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12-8-2022, 14:19 UTC
The 20th Century
History of Music

Why do musical styles change? The evolution of musical styles is strongly marked by the influence individual composers on one another. This influence is not always positive. Sometimes the work of a composer is a reaction against the style practiced by his predecessors, even if he admires their music. An example of this could be drawn from the relationship of the Classical era to the Baroque era which it followed, personified by the relationship of the music of J.S. Bach and his sons.

The late Romantic era had its extremes: it made maximum use of harmonies and melodies and exhausted this possibilities to their limits. The music of the 20th century was both a continuation of the Romantic style, but it was also a reaction against Romanticism in order to create new possibilities.

Arnold Schönberg 20th century music is a series of 'isms' and 'neo-isms'. The rough energy of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring was labelled neoprimitivism; the extreme emotional tones of early Schönberg were given the label expressionism; the return to cleanly structured forms and textrues was called neoclassicism. All of these labels were an attempt at orientation in the heterorogenous world of music in the 20th century.

During the first half of the 20th century, nationalism continued to have a large influence, the study of folk songs enriched the music of many composers, such as that of Ralph Vaughan Williams (England), Bela Bartok (Hungary), Heitor Villa Lobos (Brazil) and Aaron Copland (USA). Jazz and popular music also had a strong influence on many "serious" composers, whether in America or Europe.

The advance of technology also had an enormous impact on the evolution of music in the 20th century, with some composers using, for instance, the cassette player as a compositional tool (ie. Violin Phase by Steve Reich), or electronically generated sounds alongside classical instruments, the use of computers to compose music, and so on.

Important Composers

Leos Janacek(1854-1928)
Claude Debussy(1862-1918)
Richard Strauss(1864-1949)
Carl August Nielsen(1865-1931)
Jean Sibelius(1865-1957)
Arnold Schoenberg(1874-1951)
Ralph Vaughan Williams(1872-1958)
Maurice Ravel(1875-1937)
Bela Bartok(1881-1945)
Igor Stravinskij(1882-1971)
Anton Webern(1883-1945)
Alban Berg(1885-1935)
Sergej Prokofiev(1891-1953)
Paul Hindemith(1895-1963)
George Gershwin(1898-1937)
Kurt Weill(1900-1950)
Aaron Copland(1900-1990)
Dmitrij Schostakovic(1906-1975)
Olivier Messiaen(1908-1992)
John Cage(1912-1992)
Benjamin Britten(1913-1976)
Pierre Boulez(1925)
Luciano Berio(1925)
Philip Glass(1937)

Czech Music of the 20th Century

Josef Bohuslav Foerster The transition from the founding generation to the the new era was embodied by Josef Bohuslav Foerster (1859 - 1951). He studied the organ and for several years was an organist in Prague. After that he left for Hamburg and Vienna with his wife. He returned to Prague after the revolution of 1918, where he worked for 12 years at the Conservatory and occupied other distinguished positions in public life (an honorary doctorate from Charles University, eight years as president of the Czech Academy of Arts and Sciences).

He was a great composer of songs [the cycles Erotikon, Laska (Love), Nocni violy (Night Violets), etc.] of chorals and cantatas [Stabat Mater, Svaty Vaclav (St. Wenceslas), and others], and in the orchestral arena, his output consisted of five symphonies, six suites, and four symphonic poems, as well as operas, chamber pieces and church compositions.

The explosion of Czech modernism began with Vitezslav Novak (1870 - 1949), who studied composition at the Prague Conservatory under Dvorak. As professor of the senior class in composing (1909 - 39), he taught a generation of Czech and foreign - largely Slavic - composers. From 1897, he based his work on folk songs, especially Slavic and Slovak. This influence reveals itself particularly in his Slovacke svite (1903) (Slavic Suite). This use of folk songs matured into distinctive features of his later pieces for piano (Muj maj, Sonata eroica) and in his symphonic poemV Tatrach (In the Tatras). He enriched his harmonic and tonal ideas with impressionism, but he maintained an emphasis on a firm framework (as in Toman a lesni panna - Toman and the Forest Virgin).

Strong musical ideas and technical supremacy define his later work, beginning in 1910 with his ocean fantasy Boure (Storm) and a piano cycle Pan. Less known are his piano suite Exotikon, and the song cycle Erotikon. In the following years he concentrated on the dramatic genre, which produced the dramas Zvikovsky rarasek, Pohadkova Lucerna, Deduv odkaz a Nikotina.

Josef Suk, Vaclav Talich, Vítìzslav Novák (1903) Entirely different tones were brought to Czech music by Josef Suk (1874 - 1935). He emerged from the rich teaching tradition of the Prague Conservatory, where he was taught by Benewitz, Stecker a Dvorak. His career as a composer began with great promise at an early age but was substantially curtailed by his commitments as a member of the Czech Quartet, the severity of his self-criticism, the difficult circumstances of his life and a painful spiritual crisis. Later, a lot of his time was taken up by his teaching activity (from 1922) at the conservatory. With his direct musicianship and versatility, Suk was reminiscent of Dvorak, whose instrumental richness Suk further increased and individualized. In line with worldwide developments in music he used melody and rhytm to intensify his music´s poetic capriciousness and the expressiveness of its language. The great diversity of different musical forms he adopted as tools for his lyrical expression have earned him a place among the great Czech composers.

This development is reflected primarily in his orchestral work. String Serenade (1892) and Symphony in E Major are still fully Dvorakian, but then in the music for Zeyer's stories Raduz a Mahulena and Pod jabloni (under the Apple Tree) Suk's characteristic features emerge quite distinctly. They acquire an element of the bizarre in Fantasticke scherzo, and somewhat receed in the symphonic poem Praga. Then begins a series of symphonic works: the mournful symphony Azrael, the musical poem Pohadka leta, Zrani and Epilog. An important testimony to his struggle for his own style is the passionate violin Fantasy in G Minor with orchestra.

Josef Suk Besides Novak and Suk,Otakar Ostrcil (1879 - 1935) appeared around the year 1900. In the spirit of his teacher Fibich, he devoted his youth to the syphonic poem (Pohadka o Semikovi), melodrama (Balada o mrtvem sevci a mlade tanecnici) and ballads (Osirelo dite). In the symphonic realm, his most significant works are Impromptu, Suite in C minor and Symfonietta, and his operatic work includes Kunaluvy oci, Poupe, Legenda z Erinu and Legenda o sv. Zite.

Czech modernism matured in the course of the long musical career of the much older Leos Janacek (1854-1928). From his youth, after studying at organ school, he was active as a conductor and teacher. In composition he initially confined himself to the lesser forms of choral and instrumental music, linking Krizikovsky and Dvorak, who was also his main model in the tragic opera Sarka based on Zeyer's poem. His work in cooperation with Frantisek Bartos led him to collect and study folk songs and music, and he expressed them in entirely original arrangements, to which he often returned. From there he began an orchestral version of the Lasske tance (Lachian Dances), which along with Hanacke tance forms the essence of the ethnographic ballet Rakos Rakoczy. Janacek then applied his ethnographic interest to popular speech, whose melodies he collected and whose cadence later affected the tenor of his succint melodic inventions in their intense rhythms. This structure first emerges in the opera Pocatek romanu and fully appears in the folkloristically colorful and expressively captivating opera Jeji pastorkyna (Jenufa), which is the first Czech opera on a literary drama (Gab. Preissova) written in prose. It's followed by Osud (Fate), the charming Liska bystrouska (The Cunning Little Vixen), and the psychologically and dramatically concentrated Vec Makropulos (The Macropulos Case). An entirely new style was created by Janacek in male choral production, mainly with compositions on the poems of Bezruc (Kantor Halfar, Marycka Magdonova) and his absolute originality stands out in his piano works (eg. the cycle Po zarostlem chodnicku - On an Overgrown Path) and chamber pieces (Violin Sonata with piano, Two String Quartets). General recognition came to him only very late - with the Prague opening of Jeji pastorkyna in 1916, and he was awarded the first honorary doctorate from Masaryk University in Brno.

Otakar Ostrcil The politically conscious, anti-romantic generation that appeared after the First World War was led by Bohuslav Martinu (1890 - 1959). He was a pupil of Josef Suk, but he developed fully under the influence of his next teacher, Albert Rousell in Paris, where he lived from 1923 to 1941. After that he moved to the United States, where he became extremely well-known. The final years of his life he spent in Italy and Switzerland, where he died.

Leos Janacek His production in terms of quantity was enormous. His first successes were with the symphonies Half-time (1924) and La Baggare(1926). Then came the Symfonia Concertante for two orchestras, the Partita for String Orchestra and especially the Concerto Grosso and the Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and tympany, one of the great works of "dramatism" of the time. Martinu has numerous concertos (four for the piano, one for two pianos, a violin concerto, two cello concertos and many others for a wide variety of other instruments). What stand out most among more than 70 chamber pieces, are his quartets, sonatas for violin and piano, and his sonatas for cello and piano. He had many notable vocal compositions, especially Novy spalicek, Pisnicky na jednu stranku (Songs on One Page), and Pisnicky na dve stranky (Songs on Two Pages), as well as operas Hry o Marii (Plays about Mary), Julietta, Recke pasije (Greek Passion)]. Of his dozens of ballets, the most remarkable is the sung Spalicek.

Important Composers

Josef Bohuslav Foerster(1859 - 1951)
Vitezslav Novak(1870 - 1949)
Josef Suk(1874 - 1935)
Otakar Ostrcil(1879 - 1935)
Otakar Zich(1879 - 1934)
Rudolf Karel(1880 - 1945)
Leos Janacek(1854 - 1928)
Ladislav Vycpalek(1882 - 1969)
Emil Axman(1887 - 1949)
Karel Boleslav Jirak(1891 - 1972)
Bohuslav Martinu(1890 - 1959)
Pavel Borkovec(1894 - 1972)
Alois Haba(1893 - 1973)
Jaroslav Jezek(1906 - 1942)
Jan Novak(1921 - 1984)