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Cameron Campbell

AP Euro
Modernism Essay

Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice​.

More specifically, modernism describes a specific movement, its set of cultural

tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from

wide-scale changes in European society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries​.

Modernism was a revolt against the conservative values of realism​. ​The two fields that

perhaps modernism changed the most were art and music​.​ And in order to talk about

the music of this period you first have to talk about the art of this period and how it

influenced the music​.​ There was constant experimentation and searching for new ways

to express these fields. Even today works from this era are still seen as either fresh and

exciting, or strange and disturbing​.

In the decades around WWI, the visual arts saw a radical change​. ​For centuries

artists had tried to produce artwork that accurately represented reality​. ​Now, new

avant-garde artists challenged the normal conventions of art​. ​Many different styles

emerged at this time as well, including; impressionism, expressionism, dadaism, and

surrealism, each one seeming more radical than the last​. ​Cities such as Berlin, Munich,

Moscow, Vienna, Paris, and in the U.S., New York became known for their extremely

avant-garde artistic undergrounds​.​ Schools opened to train young artists in these new

techniques. After 1900 avant-garde artists increasingly challenged convention. Paris

Cameron Campbell
AP Euro
Modernism Essay

based painters Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris, were especially radical in

coining the style cubism​.​ Characterized by complex geometry, zigzag lines, and sharply

angled shapes, cubism was seen as very abstract​.​ Surrealist painters Salvador Dali, and

Joan Miro, were heavily inspired by psychology and portrayed images of the

“unconscious” in their art​.​ They painted fantasy worlds and things only seen in dreams​.

Surrealism gained fame among the public as being the most extreme form of

modernism, or "the avant-garde of modernism”​.​ Expressionism was another form of art

at the time, which had a very significant effect on music by Composer Arnold


Composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) Advocated for doing away with

tonality all together by giving the twelve tones of the chromatic scale equal importance,

which would as an end result create atonal music​. ​The musical notes in a given piece

were no longer united and organized by a key; instead they were independent and free​.

Schonberg’s twelve tone music of the 1920s arranged all twelve notes of the scale in an

abstract pattern or “tone row”​.​ The pattern sounded like no pattern and and had no

particular order​. ​Accustomed to the harmonies of classical and romantic music,

audiences generally resisted atonal music​.​ Only after WWII did it begin to win

Cameron Campbell
AP Euro
Modernism Essay

In the early 20th century composers and performers expressed the emotional

intensity and shock of the time in radically experimental forms​. ​The ballet ​The Rite of

​ y Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), for example practically caused

Spring b

a riot when it was first performed in Paris in 1913​. ​The combination of pulsating

rhythms and dissonant sounds from the orchestra pit with earthy representations of

lovemaking by the strangely dressed dancers on the stage shocked audiences

accustomed to traditional sounding, and looking, ballets​.​ After WWI, when irrationality

and violence had seemed to pervade human experience​.​ Modernism flourished in opera

and ballet​. ​One of the most powerful examples was the opera ​Wozzeck​, by Alban Berg

(1885-1935), first performed in Berlin in 1925​.​ Blending a half-sung, half-spoken kind of

dialogue with harsh, atonal music​.​ Many composers turned their backs on long

established musical conventions​.​ Modern composers arranged sounds without creating

recognizable harmonies​.

Modernism and experimentation in Europe was not only very influential at it’s

time, but has also left a last impact on European culture as a whole up until this day​. ​It

Also has had a lasting impression on culture in the U​.​S​.​ bringing a sense of creativity

and an embrace of the avant-garde with musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Cecil
Cameron Campbell
AP Euro
Modernism Essay

Taylor, John Cage, and Philip Glass taking on the reigns and bringing in a new

generation of modernism​.
Cameron Campbell
AP Euro
Modernism Essay

Work Cited

Listen to This, Third Edition, Mark Evan Bonds, 2009

Music: an appreciation, Sixth Brief Edition, Roger Kamien, 2008

The Enjoyment of Music, Essential Listening Edition, 2nd Edition, Kristine Forney,

Andrew Dell’Antonio, Joseph Machlis, 2013