German Modernism: Music and the Arts

German Modernism: Music and the Arts

German Modernism: Music and the Arts

German Modernism: Music and the Arts


In this pioneering, erudite study of a pivotal era in the arts, Walter Frisch examines music and its relationship to early modernism in the Austro-German sphere. Seeking to explore the period on its own terms, Frisch questions the common assumption that works created from the later 1870s through World War I were transitional between late romanticism and high modernism. Drawing on a wide range of examples across different media, he establishes a cultural and intellectual context for late Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Arnold Schoenberg, as well as their less familiar contemporaries Eugen d'Albert, Hans Pfitzner, Max Reger, Max von Schillings, and Franz Schreker.

Frisch explores "ambivalent" modernism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century as reflected in the attitudes of, and relationship between, Nietzsche and Wagner. He goes on to examine how naturalism, the first self-conscious movement of German modernism, intersected with musical values and practices of the day. He proposes convergences between music and the visual arts in the works of Brahms, Max Klinger, Schoenberg, and Kandinsky. Frisch also explains how, near the turn of the century, composers drew inspiration and techniques from music of the past--the Renaissance, Bach, Mozart, and Wagner. Finally, he demonstrates how irony became a key strategy in the novels and novellas of Thomas Mann, the symphonies of Mahler, and the operas of Strauss and Hofmannsthal.


This book is a study of relationships between concert or “Classical” music and early cultures of modernism in German-speaking centers. My focus is on the years between 1880 and 1920, a period extending roughly between the later years and death of Richard Wagner (1883), the most influential figure in any of the arts at the time, and the end of World War I (1918), which marked a major turning point in European culture.

Although the later phase of German modernism, during the Weimar Republic and the years leading up to World War II, has received considerable attention as a coherent or at least delimitable phenomenon, the preceding decades have remained underexplored. This is in part because of a seemingly magical hold exerted by the year 1900, which serves as a dividing line in most histories of music and of the other arts. Romanticism is seen to be more or less coextensive with the nineteenth century, modernism with the twentieth. Creative artists who came to maturity in the 1880s and 1890s—in music these would include Busoni, Mahler, Pfitzner, Reger, Wolf, Zemlinsky, and the early Strauss and Schoenberg—are often included within rubrics (or chapters) like “Twilight of Romanticism” or the “Dawn of Modernism.” It is the goal of the present book to isolate heuristically the four decades straddling 1900—to give them their due, so to speak, without seeing them as “transitional,” as being on the way from Romanticism or to modernism.

Carl Dahlhaus, the most distinguished historiographer of music writing . . .

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