Musical Expressionism in the Twentieth Century





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Musical Expressionism in the Twentieth Century

It is in the twentieth century that significant development in the music industry was experienced differently from the past years. The artist significantly showed interest in the indulgence of an idealistic period or what can modestly be defined as emotionalism which depicted romance in a wide range of artistic styles. Expressionism was the most prominent artistic style in the twentieth century among other ways such as serialism, minimalism and musical theatre. Expressionism refers to the musical style that varies from the naturalism and practicality and seems to portray the inner experience in an emotional way different from the old artistic chic based on the representation of original descriptions. The composers of expressionism music have a unique notion of expressing their emotions by the used of fictions and exaggeration as well as through the use of appalling and gaudy colors. In this paper, musical expressionism in the twentieth-century discourses into a profound in consideration of its features, the central figures in the art during this era, its impact to the society as well as how it influences the music industry and other related genres.

The response towards the excesses of romantic era stimulated the occurrence of the musical impressionism during the late nineteenth century and later expressionism at the early twentieth century. Expressionism was the modernist movement that originated in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Expressionism common characteristic was representing the universe wholly from the subjective perspective and adopting the emotional impact for the benefit of stimulating people’s ideas. Physical reality is not among the music’s components as the expressionist music artists tend to express the emotive experiences. The style did not only spread in music but also in other artwork such as literature, film, theatre, painting, and dancing. The twentieth century seemed to be one of the most prominent and attention-grabbing periods in music where expressionism emerged among the most promising artistic styles. Music is a primary genre in the entertainment field that put across the composer’s ideas in a defined manner. It is a perfect way of passing the relevant message, expressing oneself as well as disclosing specific issues in the society in an entertaining manner.

It is interesting that the expressionism music art can be used to tell various decades and the prominent activities as well as the technology advancement. For instance, an excellent example is the musical expressionism of the twentieth century as it is significantly known and related to this specific era. Therefore, in this particular art composition, the author can tell the time it was published relevant to the societal development. The art of music had been there and applicable even before the twentieth century but there before it was fundamentally based on the reality as the artists could compose them with the intensive reliance of the natural happenings and images. Initially, the word expressionism was borrowed from the literature and visual art where the artists applied extreme emotions in exploring their unreal mentality (Salzman, page 22). The expressionism art is designated by the angular and distorted melodies composing wide leaps, high dissonance level, persistently varying textures and thrilling contrasts of dynamics. The response to positivism characterizes as the expressionist have a great emphasis on the individual expressive perspective.

Generally, musical expressionism has various features which are mostly depicted in the related artwork commonly composed during the twentieth century. Expressionism type of music is atonal in that it is not written in the any of the mode and key. In expressionism, some twelve semitones each with equal importance are given preference during its composition, instead of having the typical keys and chords. Every piece of this genre is confined to articulating a strong emotion depending on the artist’s interest and experiences. There is the complete use of pitch range instruments that enables the composer to examine the instrumental color that is experienced at the overindulgences of these equipment’s registers. The expressionism music has distinct pitch and intensity making its quality felt of more significance as the melody. It is as a result of the well-developed art that makes the instruments used to be perceived as part of the pitch as well as the sound (Riley, page 40). The consistency between the musical instrument s and the tone make this genre impressive and efficient in correctly expressing personal emotions.

All in all the composers during this era effectively uniquely participated in the entertainment that to a greater extent developed a background to the today’s music industry. In the world today, a significant portion of the music compositions are in a way or the other related to romance or expressing emotions. Also, the success of the genre is based on the artist’s creativity as well as the way of showing his or her ideas in a more attracting manner. Furthermore, strong dynamics are evident in the musical expressionism which ranges from the extreme quiet to full extent with regards to the composer’s intentions. It can be made to be more dramatic where it involves large bands where it can be done using equipment playing at a low tone to the full collaborative instruments playing loud music. The other unique trait is that the bits tend to be moderately short. It becomes challenging to compose a piece of substantial length without the outline of a primary structure as well as the use of identifiable themes which can be established in a traditional intellect.

Arnold Schoenberg and his student’s Alban Berg and Anton Webern emerge to be the central figures of the musical expressionism. The mentioned above team is significantly referred as the Viennese school who actively participated in coloring the music during the twentieth century and changing the antagonists from the old styles perceptions to more romantic and emotional ways. The expressionist music embraces the Schoenberg’s atonal twelve-tone music that lasted from 1908 to 20s. The period is significantly referred to as the “free atonal” era which depicted an instant and developmental change from the past tonal time. Generally, the advancement was inclusive of even the other music that shared the same qualities during this period. Looking at the Schoenberg work in an in-depth extent provides a precise understanding of the musical expressionism as he can be regarded as the fore founder and developer of the art.

“Erwartung” meaning expectation is a Schoenberg’s one-act drama that was composed during the year 1909. The exceedingly expressionist work, thirty minutes in length make use of atonal music where a nameless woman is featured in the central drama music (Lee, page 2). The woman has faltered through the disturbing forest in search of her lover and finally come in an open environment. It is in this area that she finds her husband’s corpse near the house of another woman this marking the beginning of the psychological drama. The woman cannot believe what she has seen and she wondered whether she could be that cause of her lover’s demise. Throughout the music, the plot is developed in a subjective manner focused on the woman as the distress in the emotional perspective are revealed in the music. Schoenberg composed this expressionist music during the early twentieth century marking the way and introducing other artists to exploiting their creativity in developing non-physical and natural ideologies. It became famous for attracting a significant number of audience as well as other musicians who saw it as distinct from other tonal music.

Among other Schoenberg’s expressionist works include “Music drama Die Glukliche Hand” and “Five Orchestra Pieces Op 19.” The music work by Webern was closely related to that done by Schoenberg when it comes to the expressionist style but only lasted for a while. A good example of such related musical expressionism by Webern is the “Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op 10. which can be compared to the Schoenberg’s expressionist work composed in the year 1909. Also, Alban Berg contributed in the genre through his “Four Songs of OP. 2” as well as his “OP. 1 Piano Sonata.” “Pierreto Lunaire” is another expressionist melodrama by Schoenberg that greatly influenced the twentieth-century music. In its settings, the author put in consideration his collection of twenty-one chosen poems from Albert Giraud’s cycle of French poems translated by Otto Erich Hartleben to German. The narrator makes use of the Sprechstimme style which is an expressionist vocal technique ranging from speaking and singing (Kostka, page 16).

Schoenberg composed “Pierreto Lunaire” expressionism work in a different way compared to others done in the previous years in that it does not apply the twelve-tone technicality. However, the atonal trait still applies in work same to the expressionist music. In the collection of the twenty-one songs, female voices are present in all compositions, and there are some five different musicians. These musicians play various instruments such as violin, piano, flute, clarinet and cello where the musical arrangement differs from each piece. The twenty-one series work by Schoenberg is poised of three categories each made up of seven songs each stimulated emotions allied to the night visions. The first category involves Pierrot experiences who becomes exceedingly disturbed after getting immersed in the moonlight. In the second group, there are fierce expressions of a weird nightmare that is full of descriptions of martyrdoms and deaths. The third part composes the actions of Pierrot as he tries to get out of the ordeal through nostalgia, humor, and mawkishness. It is evident that all through these three groups of his collection, Schoenberg applies powerful emotions that in a real sense did not depict the reality (Kostelanetz, et al. page 21). These are perfect examples of Schoenberg works during the twentieth century that was hugely influential and exciting developing a significant change in the music industry.

Musical expressionism significantly influenced the music industry resulting to a wide variety of changes both positive and negative. However, the positive impacts tend to overweight the demerits the back drawing effects cannot be ignored. To start with, are the merits of expressionism art brought about growth and development of the entertainment industry specifically the music field which is the case of interest in this discussion. The development of the atonal technique where the twelve-tone band was applied became prominent during the twentieth century signified by a large number of audience as well as new artists. When it comes to performing this genre, musicians like Schoenberg hade diverse audience which on the other side represented industry development and also indicates that the artwork was well paid. With this, the artists were able to implement and adopt the advanced technology where they are capable of using the modern instruments which are more efficient when it comes to pitching and sound production.

Also, expressionism brought a new perspective and focused on music where the composers were provoked to think beyond the natural realities as well as the common thing in the world and human being nature (Hughes, page 102). There before, the impressionist music was based on the typical tones as well as the physical and natural realities where it was awkward and painful to express the emotional state. Musical expressionism brought to light during the twentieth century where exaggerations to some extent through fiction were used in expressing the artists’ emotions and experienced. To a greater extent expressionist art is based on creativity where the composers had to think above the natural reality in making their productions. The change in music style improved the skills and efficiency of many musicians as they get to learn new ways such as the twelve-tone by Schoenberg who later developed an eight-tone atonal. It depicted diversity in the music field where every artist has a challenge of coming up with a significant and unique style that can be adopted globally as well as leading to a step forward in art development. The effects of the musical expressionism era are evident in the modern society when it comes to music composition and production. The atonal art is still used even though in different ways where the number of tones varies depending on the musician interest. This plays a significant role in eradicating the monotony that was there before the introduction of musical expressionism as the audience has become used to the standard tones and message of the natural and physical nature of music (Crawford, et al page 14).

On the other hand, flawlessness in the artistic field was detected during the twentieth-century era where the music was excellently performed depicting phonograph records than other morally upright music. Romance has emerged to be the topic of the day during this prominent decade of musical expressionism. Therefore, some artists in their perfection of composing emotional and love songs ended up producing music with much sexism which later emerged to be a threat to the industry as well as the society in general. Others ended up giving experiences regarding their thug life as well as criminal life as it was the case of the hip-hop genre in the late twentieth century even though it had a slight deviation from the initial expressionism. The significant effects were deprivation of moral values as well as delinquency in the society, especially with the young people. For instance, the premarital sex at this era became prominent among the youths as well as infidelity in the community. The composers realized that the emotion provoking music attracts vast audience hence could not hesitate to compose such productions. The topic of sexism with its connection to expressionism music can develop an endless debate, but the fact remains that these emotional arts are detrimental and psychologically affects the children’s conscience during their growth process.

Expressionism can be significantly referred as a vessel of modernism not only in the music composition but also in the other art genres as well as the world in general. Music is a universal art that is influential to all the parts of the globe especially during the twentieth century as well as a modern society where network connects people from all the continents. The Schoenberg and his team artwork were internationally prominent, and various artists adopted the atonal style from multiple nations all over the world. It was experienced that the impressionism art was put aside worldwide in the introduction of expressionist music style. The same advancement was also experienced when it came to the entertainment sector, in general, signifying a significant move towards music evolution (Burkholder, et al. page 33). With the capability of composing emotional poems and lyrics, many talented people got their way into to the diverse music field, and the traditional notion of impressionism was erased in the peoples’ mindset.

The existence and spread of the famous musical expressionism in the twentieth century are much inquisitive in consideration of the enjoyment, loss of cultural value as well as the music and contribution to the society. Not all music is valid if it is all about feelings relief as well as enjoyment. It depends on what one calls delight as it dramatically varies especially in consideration of age as the dependent variable. When it comes to young people, their case will be different to what adults refer to as enjoyment. The youths will in many instances enjoy the powerful emotional bits expressed in the expressionist music which will contradict their elderly who defines it as immorality. It is interesting to understand that that music is a particular art genre that talks more about the happenings in the entire society with regards to the residents’ way of living and doing things. The act of Schoenberg and other composers writing about strong emotions depicts that people in the society have been overpowered by these affection feelings making them move out of humanity as well as losing the traditional cultural values (Antokoletz, page 11). The incidences of immorality have been disclosed in the community which was not the case there before the invention of expressionist art.

In consideration of the above discussion, musical expressionism was a significant style in the art genre where the composers significantly expressed their extreme emotions and experienced in their music work during the twentieth century. It marked the end of impressionism and the inevitable changes were not only experienced in the music field but also other artworks such as architecture, paintings, and dancing among many others. Arnold Schoenberg and his student’s Alban Berg and Anton Webern are the primary expressionist artists during this era, and their music emerged to be much influential in changing people’s perspective from the prior impressionism style to musical expressionism way. The atonal technic was the major tonal panache that describes expressionist music. Change is unavoidable and must be put in place to enhance music development as time goes as well as technological advances in the world.


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