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Contents

Music in the Early Twentieth Century

A NEW ATTITUDE TOWARD THE “CLASSICS”?

Chapter:
CHAPTER 9 Lost—or Rejected—Illusions
Source:
MUSIC IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin
A New Attitude Toward the “Classics”?

ex. 9-2b Serge Prokofieff, Love for Three Oranges, Act III, scene 3, fig. 391 (the second princess begs for water)

Unlike so many modernist classics, then, The Love for Three Oranges is easy to enjoy once the shock of its novelty has worn off. It was one of the harbingers of that revolution in taste, begotten (it is true) of misery, that cultivated hygienic belly laughs to replace the neurasthenic wheezing of prewar “decadence,” a therapeutic against late, late romanticism’s gangrenous grandiosity. From this standpoint the emblematic moment, just as it was for Gozzi, is the scene of the hypochondriac Prince’s cure in act II. At the sight of Fata Morgana’s knobby knees and withered behind, the Prince goes into gales of laughter, represented in the music by a little set piece over an ostinato (Ex. 9-4a), and with the Prince’s “ha-ha-ha-HA” an inevitable parody of the opening unison in… need it be named?

The new debunking spirit was perhaps most vivid when the objects debunked were the untouchable icons of the past. Beethoven’s Fifth came in for ribbing from many sides. Stravinsky quoted its last movement in a little Souvenir d’un marche boche (“Souvenir of a ‘Kraut’ March”) that he contributed to a lavish art book that was sold in 1915 to raise money for Belgian war relief (Ex. 9-4b). In a ballet called El sombrero de tres picos (“The three-cornered hat”), produced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1919, the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla (1876–1946) poked more fun at it (Ex. 9-4c) when a bunch of asinine gendarmes come knocking peremptorily and “fatefully” at someone’s door.

But as early as 1913, Erik Satie had already spoofed the Fifth’s colossal coda in a cute little piano piece with a ridiculously serious subject: “de Podophthalma,” the last of a suite of three Embryons desséchées (“Dried embryos”), music purporting to give a scientific description of marine life (Ex. 9-4d; it depicts crayfish hunting for food and incorporates the French equivalent of “A-Hunting We Will Go” in addition to the Beethoven reference). A deliberate study in pompous triviality, it passes a wicked judgment on the romantic taste for big statements in art.

A New Attitude Toward the “Classics”?

ex. 9-2c Serge Prokofieff, Love for Three Oranges, Act III, scene 3, fig. 415 (Ninetta, the third princess, begs for water)

A New Attitude Toward the “Classics”?

ex. 9-3 Serge Prokofieff, Love for Three Oranges, Act III, scene 3, fig. 418 (Princess Ninetta gets her drink)

A New Attitude Toward the “Classics”?

ex. 9-4a Caricature of Beethoven’s Fifth, Serge Prokofieff, Love for Three Oranges, Act I, scene 1

A New Attitude Toward the “Classics”?

ex. 9-4b Caricature of Beethoven’s Fifth, Igor Stravinsky, Souvenir d’un marche boche

A New Attitude Toward the “Classics”?A New Attitude Toward the “Classics”?

ex. 9-4c Caricature of Beethoven’s Fifth, Manuel da Falla, El sombrero de tres picos

A New Attitude Toward the “Classics”?

ex. 9-4d Caricature of Beethoven’s Fifth, Erik Satie, “De podophthalma” (from Embryons desséchées, no. 3)

Of course to a card-carrying Frenchman like Satie, or a Russian in wartime like Stravinsky, Beethoven’s Germanness was both bait and butt. But the mood spread widely after the war, when disgust at Germany translated into disgust at artistic pretensions to weight and significance, especially in music (the “German” art par excellence, at least in its weightier manifestations). Part of the postwar cult of irony, certainly on the part of “Allied” (or, in Falla’s case, “neutral”) composers, was de-Germanification. Wagner, banned in many Allied countries during the war, did not come back immediately; and when he did, it was no longer with the sense that he bore the banner of the universal tradition in music, but very much as a German.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 9 Lost—or Rejected—Illusions." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2018. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-div1-009003.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 9 Lost—or Rejected—Illusions. In Oxford University Press, Music in the Early Twentieth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 10 Dec. 2018, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-div1-009003.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 9 Lost—or Rejected—Illusions." In Music in the Early Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 10 Dec. 2018, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-div1-009003.xml