Twentieth-Century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America

Twentieth-Century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America

Twentieth-Century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America

Twentieth-Century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America


This series presents the music of the Western world to the nonspecialist in six original, strikingly illustrated volumes. In each one, an outstanding musicologist surveys the music of a specific period, discusses its major composers, and examines the forces that influenced and helped shape their oeuvre.


To help shape what might otherwise seem a chaotic succession of passing events, historians like to divide the course of time into discrete periods, each exhibiting a significant number of common characteristics. These temporal divisions, not necessarily rigid, undergo continuous examination and revision as new scholars propose alternate possibilities. Nevertheless, however tenuous and changeable, these groupings are indispensable in organizing the complex fabric of historical evolution.

This book deals with the most recent of the large historical segments commonly distinguished by music historians, the one usually referred to as the "modern" period or simply—as in the title of the present book— "twentieth-century music." But precisely when does the history of twentieth-century music begin? From a strictly chronological point of view, the answer is obvious: 1900. But twentieth-century music is a stylistic as well as a temporal category: this music is different from that of the previous century, not just because it was composed in the subsequent one, but because it is based upon significantly different esthetic and technical assumptions and therefore manifests quite distinct stylistic qualities. That fact, quite aside from the convenience of dating, explains what makes it a meaningful historical category and, despite the unprecedented variety of twentieth-century music, an integral whole.

The passage from the "old" music to the "new" music, from nineteenth-century Romanticism to twentieth-century modernism, did not happen all at once, but was the result of historical processes that unfolded gradually over an extended period. Just when these processes reached a critical stage, beyond which music moved indisputably into a new era, is a question with no definite answer. The most convenient date, and the one adopted here (in that the first of the three main divisions of the book commences there), is the turn of the century, a reference point precise and easily remembered but in other respects relatively arbitrary.

A stronger case might be made for several alternate dates. In terms of the modern period's technical foundations, the years 1907-8, when Arnold Schoenberg first broke completely with the traditional tonal system, mark perhaps the single most significant turning point. Yet Schoenberg's early nontonal works remain manifestations of nineteenth-century German Romanticism and its esthetic of personal expression—an esthetic emphasizing the originality and individuality . . .

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