Saturday, November 10, 2007

1930 – 1950 Webern and Neo-Classicism

1933 Roosevelt and Hitler took office
1936 Spanish Civil War; La Jeune France (Messiaen, Jolivet, Daniel-Lesur, Baudrier)
1939-45 World War II


While the neo-classic movement began with imitations of 18th century works, in its mature phase it stood for cool objectivity and formal balance. The new dissonance, rhythmic freedom and vivid orchestral techniques were utilized in a more integrated, conservative style. Emphasis rather than chord function created a new tonality.


Vaughan-Williams continued his series of symphonies with No. 4 (1935), No. 5 (1943), No. 6 (1948), Sinfonia Antarctica (1953), No. 8 (1956) and No. 9 (1957). The ideals of socialist realism were shown in symphonies by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75). The best of his first nine was No. 5 (1937) which achieved lasting fame; also No. 6 (1939). No. 7 "Leningrad" (1941) was exploited for war-time propaganda. Stravinsky composed symphonies without development in Symphony in C (1940) and Symphony in Three Movements (1945). Americans who wrote symphonies were Roy Harris (1898-1990), Walter Piston (1894-1976) and Aaron Copland (1900-1990).

Orchestral music

Orchestral music also included Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1937), Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis (1944) and Prokofiev's Leutenant Kije (1934).

Chamber Music

Bartok's quartets ended with No. 5 (1934) and No. 6 (1939) which used parallel quarter tones.


Concertos provided an entry to the concert hall for Bartok in his Second Piano (1938), Violin (1938), Third Piano (1945) and Two Piano (1938) Concertos, Stravinsky's Violin (1931), Dumbarton Oaks (1938), Ebony (1945) and Basle (1946) Concertos.

A modern concept is the concerto for orchestra, an attempt to revive the concerto grosso, including Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra (1944) and Concerto for Double String Orchestra (1939) by Michael Tippett (1905-1998).


Ballet shifted to America in Copland's Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1943) and Appalachian Spring (1945) and Russia in Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (1940) and Cinderella (1945).


A monument of neo-classicism was Hindemith's Ludus tonalis 1943), a set of twelve fugues. Bartok's Mikrokosmos (1926-37) was six graded volumes for pedagogical use.


(1) An American school was established in the 30's with Emperor Jones (1933) by Louis Gruenberg (1884-1964), Howard Hanson's (1896-1981) Merry Mount (1934), Virgil Thomson's (1896-1989) Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and Mother of us all (1947) and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (1935). Amelia Goes to the Ball (1937) and The Medium (1946) by Gian Carlo Menotti (1911- ) were in a neo-romantic style.

(2) English opera continued with Vaughan-Williams' Riders to the Sea (1937) and Benjamin Britten's (1913-76) Peter Grimes (1945).

(3) Russian opera featured Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934).

(4) German neo-classic operas were Hindemith's Mathis der Maler (1938), also arranged as a symphony, and Carl Orff's (1895-1982) Der Mond (1939), Die Kluge (1943) and Antigone (1949).

Choral Music

Often in a simpler idiom, choral music included Stravinsky's important Symphony of Psalms (1930), Bartok's Cantata Profana (1930), Orff's Carmina Burana (1936), Britten's Ceremony of Carols (1942) and Ernest Bloch's (1880-1959) Hebrew Sacred Service (1934). Poulenc turned to liturgical music in his Mass (1937), Motets (1939) and Salve Regina (1941).


  • English songs included Britten's Serenade (1943) and Holy Sonnets of John Donne (1945).
  • French song included Poulenc's Banalités (1940) and C (1943), the orchestral song cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (1932) by Ravel and Oliver Messiaen's (1908-1992) Poèmes pour Mi (1936).



Though he adoped twelve-tone technique in 1924, in his Symphony for small Orchestra, Op. 21 (1928) Anton Webern entered a new era of control. His style

(a) held rigidly to the twelve-tone system without exception,
(b) favored symmetrical rows,
(c) used the discontinuous instrumentation of Klangfarbenmelodie, emphasized with equally discontinuous dynamics and articulation, as a basic style element to clarify motives and set them off from their context (see his orchestration of a fugue from Bach's Musical Offering, 1935),
(d) used irregular rhythms, and
(e) canon and strict symmetrical forms.
Other works were his Variations for Orchestra, Op. 30 (1940) and Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra (1927-8).


Concertos included Schoenberg's Violin (1936), Piano (1942), Berg Violin (1935) and Webern Concerto, Op. 24 (1934).

Chamber Music

Both Webern, Op. 28 (1938), and Schoenberg, 4th Quartet (1936), composed serial string quartets.


Important operas were Schoenberg's one-act Von Heute auf Morgen (1930) and Moses und Aron (2 acts composed 1930-2, produced 1954) which was based entirely on one row and used Sprechstimme for Moses; Berg's Lulu (Acts I & II 1937, Act III 1979) which was unfinished at his death (Act III was suppressed by his widow); Ernst Krenek's (1900-1991) Karl V (1933). The Italian Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-75) in Il Prigioniero (1950) adapted Italian lyricism to expressionist style.

Choral works

Choral music included Webern's Das Augelicht (1935), Cantata 1 (1940) and Cantata 2 (1943).


Quarter tones reached a climax of development in The Mothers (1931), an opera by Alois Hába (1893-1972).

Electronic instruments

The electronic instruments thérémin from c. 1920, ondes Martenot from 1928 and trautonium from 1930, all named for their inventors, originally produced one fluctuating pitch controlled by hand movements or strings. Ondes had an alternate keyboard with fixed pitches. Hindemith, Milhaud, Varèse, (Equatorial B, 1934), Jolivet, R. Strauss, Messiaen and his pupil Pierre Boulez (1925- ) all composed for one or more of these instruments.


Percussion was combined with ondes in the quasi-gamelan orchestra of Messiaen's Turangalila-symphonie (1948) which also showed his rhythmic experiments, begun in Quartet for the End of Time (1941) for violin, clarinet, cello and piano. From c. 1943 John Cage's (1912-1992) pieces for prepared piano created a one man percussion ensemble.

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