Monday, March 8, 2010

Reaction Against Romanticism

“The entire history of modern music may be said to be a history of the gradual pull-away from the German musical traditions of the past century”
- Aaron Copland

As the quotation from Aaron Copland implies, early-twentieth-century composers had to fight not only the Romantic past but the Romanticism in themselves. The new attitudes took hold just before the outbreak of the First World War. European arts sought to escape their overrefinement and tried to capture the spontaneity and the freedom from inhibition that was associated with primitive life. The fine arts discovered the abstraction of African sculptures, while Paul Gauguin and Henri Rousseau created exotic paintings of monumental simplicity.

In the years immediately preceding the First World War, the influential movement known as Dadaism was founded in Switzerland and spread after 1918 to other major art centers. The Dadaists, principally writers and artists who reacted to the horrors of the bloodbath that had engulfed Europe, rejected the concept of Art with a capital “A”—that is, something to be put on a pedestal and reverently admired. To make their point, they produced works of absolute absurdity. They also reacted against the excessive complexity of Western art by trying to recapture the simplicity of a child’s worldview.

Following their example, the French composer Erik Satie led the way toward a simpler, “everyday” music, linked below.

The Dada group subsequently merged into the school of Surrealism, exemplified by Salvador Dali and Joan Miro, who exploited the world of dreams.

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