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The Influence of the Cultural Current “Modernism” on the Conception of Music in the 20th Century Essay


Introduction

The conditions under which the world lived at the beginning of the 20th century had to be changed considerably to destroy the ruling Victorian principles and to start developing innovations, which could improve the life of current materialistic society.

People required for changes, and those changes had to touch upon each sphere of life. Music is regarded as that very sphere that has close connection to human emotions, productivity, and even interrelations; and the influence of such cultural movement like modernism should certainly change the conception of music for better.

Robin Walz admitted that modernism has to be comprehended as a cultural movement that aims at achieving a new consciousness concerning the matter of living experience and innovations’ influence against the already established rules.[1] This explanation turns out to be helpful in defying the major issues, according to which the modern changes should happen.

The influence of modernism on music in the 20th century may be observed from several perspectives: musicians wanted to present something new, interest to the popular opinion provoked the use of new modern idioms, the development of recording technology speeded up music production, and finally, musical performances were regarded as considerable events, which had to be noticed, criticized, and recognized.

The desire to present something new ruled composers

Modernism was one of the most popular currents of the 20th century that brought numerous political, social, and cultural changes all over the world. It was mentioned from the very beginning that something happened to music at the turn of that century, and all those changes were absolutely new for the world.

A kind of excitement was in the air and spread with unbelievable speed: the vast majority of composers and singers made numerous significant attempts to change their looks on their work, to change the sound, and to improve the very concept of music, taking into account current demands and interests.

Avant-garde assaults on music were characterized by fast development of technologies and challenges of the 19th century. Progress in science, the ideas of anti-romanticism, and the necessity to use human experience and to consider public opinion – all this cried that novelty had to be offered.

Ezra Pound was probably one of the brightest figures in modernism movement, who clearly identified the influence of this current on music: “Make it new.”[2] 20th century music demonstrated a kind of freedom and the desire to experiment as frequent as possible: musical styles, forms, and genres hade to be challenged in comparison to the rules that had been already set by the 19th century.

The 20th century was significant by the creation of electronic instruments that led to the fast spreading of popular music, representation of new music forms because faster music could be compared to quick movements and human noticeable development.

Modernism movement provoked composers changed their music from any possible perspective, and one of the most frequent was the change of music language and the necessity “to turn a composition into a ‘text’ constructed of musical ‘sentences’…to move beyond the comforts of melody and harmony and to provoke strong, conflicting, deep emotional responses in the listener.”[3]

Schoenberg’s passion to 12-tone method was one of the most famous ideas in music during the modern movement: his Six Songs, Op. 3 or Transfigured Night, Op. 4 demonstrated how words, tone, and music had to be united and properly presented to the listener. People should get a chance to realize what composer’s intentions are to a particular work, and these very works presented that very novelty that was so inherent to music of the 20th century, where the influence of modernism played one of the most important roles.

This new approach to music creation was one of the best ways out for those composers, who decided to follow Pound’s motto and add something new to the already existed rules and amaze people with new opportunities and new ideas within music. This is why the intention to present something new in music as a major influence of modernism as a cultural current should be regarded as the most successful one and the most important one, because it turned to be a basis for other changes and for further development.

When we talk about the influence of modernism on composition of music in the 20th century, we have to mention the role of such a talented composer like Gustav Mahler. His style of writing and the attempt to develop the song cycle distinguish him from other composers of Europe and America. The role of popular opinion as a belief that is shared and supported by the vast majority of people is also considerable for the development of music during the 20th century.

This is why all those emotions, feelings, and attitudes to the current affairs have to be taken into consideration in order to reflect them in music during its composing. For example, Gustav Mahler’s personal life was marked by constant disappointment and unhappy love. These emotions are known to many people from personal experience, from literary works, or from other types of art.

His Songs of a Wayfarer is a magnificent composition that depicts the life of a lover, who chooses to travel along and find out own happiness and love after a terrible rejection of a lover. His music is really captivating and full of sense, and his attention to public troubles and challenges, which have connection to popular opinion, underlines once again that the influence of modernism hits music from different sides, and each of those hits has its own price.

In spite of the fact that the 20th century brought numerous changes in the world of music, some of the changes had their roots at the end of the 19th century, and one of those grounds were the works by Anton Bruckner, an Australian composer, known for his four movements.[4]

He added some feelings and vision to his compositions; he made his works interesting not only to hear but also captivating to observe how the variety of instruments performs music: horns, trombones, trumpets, and some woodwinds cooperate in such ways that each listener cannot but get unbelievable pleasure from the chosen performance.

This popular opinion like the desire to comprehend the music, offered by Mr. Buckner, was reflected in music of the 20th century; and it raised music considerably, underlying how influential one cultural movement could be.

It is necessary to admit 20th century classical music was influenced by modernism most of all. The desire to become more progressive and reject past practices made classical composers pay more attention to what people want to hear and how these purposes could be achieved by means of technology. The influence of modernism was so considerable on classical music that even numerous past cultural currents were regarded just as one more reflection of modernism and the attempt to improve its features.

Recording technology open new opportunities in music

The influence of modernism on music in the 20th century was also remarkable for the ways of how music is heard and comprehended by people. This is why such a peculiar feature of modernism cultural current like recording technology gained its recognition within the shortest period of time.

Sound technology has been perfected in the beginning of the 20th century[5] due to its significant helping side: recreation of sound waves in instrumental music introduces an absolutely new current and provides listeners with a new way to comprehend music and enjoy it in different ways. Sound recording may happen in two ways analog or digital recording.

A Mexican composer Conlon Nancarrow was one of the first known composers, who released own music. The beginning of the 20th century opened a new door in the technological world, where it became possible to use gramophone discs to record music.

These discs were used frequently because they did not cause any difficulties with own manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and storage. The events of World War I made a significant effect on Modernism and musical industry; however, in comparison to the effects on the cultural movement under consideration, the effects of the war on discs’ distribution and the promotion of instrumental music turned out to be more positive.

People wanted to have a chance to store their favorite music in easy-to-use format and to listen it any time, this is why the progressive intentions of modernism and the development of technologies promoted discs’ manufacturing and recording any type of music.

Rock and roll is a style of music that has been born in the middle of the 1900s. It was the peak of modern movement, when its representatives tried to combine the elements of jazz, blues, and boogie-woogie.

This musical style was developed in the technological era, and this very point played a very important role as rock and roll became the first musical form ever to be recorded before to be performed live. The attention to recording technologies increased considerably because composers as well as performers aimed at developing really successful music and save it for many years.

The above-mentioned Conlon Nancarrow and the representative of Australian music, György Ligeti introduced magnificent, extraordinary music by means of composing it due to keeping of time and their archiving. Such approach was not inherent to the representatives of the 19th century’s Romanticism, and the progress of the 20th century allowed to improve music of different styles by recording and storing.

Modernism as a movement brought another justified change, technological improvement; and even such a sensitive sphere of life as music underwent those changes and achieved unbelievable success. Even now this very effect of modernism of music is noticeable and continues its development, taking into account new standards and new demands.

Musical performances as considerable events for society

Modernism as an important tendency at the beginning of the 20th century had its effects on music even in regard to the way of its performance. Not long time ago, people did not pay much attention on how to reproduce music and make it popular among people. The end of the 19th century was marked by the invention of the radio, a means that allowed fast spreading of music.

Of course, it was a real breakthrough of the world; and this breakthrough could not but reflected on music industry. At the beginning of the 20th century, music was translated on the radio in order to entertain and inform people, and describe human emotions. So, people got a wonderful chance to listen to the music any time and everywhere.

However, the major characteristic of modernism in music was the conception of performance and its change from a simple introduction of music to a great event. For example, the performance of classical music turned out to be a real presentation, where the size of decoration, the effectiveness of the sound, and even the organization of light played a very important role.

The beginning of the 20th century brought one more change in music: from that period of time, people became involved into proper presentation of music. Its performance became an integral part of its developing and its popularity among people. If the performance was a remarkable event, and people enjoyed it, this music became popular and interesting to people. If the event met numerous critics, and people demonstrated the disappointment about the event, the composition under performances was considered as a failure.

Modernists admitted that it was not obligatory to present some magnificent events in order to make music popular, however, it is necessary to make it memorable in order to involve people and attract their attention more and more each second. The point, that performance should be regarded as an event, also led to the attention to such trifles like clothes, color of skin and hair, and even walk. If people preferred dark clothes and colors, they should be interested in some kind of Goth music.

People, who prefer streets, free clothes, and ability not to follow orders, liked the sounds of rap, rock, or heavy metal. The performance of any of these forms of music required a separate event with a properly chosen style and light. This is why in order to make music popular, composers started to think not only about the necessary tone, melody, or meter, but they also tried to imagine how exactly this music could be introduced and performed to public.

Conclusion

There are lots of discussions where the influence of modernism on 20th century music is concerned. The changes, which have been brought by this cultural current, found their reflection in many spheres of life, and music is not an exception. The desire to follow the progress, the idea to use technologies in order to present more interesting music, and the attention to general appearance – this is what actually characterized for music at the beginning of the 20th century and its composition.

If the period of Romanticism was all about the idea of how to perform captivating music and combine as many sounds and instruments as possible, the major idea of modernistic movement was to pay more attention to the context of music and its logical arrangement. People got a wonderful opportunity to concentrate more on music genres, tones, and structure, because new technologies were able to make composers’ ideas real and clear for the listener.

This is why the influence of modernism should be regarded as the most considerable for composing of music, and people should evaluate composers attempts to represent new, lively, interesting, and educative music by means of recording, thrilling performance, and attention to public opinion.

Reference List

Albright, Daniel. 2004. Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Grove, George, Sadie, Stanley, and Tyrrell, John. 2001. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. New York: Grove Publications.

  1. Randel, Don Michael. 2003. The Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tick, Judith. 2000. Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer’s Search for American Music. New York, NY: Oxford University Press US.

Walz, Robin. 2008. A Short History of a Big Idea: Modernism. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.

Footnotes

  1. Walz, Robin, A Short History of a Big Idea: Modernism (Harlow, UK: Pearson Education, 2008), p.9.
  2. Albright, Daniel, Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), p. 8.
  3. Walz, Robin, A Short History of a Big Idea: Modernism (Harlow, UK: Pearson Education, 2008), p.62.
  4. Einstein, Alfred, “Bruckner, Anton” in The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (New York: Grove Publications, 2001), p.476-484.
  5. Tick, Judith. Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer’s Search for American Music (New York, NY: Oxford University Press US, 2000), p. 245.
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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Influence of the Cultural Current “Modernism” on the Conception of Music in the 20th Century." January 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-influence-of-the-cultural-current-modernism-on-the-conception-of-music-in-the-20th-century/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Influence of the Cultural Current “Modernism” on the Conception of Music in the 20th Century'. 12 January.

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