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Neoclassicism (music)

Neoclassicism in music was instigated by Igor Stravinsky, according to himself, but attributed by others to composers including Ferruccio Busoni (who wrote "Junge Klassizität" or "New Classicality" in 1920), Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, and others. Neoclassicism was a 20th century development, particularly popular in the period between the two World Wars, in which composers drew inspiration from music of the 18th century, though some of the inspiring canon was drawn as much from the Baroque period as the Classical period - for this reason, music which draws influence specifically from the Baroque is sometimes termed neo-baroque.

Busoni wrote in a letter to Paul Bekker , "By 'Young Classicalism' I mean the mastery, the sifting and the turning to account of all the gains of previous experiments and their inclusion in strong and beautiful forms." (p.20) Roman Vlad has constrasted the "classicism" of Stravinsky, external forms and patterns used in works, with the "classicality" of Busoni, internal disposition and attitude of the artist towards works (Samson 1977).

Neoclassicism can be seen as a reaction to the prevailing trend of 19th century Romanticism to sacrifice internal balance and order in favour of more overtly emotional writing. Neoclassicism makes a return to balanced forms and often emotional restraint, as well as 18th century compositional processes and techniques. However, in the use of modern instrumental resources such as the full orchestra, which had greatly expanded since the 18th century, and advanced harmony, neoclassical works are distinctly 20th century.

However, interest in 18th century music was fairly well sustained through the 19th, with pieces such as Franz Liszt's À la Chapelle Sixtine (1862), Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite (1884), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's divertissement from The Queen of Spades (1890), and Max Reger's Concerto in the Old Style (1912), "dressed up their music in old clothes in order to create a smiling or pensive evocation of the past." (Albright, 2004).

Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony N° 1 (1917), which remained one of his most popular works, is generally considered as the composition that first brought this renewed interest in the classical music era in audible form to a wide public.

In the 20th century Igor Stravinsky composed some of the best known neoclassical works — in his ballet Pulcinella, for example, he used themes which he believed to be by Giovanni Pergolesi (it later transpired that many of them were not, though they were by contemporaries). Paul Hindemith was another neoclassicist (and New Objectivist), as was Bohuslav Martinů, who revived the Baroque concerto grosso form in his works.

See also Ottorino Respighi.

See also


  • Albright, Daniel (2004). Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226012670.
  • Samson, Jim (1977). Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality, 1900-1920. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393021939.
    • Busoni; trans. Roasamond Ley (1957). The Essense of Music and Other Papers. London.

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45