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Music in the Early Twentieth Century



Of all the volumes in this series, this one, covering the first half of the twentieth century, surely differs the most radically from previous accounts. The reason goes beyond matters of selection and emphasis. The traditional narrative of twentieth-century music history is heavily—though often unwittingly—conditioned by a philosophy of history, conventionally identified as Hegelian, that arose in the nineteenth century in the aftermath of the French Revolution and that was first attached to the history of the arts, and to music in particular, in the 1850s. Unashamedly teleological, this historiographical bias was first enunciated in support of what was known at the time as the New German school, the faction figureheaded by Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner and chiefly promulgated by the music historian Franz Brendel. It is laid out in detail and critiqued in the eighth chapter of the previous volume in this series (Music in the Nineteenth Century), to which the reader is referred for a fuller understanding of the many references in the present volume to the philosophy of the New German school and its transformation in the twentieth century into the discourse of modernism.

In brief, the recognition of the continuity between the discourses of romanticism and modernism leads to a novel and (the present author is firmly convinced) truer representation of the evolutionary course of twentieth-century music in the literate (or “art”) tradition. This new interpretation is most decisively reflected in a revised subperiodization whereby the early decades of the century, usually represented as marking a violent break with the technical and expressive traditions of the nineteenth century, are cast instead as an intensification—or maximalization, to use the word introduced within—of those very traditions. The true break with tradition came in the 1920s with the movement, often identified as “neoclassicism,” which the conventional narrative represents as a return, or regression, to traditional ways.

In common with its companions in this series, this volume resolutely rejects the romantic viewpoint that asserts a fundamental divide between art history and world history. In particular, the fundamental tenet of neo-Hegelian art history—that the arts steadily progress toward a state of ever more perfect autonomy—is discarded as impeding by design the investigation of the actual causes of esthetic and stylistic evolution, which are to be sought within rather than outside the histories of social and political affairs. The narrative thus offers an uncompromising challenge to the viewpoint adhered to by a majority of practicing musicians and composers, even down to the present. It is admittedly and deliberately provocative, and proponents of the conventional narrative have often received it with hostility, but it is not offered in a hostile spirit. Rather, it is offered as a benevolent corrective that, by promoting understanding, can only foster enhanced appreciation of the artistic phenomena it describes.

R. T.

November 2008

Citation (MLA):
"." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2022. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-miscMatter-014008.xml>.
Citation (APA):
(n.d.). . In Oxford University Press, Music in the Early Twentieth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 7 Oct. 2022, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-miscMatter-014008.xml
Citation (Chicago):
"." In Music in the Early Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 7 Oct. 2022, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-miscMatter-014008.xml