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New Ears for New Music

Translated by Kenneth Chalmers

Constantin Floros

20th-century music is characterized by a bewildering multitude of trends and movements. Often several movements co-exist in contradiction to each other, in a reflection of the century’s intellectual currents and social and political changes, and the reactions they prompted. In this book, renowned musicologist and author Constantin Floros provides a survey of the different styles and tendencies in new music, presenting the most important composers from Schoenberg to Rihm in a series of fluent and readable essays that will appeal to connoisseurs and non-specialists alike. For Floros, music and biography are inseparable, and here he puts music in the context of the social and psychological background of its time.
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← vi | 1 → Preface


“Why are we not allowed to write such beautiful music as Johann Sebastian Bach?”GYÖRGY LIGETI1

It is not just the literature and visual arts of a given era that are marked by a “Zeitgeist”, but music is as well. Intellectual standpoints and social and political upheavals, and the reactions they provoke, are all reflected in the music of their time. The defining characteristic of 20th-century music was a dizzying multitude of different paths, with several occasionally contradictory currents often co-existing. And all these developments, even those that seem independent, have their roots in the spirit of the age.

The fact of dissonance as a marker of new music is intimately bound up with the human suffering that dates from the time of the First World War onwards, and the 20th century is rightly known as the bloodiest in the history of mankind. Such experiences found compelling artistic expression in Expressionist music.

Iwan Martynow put forward the theory that between the two world wars, music moved between two poles.2 At one pole was despair, dread and hopelessness – the elements that permeate Alban Berg’s inspired works. At the other was levity and lightness, superficiality and entertainment. Music was widely taken to be play, masquerade, a trick, irony or pastiche, “music about music”. Much of what is termed Neo-Classicism or Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) belongs to this category.

The trauma inflicted by two world wars, the Holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki...

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