Music: An Art and a Language

By Walter Raymond Spalding | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
THE VARIED TENDENCIES OF MODERN MUSIC

MODERN music -- broadly speaking, music since the beginning of the twentieth century -- is certainly manifesting the characteristics which the preceding survey has shown to be inherent in its nature: that is, it has grown by a course of free experimentation, it is the youngest of the arts, and it is a human language as well as a fine art. Hence we find that modern composers are making daring experiments in dissonance, in rhythmic variety, in subtle blends of color and, above all, in the treatment of the orchestra. In comparison with achievements in the other arts music often seems in its infancy; being limited by no practical or utilitarian considerations, and employing the boundless possibilities of sound and rhythm, there is so much still before it. The truth contained in the saying, that music is the youngest as well as the oldest of the arts, becomes more apparent year by year; for although a work which originally had imaginative life can never die, yet many former works have passed out of recognition simply because they have been superseded by more inspired ones, composed since their day. We can no longer listen with whole-hearted enthusiasm to many of the older symphonies, songs and pianoforte pieces, because Brahms, Franck, Debussy and d'Indy have given us better ones.

These experiments, just referred to, have been particularly notable on the part of two composers of the neo-Russian group, Stravinsky and Scryabin. Stravinsky,1 in his brilliant pantomine ballets, L'Oiseau du Feu, Petroushka, and Le Sacre du Printemps, has proved incontestably that he is a genius -- it being of the essence of genius to create something absolutely new. These works, in their expressive melody, harmonic originality and picturesque orchestration, have widened the bounds of musical characterization. Scryabin2

____________________
1
For a detailed account of his life and works consult the essay in Contemporary Russian Composers by Montagu-Nathan and Vol. III of The Art of Music.
2
For a comprehensive estimate of his style and achievements the following works will prove useful: the Biography, by Eaglefield Hull; the Essay, by Montagu-Nathan in the volume referred to, and an article by W. H. Hadow in the Musical Quarterly for Jan. 1915.

-326-

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