From Modernism to Postmodernism

Between Universal and Local

by Gregor Pompe (Volume editor) Katarina Bogunović Hočevar (Volume editor) Nejc Sukljan (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 402 Pages


The book explores two radical changes of cultural and social paradigm that determined the World after 1945 – Modernism and Postmodernism. From the cataclysmic atmosphere emerged the second wave of Modernism. In art this attitude was manifested in the form of a radical break with the aesthetic and stylistic characteristics of prior generations. In architecture the International Style was born, meanwhile similar «universality» was also a characteristic of musical serialism.
From the beginning of the 1970s the wheels again began to turn in the other direction. The powerful destructive will of modernism increasingly waivered, and the period after modernism – postmodernism – began. The book answers questions related to the reasons for these turnarounds, their consequences and their implications.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Theoretical Basis
  • Gregor Pompe - Postmodernism in Society and Art: An Overview
  • Helmut Loos - Modernity – Postmodernity. Controversial Core Structures of Musical Thinking
  • Petra Čeferin - The Creative Practice (of Architecture): Insisting on the In-Between
  • Nikša Gligo - Globalization and/or Pluralism: But What about Musics, Their Styles, Techniques and Musicology?
  • From Modernism …
  • Gražina Daunoravičienė - Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis’ (1875–1911) Musical Works as an Example of European Modernism in its Early Stages
  • Manuel Farolfi - Modernism at Work in Pierre Boulez’s Writings, 1948–1952
  • Hei Yeung John Lai - Rethinking Form: A Structural Analysis of Constellation-Miroir, Formant 3 of Boulez’s Third Piano Sonata
  • Ka-man Choi - Textual Permutation in Mauricio Kagel’s Anagrama (1957–1958): New Modes of Serial Thought
  • Cristina Scuderi - Contemporary Opera and Musical Theatre on Italian Stages Between the Second Postwar Period and the End of the 1960s: Notes for an Overview
  • … to Postmodernism
  • Jūlija Jonāne - From Modernism to Postmodernism: The Modulation and Correlation between Two Styles in the Context of Musical Works by Sacred Minimalists
  • Moeko Hayashi - Modernism, Postmodernism and Globalism: Takemitsu, November Steps
  • Gregor Pompe - Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Requiem für einen jungen Dichter and Leonard Bernstein’s Mass: European and American postmodernism, or pluralism vs. eclecticism
  • Jana Majerová - Musical Quotation as a Fundamental Way for Expressing a Message in the Work of Alfred Schnittke
  • Simone Heilgendorff - Wien Modern, Festival d’Automne à Paris, and Warsaw Autumn after the Year 2000 in a Comparative Perspective: European or National Forums for Contemporary Art Music and Culture?
  • Alessandro Miani - A Language-Based Approach to Music and Intertextuality
  • Milena Bozhikova - Contemporary Music between History and Eschatology
  • Postmodernism in Eastern Europe
  • Jānis Kudiņš - Pēteris Vasks as Neo-Romantic: Characteristic Style Signs of Latvian Composer Symphonic Music in the Context of Postmodern Culture and Art
  • Kamilė Rupeikaitė - The Semantics of the Music of Anatolijus Šenderovas
  • Joanna Schiller-Rydzewska - Different Faces of Postmodernism in the Works of Contemporary Composers of the Gdańsk Milieu
  • Tatiana Pirníková - The Way from Modernist Positions to the Intimate Lyrical Position of the Composer Oto Ferenczy
  • Niall O’Loughlin - Lojze Lebič: Modernism and the Vernacular
  • Ira Prodanov Krajišnik - Opera Mileva by Aleksandra Vrebalov: A Tale of Woman’s Otherness
  • Index

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This present collection of essays was created within the framework of the international musicological conference Between Universal and Local: From Modernism to Postmodernism, which was organised as a part of the ISCM World Music Days 2015 and took place in the autumn of 2015 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The conference was dedicated to the 80th anniversaries of composers Vinko Globokar and Lojze Lebič, both of whom shaped the landscape of both Slovenian and European music after the Second World War, each in his own distinct way. In the final phase of the conference, the discussion moved away from the works of both composers to focus more on contextual questions, including the dilemmas of the historical moment in which the two composers worked, a period that is clearly divided between modernism and postmodernism.

The second wave of modernism emerged from the cataclysmic atmosphere that pervaded Europe at the end of the Second World War. It was a case of “ground zero”: the younger generation did not want to have anything to do with the spiritual and aesthetic traditions in which 20th century totalitarianism had been able to take root and grow; there was a need to start afresh and to erase the old. In art, this attitude was manifested in a radical break with the characteristic aesthetics and styles of the decades leading up to the outbreak of Nazism and fascism. In music, this marked the final break from traditional music “language”,1 while suspicion was also cast on the “progressive heroes” of the 20th century, such as Arnold Schoenberg, whose work was declared imperfect – and dead – by Pierre Boulez in his renowned article Schönberg est mort.2 Composers sought to renounce precisely the aesthetic premises that had most strongly characterized the art of the previous decades: the prominence of subjectivity (which continues to resound in the Expressionist trust of the formal logic of the inner consciousness and in the literary technique of inner monologue), and with this, the characteristic local and national marking and readability of musical semantics. In architecture, this was best exemplified by the International Style. As in musical modernism, the roots of the International Style reach back to the 1920s and 1930s and renounces ornamentation in favour of clear geometric structures in which all of the social functions of architecture are assumed to be hidden, while being completely insensitive to ← 9 | 10 → the local and contextual characteristics of the environment (thus its label “international”). A similar “desubjectification” and “universality” was also characteristic of musical serialism: in the case of integral serialism, it seems that the serial model took over the majority of decision-making roles, while the mark of the composer and influence of his personal characteristics increasingly retreated from musical composition (which is also probably why Boulez, in his composition Structures Ia, does not choose his own twelve-note row, instead borrowing one from Messiaen). It is precisely for these reasons that it is nearly impossible to discover genuine stylistic differences or identify defining local characteristics among modernists of diverse national provenances. To borrow Ferdinand de Saussure’s famous division, one could say that music increasingly changed from parole to langue.

From the beginning of the 1970s, or, alternatively, from the historical turning point of 1968 marked by the Prague Spring, the Vietnam War, the outcomes of the Korean Crisis, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and student protests around the globe, which Jean Baudrillard understands as the decline of political ideologies and their mutation from political content to empty signifiers,3 the wheels again begin to turn in the other direction: the powerful de(con)structive will of modernism increasingly waivers, and the period after modernism – postmodernism – begins. This period defined itself very early on as the era of “double coding”:4 combining the high and the low,5 the new and the old, as well as the simultaneous establishment (or “parallel constructing”)6 of the universal and the local. From works retaining a fundamentally modernist conception (in terms of both material and approach), there is a gradual breakthrough of non-modernist “islands” of meaning, fragments, allusions, citations, and “local” features.

In the last 50 years, we thus witness two radical turnarounds, two changes of “direction”: the alternate emphasis on and denial of the local and the universal. Nevertheless, it seems that we have already embraced a third turnaround, derived from postmodernism and marked by the collision of two worlds, two realities: we are moving into globalism, which is a new form of universality. Anywhere in the world, one can communicate in English, drink Coca-Cola, eat at McDonald’s, ← 10 | 11 → listen to Beyonce, and use iDevices. This simply reaffirms the importance of the relationship between the universal and the local.

The present book is organised into four large sections. The first, introductory section (Theoretical Basis) contains the theoretical groundwork for further discussion in subsequent chapters. Following a short presentation of the main postmodern concepts and theories (Gregor Pompe), Helmut Loos presents the first sceptical discussion of postmodernism, which reveals the most critical departure from the presented theme. According to Loos, modernism predominately evolved from the concept of the Kunstreligion, and while postmodernism can therefore not be approached as an independent style, it is essentially a negation of modernism and its convictions that it presents as absolute truth. Postmodernism thus rebels against modernist works, which have in any case largely vanished from concert and opera programmes. In other words: “Stripping music of its art-as-religion status can thus be considered a central aim of Postmodernity” (p. 44). Equally sceptical is Nikša Gligo, who is convinced that the tension between local and global – or, more accurately, between pluralist and global – has existed throughout the history of music, a point that he demonstrates with numerous examples. In Gligo’s view, it is more important to distinguish between modern classical music and new music, which today coexist side by side in a pluralist manner. Gligo therefore questions whether it would be sensible to also distinguish between different musicologies. Petra Čeferin closely examines the relationship between the local and universal. With reference to these two concepts, which are extremely important in the theory and practice of architecture, the author attempts to precisely define what an architectural object is, and accordingly, what is considered to be art.

The second section (From modernism…) contains more detailed insights into modernist inventions and poetics. Gražina Daunoravičienė observes the work of Lithuanian composer and painter Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, placing it in the context of early modernism and revealing numerous compositional techniques whose “inventions” are usually attributed to major European modernists. In this way, Daunoravičienė establishes the idea of approaching both local and “universal” musical development through parallel observations: “Adopting the agenda of cultural parataxis and viewing modernity as a complex of different modernisms in different parts of the globe, the trajectories of modernisation in Eastern European music and configurations of national modernisms can be perceived as being part of a larger whole” (p. 74). With the writings of Manuel Farolfi and Hei Yeung John Lai, we return to Pierre Boulez – the core of Central European canonised modernism. Farolfi attempts to discover modernist poetological principles in the composer’s essays, while Lai analyses in greater detail an excerpt ← 11 | 12 → from “Constellation-Miroir”, Boulez’s Third Piano Sonata, revealing some procedures in the work’s pitch organization that are partially traditional. Ka-man Choi analyses Kagel’s linguistic composition Anagrama from the perspective of serialism, permutation techniques and basic questions of semantics, concluding that “what made Anagrama stand out among other similar works is not the probing of the boundary between speech and music, but more fundamentally the juxtaposition of the two systems and their ontological standing” (p. 164). Cristina Scuderi examines the production and performance of Italian modern operas on Italian opera stages after World War II, establishing an unusual relationship between the traditional and conventional, and new and modern.

The discussions in the third section (…to postmodernism) present close examinations of several postmodern works. Investigating the works of sacred minimalists H. M. Górecki, A. Pärt, J. Tavener, and P. Vasks, Jūlija Jonāne observes that while all of these composers were initially modernists, it was only later that they eventually refined their musical language into a simplified, mysterious, mystical minimalism. Moeko Hayashi speaks of a similar dichotomy – in this case, between Western European art music and the Eastern musical tradition – taking Takemitsu’s famous composition November Steps and placing it in the context of postmodernism. Gregor Pompe uses a comparative analysis of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Requiem für einen jungen Dichter to address the differing perceptions of postmodernism in Europe and the United States. In this way, he introduces a distinction between the concepts of eclecticism and pluralism, each of which makes their mark on postmodernism in their own way. Jana Majerová depicts the different possibilities of quotation as a typical postmodernist compositional technique as applied in works of Alfred Schnittke. Somehow different view is presented in the paper by Simone Heilgendorff, who shows how three major European festivals of modern music exhibit an unusual relationship between the local importance of the chosen events and their wider or narrower programme orientation.

When reflecting on the universal and local in the context of postmodernism, it is clear that this dilemma is particularly important for contemporary music in Eastern Europe. The articles in the last section (Postmodernism in Eastern Europe) deal with specifically postmodern practices in Eastern Europe, which are particularly interesting because modernist practices, historically speaking, can hardly be regarded as having been strong due to the political difficulties in most countries of the Eastern block, and in some cases they were largely absent or unwanted. This is why Jānis Kudiņš, in his examination of the symphonic music of Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks (Symphony No. 2), does not focus on postmodernism, but ← 12 | 13 → on neoromantic tendencies. Kamilė Rupeikaitė points out a special semantic game established in the compositions of Lithuanian composer Anatolijus Šenderovas stemming from his loyalty to his own Jewish roots. Joanna Schiller-Rydzewska explores the diversity of contemporary (i.e., postmodern) music in a smaller local environment, focusing on modern music of the Polish city of Gdańsk and the works of local musicians Andrzej Dziadek, Marek Czerniewicz, and Krzysztof Olczak. Tatiana Pirníková outlines the unique trajectory of the composer Oto Ferenczy, which was shaped precisely by the tension between modernism and postmodernism. Niall O’Loughlin applies similar considerations in the case of the Slovenian composer Lojze Lebič, who began as a modernist, but later blended “universal” modernism with his “native dialect”, developing his own personally inflected version of postmodernism. Finally, Ira Prodanov uses the example of the contemporary opera Mileva by Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov to expose a special relationship to issues regarding women.

Taken together, this collection opens up a wide array of problems connected to the relationship between modernism and postmodernism. Today, as we decisively step into a new era of general globalism, this relationship is becoming especially important, as it is only through an understanding of historical changes that we can better begin to observe and evaluate these troubled times of the present.


1 Rudolf Stephan, “Das Neue der Neuen Musik,” in Das musikalisch Neue und die Neue Musik, ed. Hans Peter Reinecke (Mainz: B. Schott’s Söhne, 1969), 47–64.

2 Pierre Boulez, “Schönberg est mort,” The Score 6 (1952), 18–22.

3 See Jean Baudrillard, L’Echange symbolique et la mort (Paris: Gallimard, 1976) and Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981).

4 Charles Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 1977).

5 Leslie Fiedler, “Cross the border – close the gap,” Playboy 16/12 (1969): 252–258; or Leslie Fiedler, Collected Essays, vol. 2 (New York: Stein & Day Pub, 1971).

6 Brian McHale, Postmodernist Fiction (New York and London: Methnen, 1987) and Brian McHale, Constructing postmodenrism (London and New York: Routledge, 1992).

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Theoretical Basis

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Gregor Pompe

Postmodernism in Society and Art: An Overview

Abstract The term postmodernism tends to be used in very different contexts and often in a very ambiguous manner. This text attempts to uncover the meaning of the term by investigating its prefix post and its core word modernism, as postmodernism is clearly relational term. Using the first theoretical writings by J.F. Lyotard and J. Habermas, the nature of the relationship between modernism and postmodernism is analysed and different critical assessments of postmodernism are investigated in the light of these theoretical positions. Later, the characteristics of postmodern society are revealed, including the main features of postmodern art and the role it plays in contemporary society.

An overview of various theories of postmodernism draws a rather unusual picture, not so much because authors have widely differing views regarding the main characteristics of this era, but because they have discovered that the term itself may not be entirely suitable, and may not have been chosen carefully enough. Brian McHale, one of the leading postmodern theorists, claims that “nothing about this term is unproblematic, nothing about it is entirely satisfactory”,1 adding: “Nobody likes the term, yet people continue to prefer it over the less satisfactory alternatives.”2 Niall Lucy is particularly critical: “Attempts at defining postmodernism are notoriously unsatisfactory. So much so, that it has become a standard move in the game of defining postmodernism to say that attempts at defining it are notoriously unsatisfactory.”3

Hermann Danuser is convinced that discussions about postmodernism4 have actually adopted the very characteristics of postmodernism.5 Furthermore, he believes that the term itself is just an empty symbol: rather than relating to a particular signified, it simply refers to other signs. A similar observation is also made by ← 17 | 18 → Mirjana Veselinović-Hofman, who states that the main reason for this alignment of theoretical discourse and its object may be due to the fact that the network of characteristics of postmodernism is so dense that only a small part of its plurality ever illuminated at the same time, thus evading a universal definition.6

In spite of similar warnings from scientists, the term rather quickly established itself in everyday journalism, where its delineations and content became even more elusive. In many journalistic articles published from the mid 1970s onwards, first in the United States, and then also in the European press, postmodernism came to be equated with anti-modernism. It seemed that this new style was breaking away from the hermeticism of modernism, its confinement and its elitist-moral superiority, which was welcomed by the media with open arms at the time of the flourishing of the mass media. Thus, the term became fashionable overnight, and gained currency in the intellectual vernacular before its scope could be accurately defined.

1. Postmodernism as a Relational Term

Many dilemmas linked with the different conceptions of postmodernism are connected to the relational nature of the term itself, which creates diverse possibilities and interdependences. Before we consider postmodernism, it is therefore necessary to understand the characteristics of modernism, with which the former obviously has a significant relationship. The nature of this relation, as embodied in the prefix “post,” is also important: only by understanding both parts of the term postmodern can we gain a true insight into its meaning.

It is not only its specific link with modernism that complicates the relationality of postmodernism; the problem also arises in the very notion of modernism. The latter is complex not only because of its disparate subject matter, but also partially due to the terminological confusion surrounding it: alongside the usage with the suffix -ism, the terms “modernity” and “modern” also frequently appear. “Modernism” is thus in a certain causal connection. This relation is becoming less and less prominent in everyday use, which only adds to the confusion surrounding the meaning of the concept. Although modernism is unquestionably connected to the notion of modernity, the relationship between the concepts can be thought of in two distinct ways: on the one hand, modernity can be a stage in the history of Western civilisation in which time is perceived as unrepeatable and linear, while, on the other hand, modernity can be understood as an aesthetic concept under which the core of artistic creativity is associated with ideas of progress and innovation. ← 18 | 19 → Aesthetic innovation evolves into an aesthetic asset, leading to the principal value, which is “to be modern”.7 These two conceptions of modernity – the historical and the aesthetic – are inextricably connected, and reached their apogee during the period of modernism, which may be considered simply as the late, as well as the last, period of the modern era.8

The problem becomes even more complicated if we examine the meaning of the prefix “post”. This prefix can be understood in relation to time as well as content. Pertaining to time, the relation is unproblematic: the prefix “post” indicates a condition of subsequentness, succession. This type of temporal relation is also upheld by Umberto Eco, who is considered one of those rare researchers who understands postmodernism in a distinctively historical way: hence, in the final, late stage of each historical period, it is possible to find a “postmodern” phase, in which the main characteristics of the period progress into a mannerist template without any real value.9 Thus, even Eco, with his own variety of postmodernism, emphasises subsequentness and the ensuing phase.

Far more problems arise when the prefix “post” is examined at the level of its content. Among the many possibilities, it is worth mentioning the three that most frequently appear in treatises on postmodernism in which the prefix “post” may mean:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 402 pp., 14 b/w ill., 4 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Gregor Pompe (Volume editor) Katarina Bogunović Hočevar (Volume editor) Nejc Sukljan (Volume editor)

Katarina Bogunovi´c Hocˇevar works as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Musicology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana. Her research interests include the history of 19th and first half of 20th century music, the history of Slovene music and the aesthetics of music.Gregor Pompe studied comparative literature, German language and musicology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana. He works as an Associate Professor at the Department of Musicology at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana. His scientific interest focuses on the problem of musical semantics, the history of opera and contemporary music.Nejc Sukljan studied musicology and general history at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana. He works as an Assistant at the Department of Musicology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana.


Title: From Modernism to Postmodernism