Expressionism as Musical Style

  • Ivan Klemenčič


The study is first of all concerned with the developmental course of expressionism and of the music inside that course, and in particular with a critical discussion of certain relevant pronouncements of musicologists made so far. In accordance with the author's broader conception of style the central part is focused on the criteria of the expressionist style. Here the following aspects are taken into account i the composer's fundamental attitude towards reality and the orientation in his spiritual outlook; the composition of the especially important creator's "artistic organ" by means of which he transforms the substance of life into art; and as a result of the preceding two aspects the realization of the content and expression and then the most concrete item of scrutiny: the compositional means naturally interconnected with the features indicated above. In the continuation the criteria for the second aspect are analytically divided into subjectivism (with the concepts of dissociation and psychological time) and a partial withdrawal into objectivism, spiritual refinement (from phantastics to abstractions, with reductions and deformations), irrationality including a certain development of rationality; and the inner truth of the artistic subject – also as a criterion of the 20th cent. modern trends – which replaces the romantically idealized beautifulness. The identification of periods in expressionism begins with its predecessors (Wagner, Mahler, R. Strauss, Schönberg and disciples, Scriabin) and includes the tonal early expressionism (ca. 1906-08), highly developed expressionism with atonality (1908-23) and late expressionism with dodecaphony (1923-33 and further on), which after the Second War develops into the neo-expressionism of the total organization. The first three phases are dominated in particular by Schönberg's school, with Berg and Webern, whereas Scriabin follows his own way out of impressionism which in the first two phases brings him almost to atonality. It further expands with a parallel group of individuals (Stravinsky, Bartók, Hindemith, Prokofiev, and many other important composers). They belong to the developed stage of expressionism already before the First War and mostly in the years immediately after it – chiefly with one creative period and most frequently in forms of strongly expanded tonality. Because of the historical plasticity a special question is devoted to the development and comparison of expressionism by means of some fundamental inherent criteria – a comparison with concurrent styles such as neo-classicism, neo-baroque and "Neue Sachlichkeit".


Download data is not yet available.
How to Cite
KlemenčičI. (1981). Expressionism as Musical Style. Musicological Annual, 17(2), 29-49.