Art and music were closely linked in the early twentieth century. As artists and musicians were facing World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, they started to wonder about the place of art in their lives. They questioned their definitions of beauty, and wondered if art has to be beautiful by anyone's definition. Many artists, such as Kandinsky, Pollock, and Mondrian, experimented with nonrepresentational art in the early twentieth century by focusing on colors and shapes rather than objects. Some artists, such as Picasso and Dali, were still painting objects or portraits, but they looked distorted. Some artists were using their art as a way to represent the anger, fear, and anxiety they see around them, rather than representing only the "beautiful" parts of life.
Musicians started to question their definitions of music, and wondered whether only beautiful sounds could be considered good music. They began to write music that was not centered around a singable melody. Like the artists mentioned above, they were trying to use music to express darker emotions and found that they needed to approach the elements of music differently than in the past.
The biggest change in music between the Romantic Period and the early Modern Era was in harmony. Early twentieth-century composers wanted their music to sound different from the music of the previous generation but they found that Romantic composers had pushed the boundaries of tonal harmony as far as possible. One of the basic principles of tonal harmony is that dissonant sounds create tension and have to be resolved to consonant sounds. Romantic composers made their music sound different from the music of the Classical Period by using new dissonant chords, as well as by prolonging the dissonant sound before eventually resolving them to consonant sounds.
Early twentieth-century composers decided to abandon that basic principle of dissonance and consonance, and write music using dissonances that don't resolve to consonances. One Modern Era composer, Arnold Schoenberg, called this the "Emancipation of Dissonance." Composers created various techniques for writing dissonant music. One technique is polytonality, which consists of two keys being used simultaneously. Another is atonality, which means that all notes are equal in importance so there's no pull to a final note.
Composers had to approach melodies differently as well, to go along with the new trends in harmony; otherwise the melodies would tend to sound like they were still tonal. These new melodies tend to be more disjunct (using leaps instead of moving by step) than before and they used all 12 notes instead of just the notes that belong to one scale. The resulting melodies can sound like a series of random notes and are not easy to remember or to sing.
Composers began to use rhythm as another variable for experimentation. They abandoned steady meters that remained constant for the entire piece or movement. Instead, they tried to change meter frequently and unpredictably, which can make the listener feel uncomfortable. They also experimented with dividing beats into unequal parts and placing accents in usual places. Polyrhythm, different rhythmic patterns played simultaneously, was important to many early twentieth-century composers; polyrhythm can make it sound as if the orchestra is not playing together.
Many of the forms introduced in the Classical Period and expanded in the Romantic Period rely on tonality, so composers had to treat form differently as well. Many composers go back to using shorter forms that don't require the development of a melody.
As all of the other elements of music are changing, one that becomes more prominent is tone color. Composers become very interested in orchestration and in using instruments in different ways. The strings dominate the sound of the orchestra in the Romantic Period; early twentieth-century composers focus instead on the winds and percussion. They sometimes ask performers to play with a harsher sound and explore the extremes of each instruments ranges and dynamics.
The Impressionist Era (late 1800s-early 1900s) overlaps with the late Romantic Period and the early Modern Era. The Impressionistic style was developed by French composers who felt that the style of the German Romantics (such as Brahms) was dominating the musical world. The French felt like this was a threat to their national artistic identity and developed a new style in reaction against the German Romantics. This style of music was compared to new trends in art and literature. The term "Impressionism" comes from a painting by French artist Claude Monet titled "Impression: Sunrise." Critics used the term "impressionism" in a derogatory way as they criticized this new style. The term stuck, but the negative connotations did not.
In Impressionism, painters were more interested in the continuous change in the appearance of a scene, and in capturing the way the light looks at a particular moment, than they were in depicting the details as accurately as possible. Shapes are not clearly defined and the details seem to disappear, while the use of color becomes very important. A parallel style in literature was called symbolism; symbolist poets were interested in suggesting rather than in describing. In music, the style is called Impressionism; critics of impressionistic music said that it lacked melody, harmony, rhythm, and form. This new style of music was so different from the music of the late Romantic Period that critics did not know how to analyze it or describe it. Impressionistic music does have melody, harmony, rhythm, and form, but each of these elements is used differently than in the past.
The most famous Impressionistic composer was Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Debussy felt that the music of the Romantic Period had exhausted the possibilities of tonality (using major and minor keys) and was looking for new ways to structure his music. He experimented with using other scales as the basis for his music; the scale he used the most frequently is called the whole-tone scale. The whole-tone scale is made up of whole steps, whereas major and minor scales contain both whole steps and half steps. A melody based on a major or minor scale will have a strong pull to the tonic (central tone), but the whole-tone scale lacks that pull. The result is that music based on the whole-tone scale might sound to critics as if there is no harmony, when in fact it's just based on a different harmonic system.
While Debussy was experimenting with nontraditional harmonies, he attended the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. There he was introduced to Javanese Gamelan music (Java is an Indonesian island). Gamelan music is performed by an ensemble called a gamelan, with percussion instruments playing a prominent role. Debussy was fascinated by this music, which sounded so different from Western classical music. The result was that he was able to think about music in a broader way and challenge some of the contemporary ideas about the elements of music.
Click here to see a YouTube video of Javanese Gamelan music. You can find many more examples by searching for Gamelan Music, Javanese Gamelan, or Gamelan Bali.
Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun
In 1894, Debussy wrote his most famous work for orchestra, a tone poem (a single-movement programmatic work for orchestra) titled Prelude a "L'apres-midi d'un faune." He based this piece on a poem by the symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme, titled L'apres-midi d'un faune. In the poem, a faun (a mythological creature who is half man, half goat) wakes up from a nap and wonders if his dream really happened, spends his afternoon eating, drinking, chasing girls, and thinking deep thoughts about life after death (he's actually wondering if there's sex after death), and eventually falls asleep again.
Debussy's music is supposed to suggest the setting and the action of the poem, but he has not set the poem to music. No one is singing or reading the poem, so this is still instrumental programmatic music. The intention is that the audience would read the poem before the performance to be familiar with the work.
The opening melody is repeated throughout the piece, but it is not a melody the listener walks away singing, such as you'd find in the Classical Period. It is based on the whole-tone and chromatic scales, with a complex rhythm that is difficult to understand without an audible steady pulse. Throughout this piece, Debussy obscures the beat by placing the important rhythmic events between beats rather than starting them on a beat; this is what made the critics say that Impressionistic music had no rhythm.
The form is A B A,' with each section being approximately equal in length. Notice that Debussy often writes melodies that seem to swell and then recede before reaching their peak. By using the basic musical elements of melody, harmony, and rhythm differently than previous composers had, Debussy seems to be ensuring that the listener has a new listening experience. The listener ends up listening to tone color and the constantly changing sounds of the orchestra, much like the viewer experiencing a painting from this period.
Study the Listening Guide and then listen to Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun in the Naxos Playlist.
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia. He moved to Switzerland, then to France, because of WWI and the Russian Revolution. He then moved to the US in 1945 because of WWII, settled in Los Angeles, and became a US citizen. While he was still living in Russia, he was commissioned to write several ballets for the Russian Ballet, which was based in Paris. The producer of the Russian Ballet was Sergei Diaghilev, who surrounded himself with progressive artists, such as the choreographer Nijinsky. Three of Stravinsky's most famous works were written as ballets for Diaghilev between 1910 and 1913: The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring. His association with the Russian Ballet lasted about 10 years and helped to shape his career and reputation. The Rite of Spring was written in 1912 and premiered in Paris in May of 1913. The premier itself is worth mentioning, because the audience was so surprised and offended by this ballet that they actually rioted. The premier was well attended, with many well-known people in the audience. Many audience members were so affected by this event that they wrote about it in diaries and letters, describing the chaos at the beginning of the ballet. The police had to be called, and Stravinsky, Diaghilev, and Nijinsky reportedly had to sneak out a back door because they were afraid that the audience might attack them.
The plot of the ballet is of a prehistoric pagan ritual culminating in the sacrifice of a virgin. The ballet includes, among others, scenes of competition between rival tribes, of abduction of women, and of gathering the eligible girls and choosing one for sacrifice. The ballet ends with the ritual sacrifice, in which the chosen girl dances herself to death in the center of a circle of elders. The Parisian audience was not expecting this subject matter or the music, choreography, and costumes that went along with it.
Stravinsky opens the ballet with a solo by the bassoon; it is in the very highest register of the instrument and sounds strained. The melodies are typical of Modern Era melodies, and are disjunct and difficult to sing. Some melodies are based on Russian folk tunes, but are presented in a manner consistent with the Modern Era. The harmony is based on polychords, which are two chords that sound perfectly fine when played alone but are dissonant when played together or in succession.
Stravinsky makes extensive use of percussion instruments; he even asks the strings and winds to play in a more percussive manner. He wrote for a huge orchestra, using many more instruments than is typical of the orchestral instrumentation. He also used rhythm in a new way. While this piece often has a clear, steady beat, the meter is constantly changing, leading to an unanticipated pattern of strong beats.
The excerpts in your text are from the very beginning of the ballet. The opening sounds were so unusual for the time that the audience wasn't sure if the piece had begun or if the orchestra was still warming up. Some of the movements made by the dancers were so uncharacteristic of ballet that members of the audience thought the dancers were having seizures and called for doctors. This music seems pretty tame to us now, but was shocking at the time. There are several videos of portions of the ballet available on YouTube if you're interested in seeing the choreography.
Click here to view a recreation of the original choreography.
Study the Listening Guide and then listen to the excerpts from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring on the Naxos playlist.
These three excerpts are performed continuously and make up the first eight minutes of the piece, and are included in one listening guide in your text. You'll need to know each of the three sections (Introduction, Dances of the Young Girls, and Ritual of Abduction) for the quiz.
(There are many styles of jazz, but the discussion of them is beyond the scope of this class. If you're interested in jazz, there's a Jazz History course offered at UNM as MUS 172. It is offered every Fall, Spring, and Summer semester as an online course and as a face-to-face course. This chapter gives a good, but VERY brief introduction to jazz.)
Both ragtime and the blues are precursors to modern jazz, and both have roots in African music. The characteristics of jazz that come from African music are called cultural retentions. Many of the rhythmic and formal elements of jazz are African retentions. Ragtime was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is characterized by a rhythmic pattern called syncopation, where the rhythmic emphasis is placed between beats instead of on beats. The syncopated melody is accompanied by a harmonic line that is not syncopated. Scott Joplin (1868-1917) is one of the most famous composers of rags; his piano rags have been transcribed for almost every combination of instruments.
Billie Holiday grew up on the east coast and moved to New York City as a teenager. With little education, music or otherwise, she began her singing career in nightclubs. Once she was "discovered," she performed with many famous jazz musicians and with orchestras; she was one of the first African American musicians to perform with a white orchestra.
In Billie's Blues, you can hear many characteristics of blues. The form is a 12-bar blues, refering to the repeating harmonic pattern. The text is in a characteristic pattern: a statement, a reinforcement of the statement, and an action statement. You can also hear the obvious differences between her style of singing and that of an opera singer. A jazz singer will sing "out of tune" on purpose (singing blue notes), will scoop between notes, and often has a growly, gutteral sound.
Study the Listening Guide and listen to Holiday's Billie's Blues by clicking the link below and choosing track 6 . This will take you to the Jazz Music Library by Alexander Street Press, another database provided by the UNM Fine Arts Library. http://search.alexanderstreet.com.libproxy.unm.edu/jazz/view/work/1002910
Like the composers from the Romantic Period, early Modern Era composers often wrote nationalistic music. In the Romantic Period, though, composers often took nationalistic music (folk songs, dance music, lullabies, etc.) and altered them to fit into the confines of classical music.
The history of the development of folk music is different from the development of classical music; the audience was different, the performers were different, the tradition was an aural/oral one rather than a written one, and the language was usually less formal. Because of these differences, folk music is often not tonal and not in meters of 2, 3, or 4. Romantic composers would change the folk tunes slightly in order to use them in their music. Early Modern Era composers, though, were interested in using these folk tunes in their original form, so they would alter their music to fit around the original melody.
As jazz developed and became tremendously popular in the early twentieth century, some composers began to incorporate elements of jazz into their classical music. Jazz was not considered to be art music and some people resisted its presence in the classical world. George Gershwin (1898-1937) was an American composer who felt that the two styles could successfully be merged.
Gershwin was from Manhattan and worked on Tin Pan Alley, which was the nickname for the area of Manhattan where the composers and publishers of popular music worked. Irving Berlin worked there, as did other composers of ragtime. Gershwin's Tin Pan Alley music was successful, but he wanted to elevate jazz as an art form and bring it into the concert halls. He wrote classical music using elements of jazz; this music is not improvised like big band music would be, and he uses some blue notes and pitch bends for effect. Gershwin wrote many pieces that are widely recognized, such as "I've Got Rhythm," and collaborated with many famous actors including Al Jolson and Fred Astaire.
George Gershwin wrote an opera titled Porgy and Bess. He described it as a folk opera, bringing in new elements to the very standard genre of opera. He set this opera in South Carolina and like many serious operas, the plot deals with love and love lost. This is not strictly a dramatic opera, though, because it includes the singing and dancing later associated with Broadway musicals. In the aria Summertime, you hear an operatic soprano rather than a jazz singer. This classically-trained singer is not singing in the same way she would sing an aria by Verdi; you can hear some roughness in her voice and a tendency to slide from note to note the way a jazz singer would.
Study the Listening Guide and listen to Summertime from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in the Naxos playlist. The aria begins about a minute into the track.
Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is considered to be the most important American composer. Copland's early works were very popular with fans of contemporary music but not with the general public. He realized that his music appealed only to a very small audience and decided to change that. Copland was interested in educating the audience as well as in figuring out what the audiences liked (we started this course by studying Copland's Three Layers of Listening).
He realized that, for the first time, there was a big difference between popular music and classical music. He tried to incorporate elements of jazz into his music but that didn't really work for him. He then decided to write tonal music using American folk music and styles. This new style appealed to a much broader audience.
Copland wrote several ballets for choreographers Agnes de Mille and Martha Graham: Appalachian Spring, which uses the Shaker tune "Simple Gifts;" Rodeo, which includes the melody that was used much later in a commercial with the text "Beef: It's What's for Dinner;" and Billy the Kid, based on the life of Billy the Kid, using melodies from the Old West. Each of these ballets has been turned into an orchestral suite, meaning that the music has been condensed into a version that can be programmed on an orchestral concert without dancers. (Stravinsky's Rite of Spring is usually performed today as an orchestral suite.)
When he wrote the music for Appalachian Spring, Martha Graham requested that he use a preexisting melody or hymn for the ballet. Copland wanted to write his own music, but honored her request by finding a relatively unknown melody. This melody is widely known today as "Shaker Tune" or "Simple Gifts." After composing the music for the ballet, he revised it into an orchestral suite in seven movements. In the first section you can hear the typical Copland sound, which became known as "the American sound." He tends to write sustained notes with melodies moving above in rising or falling fourths and fifths rather than write major and minor chords. His music is not following the rules of tonality but it is easier to understand than many modern era pieces. In section 7, Copland uses "Shaker Tune" as the theme in a set of variations. Again, we see the combination of the old and the new as he uses the standard form of Theme and Variations with a religious melody, but in a modern setting.
Study the Listening Guide and listen to Sections 1 and 7 from Copland's Appalachian Spring in the Naxos playlist.
Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) was a Mexican composer who combined the classical music of Europe with the music of his heritage. He was very political and much of his music makes reference to political figures and current events. After the death of poet Federico Garcia Lorca in 1936, Revueltas wrote Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca in 1937. This piece is a suite for chamber orchestra. He uses a genre, suite, and an ensemble, chamber orchestra, from the European classical tradition, but infuses it with traditional Mexican music. The movements of the suite are fast, slow, fast; specifically Dance, Sorrow, and Son, which is a traditional Mexican dance that frequently changes meter between two groups of three beats and three groups of two beats (1-2, 1-2, 1-2, and 1-2-3-, 1-2-3). The chamber orchestra he uses is different from the traditional European orchestra not only because a chamber orchestra is smaller than a full symphony orchestra, but also because he writes for only a few string players and a lot of wind instruments. Parts of the third movement are reminiscent of mariachi music; he writes for the trumpet and violin together, but adds in woodwind instruments as well.
Study the Listening Guide and listen to Son from Revueltas's Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca in the Naxos playlist.