A Journey Through 20th Century Music: Experimentation, Exploration, and Evolution

1. Russian and Eastern European fin-de-siècle music

Alexander Nikolajewitch Skrjabin (1872-1915) founded a musical metaphysics, a theological and cultural mythology out of his theosophical beliefs. He was keen on establishing a connection between music and color and envisioned the creation of a “color keyboard”. Some people called him a Russian “impressionist”. His “mysterious chords”, the atonality of the “split” chords of his late works, his writing without movement concept motivations, and the concept of “blocks” heralded a new era in European music. His main compositions include “Prometheus” and “Poetry of Ecstasy”.

Although Rachmaninov (Sergei Wassiljwitch Rachmaninow, 1873-1943) lived in Europe and America for a long time, his creations adhered to the path of Tchaikovsky, using Western classical-Romantic music language and Russian folk materials to create works that were It is called a “late Romanization” work. His compositions are both easy to understand and have certain artistic value, such as “Dance of Death”, “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor”, “Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor”, “# Prelude in C minor” and “Prelude in G minor”. “Music” and other repertoire of Russian Romantic music.

Janáček (Leo? Laná?ek, 1854-1928) composed the operas “Yenufa” (also known as “The Adopted Daughter”), “Kachia Kabanova”, “House of the Dead” and other vocal and instrumental music. . He inherited the tradition of Czech art music pioneered by Smetana and Dvořák, and understood the national spirit in the music they advocated in a broader sense. He does not believe that complete folk songs or folk song-style melodies are the only means to reflect the national spirit. He believes that the ability to embody the national spirit depends mainly on the temperament suggested by the music – certain characteristic intervals and melodic progression characteristics, as well as the recitation tone of Czech lyrics. Mussorgsky’s realist operas, Wagner’s romantic musical dramas, Debussy’s symbolist operas, and the expressionism of his contemporary A. Berg all inspired Janacek’s creation and transformed them into ” Czechization” has become a new internationally recognized music style.

Karol Szymanowsky (1882-1937) composed the greatest Polish art music after Chopin – the opera “Roger King”, three “symphonies”, piano music and art songs, etc. The music of composers such as Debussy, Scriabin, Stan Ravinsky and Schönberg had a certain influence on him. The “impressionism” and free atonal music of the early 20th century are reflected in his works.

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) followed Brahms’s style in his early days. Later, in his symphonic poem “Ode to Finland”, seven “Symphonies” and other works, he pursued Finnish folk tones. welcomed by audiences around the world. He is the last Romantic composer in Northern Europe after Grieg.
2. Overview of 20th Century Music

After the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, fierce competition and battles between old and new political systems and various political forces were still taking place in Europe. In the first half of the twentieth century, two world wars occurred. The democratic political systems of various countries established after World War I had just gotten rid of the rule of feudal forces, and soon they were troubled by Nazism. After World War II, the opposition between the Western and Eastern camps was established. World politics shows a tendency of pluralism.

The general slogan of Western culture and art is “Eradicate the 19th century!” People no longer stick to one artistic philosophy or artistic opinion, and have begun various experiments in various possible ranges.

After a century-long Romantic and Romantic origin, Western music has entered into rational thinking and experimentation.
3. Exploration before and after World War I

Before World War I, American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) used the “collage” technique to conduct complex and non-harmonic musical experiments. His “Harmony Sonata” and “Fourth Symphony” express American folk music, church music, and even Beethoven’s motives in the slogan of transcendental philosophy, expressing the inner hearing. Since the beginning of Western music, there has been a “quotation” technique. Since early polyphonic experiments in the ninth century, Gregorian chant has been subjected to “harmonic foil” processing. In the first few decades of his lifetime, people could not fully appreciate Ives’s expansion of “quotation” techniques to “collage” of several voices. Its popularity came about in the Mahler revival 70 years later. His smaller works “Three Places in New England”, “The Housatonic in Stockbridge” and “Unanswered Questions” are more easily accepted by the public.

After experiencing the music of the fin de siècle period, the Parisian public wanted to listen to a different kind of music. Starting in 1910, art agent Diaghilev organized composers, choreographers and painters in Paris at the time to create ballets with new artistic themes and styles. This batch of works with strong exotic sentiments and wild and unrestrained style is called “primitivism”. Russian composer Igor F. Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed the ballets “The Firebird”, “Petrushka” and “The Rite of Spring”. These three works strongly abandon classical traditional techniques with the non-consonant effects caused by polytonal superposition, irregular accents and irregular beats, and high-pitched chords. Some people even claim that “The Rite of Spring” is the origin of modern Western music, which is not entirely unreasonable.

After the deaths of Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler, three composers appeared in Vienna: Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and his students Alban Berg (1885-1935) and Webern ( Anton Webern, 1883-1945), they are called the “New Viennese School”. Their early works directly benefited from the Romanization trend and fin de siècle art. They deliberately explored the distorted inner world and created works called “Expressionism” – Schönberg’s one-act opera “Expectation”, three “Piano Music” Op. 11, “Pietro del Luna”, especially Berg’s opera “Wozzeck”. From the early atonal music language, they tried to explore the perversion and neurosis of lyrics, and broke out of the “Romantic” music and Romantic style that had been operating in German and Austrian music for more than a hundred years.

Schönberg had a close relationship with the Austrian abstract painter and theorist Kandinsky. He painted and held art exhibitions by himself, which prompted him to think about what rules he could follow in composing music if he abandoned tonality. From 1915 to 1923, Schönberg created the “twelve-tone technique” based on note columns – first arranging twelve semitones in a certain order to form a “tone sequence”, and then, using vertical or horizontal It is played by archetype, retrograde, transposition, etc., and any one of the notes must not be repeated before the other eleven notes appear, and any one of its octaves should obey the same rules. In addition to tonality, Schönberg found the rule of the “twelve-pitched sequence” that can be implemented within the scope of pure music.

After World War I, the artist Cocteau sharply criticized the art of the 19th century and the art of the end of the century, demanding that art works be as simple as possible and in line with the pre-classical era. Erik Albved Leslie Satie (1866-1925) was the only French composer praised in Cocteau’s music criticism book The Chef and the Harlequin. Satie strongly opposed the artistic attitude of the Bayreuth pilgrimage and music that required effort to be heard. He often composes music with strange titles, such as “Three Musical Pieces Written in Pear Shape”, “Three Relaxing Overtures Written for a Dog”, “Dehydrated Fetus” and so on. He provided “Wallpaper”-style music for his ballet “Spiritique”, a collaboration with Cocteau and Picasso. His most important work is the symphonic drama “Socrates”, which embodies concise and objective value standards and became another inspiration for avant-garde musical concepts after the 1950s.

In 1920, the critic Collet casually listed D. Milhaud (Darius Milhaud, 1892-1974) in his article “The Russian “Five” and the French “Six” and E. Satie” , A. Honegger (Arthur Honegger, 1892-1955), F. Poulenc (Francis Poulenc, 1899-1963), G. Auricular (Georges Auricular, 1899-1983), L. Louis Edward Durey , 1888-1979), G. Tailleferre (Germaine Tailleferre, 1892-1983), six French composers, as an imaginary group of musicians. Although their artistic visions were not exactly the same, the public quickly accepted this statement. The creation of the “Group of Six” shows the revival of the Paris music scene after the First World War.

The Russian composer Stravinsky wrote, “There is a desire in my heart just to arrange the musical materials that attract me to create… The more restricted the art is, the more refined it is, the freer it becomes “.” He completely put aside the Romantic myth of inspiration and regarded the rational organization of music as the highest criterion for creation, which can be said to be the motto of music in the 20th century. After the war, in order to “not express himself”, Stravinsky wrote the dance drama “Puccinera”, “The Soldier’s Story”, “Apollo the God of Art”, “Psalm Symphony” and other works, paying tribute to the three Closer to the “neoclassicism” that has been popular since the 1900s. He imitated or even copied the melodies of Baroque masters, rearranged the instruments, minimized the emotional elements of the original tunes, and pursued a simple and elegant beauty.

The difference between Stravinsky and Schönberg is that they put forward orderly requirements for composition from two extremes. One believes that music creation does not require emotion or reason at all, and arranging musical sounds itself contains a desire to create. Another strives to find an orderly way out of the emotional tension away from the tonal center. The Romanization of Stravinsky’s musical poetics to European countries may be insignificant in terms of the cultural significance of his neoclassical works. However, its implications for modern music, especially avant-garde experimental music, are profound.

In the 1920s, French-American composer Edgar Verése (1883-1965) believed that the 20th century was an era of science. He is not satisfied with the sounds produced by the human voice and traditional musical instruments. Art should reflect the “sound” of this era – the “sound layer” that expresses physical and chemical phenomena, and introduce percussion and sirens into art music. He created works such as “Ionization”, “Octahedron”, “Biprism”, “Integral”, “Density 21.5” and “Equatorial Mount”. Vallez’s creative aesthetic comes from pre-World War II Italian Futurism. His concept of noise failed to develop due to technical limitations in the 1920s and 1930s, and he stopped writing for nearly two decades. It was not until the 1950s when electronic recording technology became available for composition that he composed “Desert” and “Electronic Sound Poetry”. Experimental works of electronic music. Vallez claimed to be an “engineer of rhythm, resonance and timbre” and was regarded as a prophetic figure by avant-garde composers after the 1950s.

Before and after World War I, another type of experimental music was microtonal music. Composers such as Busoni, Haba, and Pache once wanted to break through the music system with this. However, the method of decomposing an octave into at most forty microtonal intervals is too complicated, and it may be difficult for human ears to distinguish such fine intervals.

The general trend of Western music from 1910 to 1945 was reflected in breaking away from the traditional music system and looking for a new world of music through various channels. In addition, there are art music composers in various countries who have less radical composition concepts. Their works are repertoire in the music literature of the 20th century, such as Bartok, Hindemith, Kodaly, Prokofiev, and Schaus. Takovich, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Elgar, Copeland, Harris, Piston, Sessions, Hanson, Thomson, Gershwin, etc.
4. Various explorations before and after World War II

Since 1946, Darmstadt, a small German town still in post-war ruins, has held the “New Music International Summer Seminar” every summer to explore the composition methods of new music. Participants include Henze, Boulez, Ami , Nono and other young composers from various countries. In his later years, Stravinsky turned to the twelve-tone serialism composition of the New Viennese School of Music headed by Schönberg more than 20 years ago, and created the dance drama “Argonne” Works such as “Hymn” and “Movement”. Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975) still has expressive sequence techniques and composed the operas “The Prisoner”, “Night Flight” and “Odysseus” and other works. In addition, some works by Copland, Sessions and others also use sequence technology.

The German composer Bracher formalized rhythmic serialization. Beginning in the 1950s, French composer O. E. P. C. Messianic proposed the idea of ​​overall sequenceism. Various elements of art music such as pitch, beat, and timbre seek to control sequence. Babbitt, Boulez, Brindel, Stockhausen, etc. have all written this kind of works. After the mid-1960s, overall serialism, as a composition paradigm, has basically completed its historical mission.

Accidental music (or chance composition) is very different from holistic serialism. It eliminates any orderly and prescriptive prerequisites in the creative process and relies entirely on chance to arrange composition. In the 1950s, under the influence of Zen Buddhism, the American John Cage determined the clef and pitch by throwing dice, copper coins or shaking the I Ching sticks. “4 Minutes and 33 Seconds” is the furthest example of him taking the opportunity to compose music. The music he wanted was the sound naturally produced in the concert hall and its surrounding environment when the performer was sitting on the piano bench and not playing anything.

With the development of tape recording technology, electroacoustic sound has finally become an accessible means of creation. French radio engineer Pierre Schaeffer was the first to rely on recording methods to create music, which he called “concrete music.” German electronic music only uses oscillators to produce sound. Emmert, Meyer-Eppler, and Stockhausen were active experimenters. Cage, Vallez and Usachevsky from the United States also participated in the experiment.

Since the 1960s, people are no longer satisfied with listening to pre-synthesized music through speakers, but want to hear realistic electronic sounds. Electronic music has still entered the concert hall. After the advent of electronic synthesizers, the creative process was greatly simplified, and composers reached a certain state of freedom.

Since the 1970s, with the revival of Mahler, people have noticed that the “collage” technique is increasingly used in artistic music creation and is no longer a restricted area. An avant-garde minimalist music emerged at the end of the 20th century. It was produced in the northeastern United States, and its leading composers include La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich. Later, there were Philip Glass and John Adams who were called “post-minimalists”.

People ask, what is music? What is beautiful music? We provide an overview of the history of Western art music, and each historical genre answers some of these questions from its own perspective. Humanity’s exploration of beauty will not stop, and the evolution of art and music will continue.

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