoenberg (1874-1951) grew up in the Vienna of Mahler and Brahms. His early music (most notably "Transfigured Night,") extended the late Romantic traditions. Schoenberg felt, however, that he was destined to carry music through to its logical modern development by way of increasing chromaticism and atonality. Much of his music was met with hostility.
Transfigured Night (1899)
Schoenberg was nearly 50 when he went completely atonal and invented the twelve-tone (or serial) system. Of all the "new languages" for music attempted by avant-garde composers, serialism was by far the most radical, and also the most fruitful.
Schoenberg and Serialism
Of all the early 20th century composers, Schoenberg was the most keenly aware of the problem caused by ever-broadening dissonance: complete chaos. With no tonality to create rules, what separates music from noise? In the early 1920's, Schoenberg found a way to order music without having it bound by the rules of tonality. Instead, it was bound by math.
What he invented was the Twelve Tone System, which he defined as a "method of composing with the twelve tones solely in relation to each other." That is, they are not in relation to a home pitch. This is also known as serialism.
Basically, he would create list of all the notes and maintain them in a fixed order. This list was called a "tone row." Then he would compose, but he would only allow notes to be played in that order, or certain variations of that order. He couldn't duplicate a note until he went all the way through the tone row. Rhythm remained free of the tone row: any rhythm could be assigned to a note.
So what were acceptable variations of this tone row?
transposing- moving the whole row up or down in pitch
retrograde- using the row backward
inversion- playing the row upside down, but maintaining intervals.
any combination of these variations (ie retrograde inversion)
An example of a Schoenberg tone row
The Second Viennese School
Schoenberg, along with his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern, comprised the Second Viennese School of Composition. (It's not a literal school, it's a series of people who follow the same methods.)
Wait, who was the First Viennese School?
That would be Mozart,
Haydn, and Beethoven.
Berg and Webern did not experience the notoriety of Schoenberg, but both were forward-thinking composers that inspired others....and both died in weird ways.
Webern died in Mittersill, Austria in 1945 when he was shot in error by a member of the American Allied forces. He was standing on a balcony smoking a cigar at night when he was shot.
Alban Berg, who was slightly more successful than Webern, died from an insect bite on his hand at age 50. After he died, it came out that
he had secretly been in love with a married woman, and that he used a musical code to refer to her in his compositions.
Alban Berg's opera "Wozzek" was his most successful opera, and explores the effects of poverty and ends with the depressing implication that there is no such thing as redemption. It uses atonal music, sparse orchestration, and Sprechstimme (speak singing: a style that was invented by Schoenberg). It also uses leitmotifs.
A very brief plot synopsis of "Wozzeck"
Wozzeck, a poor soldier, is in a relationship with Marie, and has a child with her, though they are unmarried. Wozzeck is having strange visions. Later, we learn he participates in a strange medical studies for money. He and Marie are having relationship issues as she becomes attracted to the Drum Major of a band. Eventually she is seduced by the Drum Major, and Wozzeck, who is becoming increasingly more disturbed, is taunted by Marie's infidelity by his friends. Marie is full of guilt, but continues seeing the Drum Major. Wozzeck convinces her to go on a walk, proclaims his love for her, and stabs her in the neck. He returns to his tavern, where it is seen that he has blood on his hands, but he can't explain where it came from. He returns to the forest, stumbles against Marie's body, goes completely insane, wades into a pond, and drowns. In the morning, Wozzeck and Marie's child is playing with his friends, Unconcerned, they go to see it.
Wozzeck Act III Scene iv
Wozzeck Act III Scene v
Wozzeck Act III Scene iii
Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire
Vincent Van Gogh
or even Stravinsky's Petrushka (1911)