The development of twentieth-century music: Schoenberg Vs. Stravinsky

Walter notes: “In the twentieth century, the music industry underwent a revolution and it brought with it new freedom and wide experimentation. Although there was an emergence of new musical styles and forms which challenged the normal and accepted rules that applied during the earlier periods.” [1] However, there are many composers who continued to work in forms and in a musical language that originated from the nineteenth century.

Nonetheless, modernism became increasingly outstanding and important with composers experimenting with form, tonality and orchestration. These composers are such as Rachmaninoff, Edward Elgar, Claude Debussy and post-Wagnerian composers such as Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. A few of the other composers such as Busoni, Schreker, Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg had already been recognized as modernists even before 1914.

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All of these composers offered major contributions in the development of music during the 20th century in their own exceptional ways. This paper deals with two of the most significant and vital figures in this development and the roles they played. Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky were two of the most noteworthy composers during the twentieth century, both with different but equally notable roles to the progress of the music industry.

Arnold Schoenberg, an Austrian but later became an American composer, was born on 13th September 1874 in the Leopoldstadt district, Vienna in a lower middle class Jewish family. Walter notes “Schoenberg was linked to the expressionist movement in German poetry and art and he was also a leader of the Second Viennese School.” [2] Schoenberg’s major milestone in the musical scene of the 20th century was his approach in terms of harmony and development.

His approach and thoughts on music have been consciously extended by at least three generations both in the American and European traditions. In some instances, it has also been passionately reacted against such as during the rise of the Nazi party in Austria when his music was labeled as degenerate art.

Schoenberg’s name was used as a personification of what turned out to be most polemical aspect of the 20th century art music, advancement in atonality. During the 1920’s, Schoenberg came up with the twelve-tone technique. This is a method of manipulating an ordered series of the twelve notes that are found in the chromatic scale which is has proved to be significant to a great extent.

In addition to coming up with the term “developing variation”, he was also the first modern composer to acknowledge an approach of developing motifs without considering the idea of the supremacy of a centralized melodic idea.[3]

Heinz notes “apart from him being a painter, a prominent teacher of composition as well as a significant music theorist, Schoenberg taught a number of well-known musicians such as Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Hanns Eisler, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Earl Kim and many others.”[4] Many of his practices such as openly engaging audiences to think critically and crafting the compositional method in a formal way are replicated in advanced musical structures throughout the 20th century. Schoenberg’s past life, visualizations and his views on music which was regularly polemical were crucial to a lot of the major musicologists and opponents of the 20th century era.

However, at the age of 42, he found himself enlisted into the army with the instigation of World War 1. His involvement in Military service brought a crisis in his development as it disrupted his life. As a result, Schoenberg was never able to do his work without interruptions or for a long period of time, therefore leaving a lot of unfinished work and some in their initial stages but were yet to be developed.

In spite of Arnold Schoenberg being a significant composer of the 20th century, I consider Igor Stravinsky to be more prominent of the two. Stravinsky is renowned as one of the pioneering, ingenious and high-profiled composers of the twentieth century music. He is originally from Russia and was born in 1882 in Lomonosov (originally named Oranienbaum) into a musical family. However he later became a citizen of France and eventually The United States.

Despite Stravinsky’s father being an operatic bass player, his parents did not support him and wanted him to practice law. His personal interest however was more concentrated on the musical element and by the time his father passed away in 1902, he was already focusing lesser on his law classes and spending more of his time on his musical studies.

During his university years, he made the acquaintance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov who was a leading Russian composer at that time. He decided to become a composer at age 20 and therefore Rimsky-Korsakov who also became like a second father to him, took him under his private tutelage from 1902 – 1908.

In 1909, his piece Feu d’artifice (Fireworks) was heard by Sergei Diaghilev, the director of the Ballets Russes in Paris during a performance in Saint Petersburg. Diaghilev was satisfactorily impressed and he therefore hired Stravinsky to carry out some orchestrations and as a result he wrote the first ballet for the theater which he named The Firebird. Afterward this was rapidly followed by Petrushka and the Rite of Spring.[5]

During his career, which spanned through six decades he composed an impressive succession of works of astounding diversity. There were the vibrantly colorful Russian ballets of the early stages, the sharp wit and purity depicted in his neo-classical compositions and the prevailing spirituality seen in works such as the Symphony of Psalms. In his later works, one could also recognize the highly individual application of serialism.

“Stravinsky’s career-life can be categorized into 3 stylistic periods: The first period is the Russian Period, which began with Feu d’artifice and attained reputation with the three ballets that were composed for Diaghilev.” These ballets are L’oiseau de feu, Petrushka and Le Sacre du Printemps, which was among the most legendary classical music revolution. The works of this period were largely influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov’s imaginative scoring and use of instruments and mainly employed Russian folk themes and motifs.

The second period which is known as the Neo-classical period began from around 1920 when he implemented a musical idiom that was comparable to that of the classical period up till 1954 when he adjusted to twelve-tone serialism. Stravinsky’s earlier masterpieces, which highlighted his re-evaluation of Mozart’s and Bach’s conventional songs, were “Pulcinella” and “The Octet”.

For this style, he took up wind instruments and disposed of the large orchestras that were frequently required for ballet. The last neo-classical work was the opera, The Rake’s Progress in 1951 that was based on the designs of Hogarth. From 1954 to 1968, there was the third period which was also known as the serial period.

This is when Stravinsky started using successive compositional techniques that included the twelve-tone technique that was initially invented by Arnold Schoenberg along with dodecaphony. He used the twelve-tone technique in compositions such as Memoriam Dylan Thomas, Agon and Canticum Sacrum. He also expanded his use of dodecaphony in Threni, A Sermon, a narrative and a prayer and in The Flood all founded on biblical content.

Stravinsky is considered an authority in 20th century music and has had considerable influence on composers of all times in all divisions of music. “In his use of motivic development, which refers to the use of musical figures used in a composition, Stravinsky used additive motivic development where he added and subtracted notes without regard to the consequent change in meters.” [6] He was also famous for using a distinct rhythm especially in The Rite of Spring, which later influenced composer Aaron Copland to a great extent.

According to Andrew J. Browne, “Stravinsky is perhaps the only composer who has raised rhythm in itself to the dignity of art.” Stravinsky’s use of neo-classicism led to a widespread use of this style by composers in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. In addition, he used folk material and often exposed folk themes to their most melodic summaries using techniques such inversion and diminution to contort them.

In orchestration, Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ has been discerned as the leading orchestral achievement in the 20th century. He also wrote for unique blends of instruments set up in smaller groups. Besides, he is well known for periodically utilizing extreme arrays of instruments.[7]

As evidently observed, apart from his technical innovations in harmony and rhythm, one can detect the varying faces of his compositional technique but with a preservation of a distinct individuality, which was also very significant. Stravinsky got his inspiration from different cultures, languages and literatures and therefore the influence he had on composers during his lifetime and even after his death is still remarkable.

Bibliography

Copland, A Music and Imagination. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1952.
Stuckenschmidt, H Schoenberg: his life, world, and work. Schirmer Books, New York, 1978.
White, E Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works (Second Ed.). University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1979.
E W White. Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works (Second Ed.). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979, p. 141
E W White, Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works (Second Ed.), Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1979, p. 155
E W White, Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works (Second Ed.), Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1979, p. 256
H stuckenschmindt, Schoenberg: his life, world, and work, New York, Schirmer Books, 1978, p. 15
A Copland, Music and Imagination, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1952, p. 531.
W E Walter, Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works (Second Ed.), Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1979, p. 54.
H Stuckenschmindt, Schoenberg: his life, world, and work, New York, Schirmer Books, 1978, p. 124

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