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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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From Expressionism to Experiment – Directions and Tendencies in New Music


“It is the interest in change that has accelerated change to its giddy pace”ERNST H. GOMBRICH1

Around 1320, the French composer and theoretician Philippe de Vitry wrote a treatise that would subsequently acquire wide renown, and which he entitled Ars Nova, with the intention of distinguishing the music of his time from that of the past, the so-called ars antiqua. Six centuries later, something similar happened in Germany. In 1919, the prestigious critic Paul Bekker talked about the “new music” that was superseding that of the late Romantics.2 The salient features of this new music were the extension and dissolution of tonality, atonality, as it was known, twelve-note composition and the “emancipation of the dissonance”. All were markers of a development that can mainly be traced through the works of the composers of the Second Viennese School. Arnold Schoenberg and his principal pupils, Anton von Webern and Alban Berg, represent the radical “modernists” of the first half of the twentieth century, the path that they took ultimately emerging from a conflict with the boldest achievements of “late-Romantic” music. In many of their late works, Wagner, Liszt, Bruckner and Mahler – to name only the leading composers – pushed music to the very brink of atonality, and in all four there are occasional, bold note-clusters and unresolved dissonances that anticipate Schoenberg’s early Expressionist period.

The question of whether music develops in parallel with the other arts continues to be debated. Many music historians deny it categorically. The Romantics...

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