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Modernism comes to the ballet.
Modernism comes to the ballet.

ART TAKES TIME, BOTH TO BE CREATED AND TO BE UNDERSTOOD. On May 29, 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a ballet, premiered in Paris and promptly saw its audience descend into chaos. What was this new noise calling itself orchestral music? Did they hate it? Did they like it? Were they supposed to like it? Now the ballet and score are classics, but for some critics, this new style was simply another nail in the coffin of true artistry.

1914 | Philadelphia

Premeditated Discord

Are melodies out of fashion? Not with the public, which enjoys them more than ever. But the tailless foxes known as Futurists or cacophonists are doing their darnedest to create the impression that they are building up a new musical art, far nobler than the music of the past, into which so puerile a thing as melody cannot be allowed to enter.

Not content with boycotting melody, these cubists also make war on concord. Not for them is what Shakespeare called the “sweet concord of sounds.” Their music is an endless chain of premeditated discords—shrill, harsh, ear piercing. Concord, they tell us in word and deed, is for the old fogeys who like melodies and other sweets. The musical dishes of the future, according to their recipes, will be made up entirely of mustard, horseradish, vinegar, red pepper, curry, and asafetida. Guten appetit, kinder!

Scriabin, Stravinsky, Ferruccio Busoni, Leo Ornstein, Erik Satie, and a dozen others have thrown their hats in the ring, and each one tries to go the others one better in the cult of cacophony and general lawlessness. They remind one of the sportsmen who vie with each other in breeding ugliness into bulldogs.

EXCERPT FROM

REVOLUTIONS
Spring 2014

HENRY T. FINK, from “The Noble Contempt for Melody.” In 1909 Arnold Schoenberg completed his first atonal works, in which no tonal centers were established and the traditional principles of harmony and melody were not observed. He said to a pupil in 1921, “Today I have discovered something which will assure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years,” in reference to his twelve-tone method of composition. Finck was a music critic for The Nation and the New York Evening Post from 1881 to 1924. 

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