04/17/15 The Modern Era: Reaction, Rebellion, and Going to Extremes

– Romanticism emphasized the expression of emotion
– When you express emotion, you risk disappointment, rejection, heartbreak

What are possible responses to heartbreak?
– Intensifying emotion
– Rejecting emotion

Modernism: A reaction to Romanticism in the arts and upheaval in society

Characteristics of Modernism:
– Going to extremes: pushing the boundaries of all aspects of music: harmony, rhythm, form, how instruments are used, etc.
– Interest in primitivism & exoticism: ancient cultures and distant cultures, as the artist imagined them
– Emphasis on originality and innovation
– Plurality: contrasting styles developing simultaneously
– Social/political commentary
– Increasing importance of technology
– Intellectualism: “unpopular” music
– Emphasis on theory: what is music?

Two main strands:
1. Expressionism: described by musicologist Theodor Adorno as “seeking the truthfulness of subjective feeling without illusions, disguises or euphemisms”
– Extreme individuality: hyper-romanticism

2. Neoclassicism: seeking order, balance, clarity, economy; a reaction against the unrestrained emotion and perceived formlessness of late Romanticism
– Extreme objectivity: anti-romanticism

Two instances of “heartbreak” on a global scale that influenced modern art: World War I and World War II.

Example of using music as political expression/social commentary/rebellion during World War II:
The music itself is from the Romantic era, but it is used for a modern purpose.

Verdi: “Dies Irae” from his setting of the Requiem mass, composed in 1874

– Prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp rehearsed and performed Verdi’s Requiem as a way to express what they could not say to their captors in plain words.
– This camp, called Terezín (in the Czech language) or Theresienstadt (in German) was designed as a “model” camp — the people imprisoned there were artists, intellectuals, and prominent people, and they were allowed to participate in performances, partly to fool observers from the Red Cross into believing that conditions at concentration camps weren’t that bad.

Defiant Requiem

You can view the full documentary (90 minutes) at this link.

An example of a response to World Wars I and II:
War Requiem, by English composer Benjamin Britten, completed in 1962

During World War II, the Cathedral in Coventry, England, was bombed and mostly destroyed. A new structure, built next to the remains, was completed in 1962. Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was performed at the dedication of the new building. In addition to the original Latin text of the Requiem mass, he used poetry written by a soldier who died in World War I, Wilfred Owen.