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Musical Modernism in the Twentieth Century

Translated by Wojciech Bońkowski


Maciej Gołąb

This book offers a fresh discussion of the methodology of music historiography. So far historiographical methodology has always depended on other fields within humanities (especially on history) to a degree where it moved the focus of its thought away from the musical work’s structure and away from the musical work itself. Musical Modernism in the Twentieth Century looks at musical structures in its cultural context, using different methodological models for the interpretation of the subsequent phases of the twentieth-century musical modernism.
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Chapter 2. The Birth of Modernism


Chapter 2

The Birth of Modernism

1. Three Layers of Musical Culture at the Turn of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century

The issue of cultural history of music that we will address here from an autonomously musical perspective is the issue of so-called modernism: the chronologically earliest ——ism of twentieth-century historiography, understood as the final phase of the large classical–romantic era, dated at around 1890–1910 (a phase of synthesis or crisis, depending on your interpretative strategy). This issue, however, is also relevant to those historians of music and musical culture who interpret that phase as the beginning of a new era. As every transitional period and every incarnation of a modernist period in the history of culture, linked to general artistic and spiritual history, late nineteenth-century modernism can be seen from two angles: that of pre-existence, understood as the climax of aesthetic tendencies that developed since the European classicism, as well as that of emergence, emphasising the appearance of new compositional, expressive and aesthetic means. In fact, these two perspectives contribute to the full character of that “era in between,” which in turn, is essential to fully assess any processes developing in the musical art of the twentieth century. Music historiography of the twentieth century usually defines modernism as (I quote from the most popular Polish music encyclopedia) “a collection of artistic trends in Europe in the years 1890–1910, created under the influence of irrational, mystical trends in philosophical thought (Schopenhauer,...

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