How does 20th Century instrumental music differ from that of the Romantic period?

1 Answer | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

With the Industrial Revolution musical instruments were greatly improved as mechanized keywork permitted musicians to play more difficult passages. For, they had a better range of keys that were mechanized which helped keep the instrument in tune. This keywork also made large instruments, such as the contrabassoon more facile as all the keys are located in a close, comfortable area for the musician's hands. And, because of these technical improvements, the nineteenth century is marked by greater freedom in the form, harmony, and rhythm of musical works. Thus, the dynamics within these musical works became more intense than before because of the added intensity, vitality, and vigor emanating from such improved instrumentation.

The Romantic period of the nineteenth century gave rise to nationalism, and composers incorporated such elements as folk idioms, motifs, melodies and rhythms that reflected their country. For instance, Johann Wilhelm Wilms wrote Wien Netherland Bloed that became the Dutch national anthem from 1815-1932. Frederic Chopin incorporated folk idioms and nationalistic rhythms in his polonaises and mazurkas. The Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, who is credited with being the first nationalistic composer, wrote pieces such as Vitava, which described his homeland musically. 

Considered the bridge between the classical composer and the romantic is Ludwig von Beethoven, whom many perceived as the "heroic artist" that cast his personal experience into his works, leading his listener's to the "sublime" experience. Another composer, Claude Debussy, who, to his dislike, is associated with Impressionism, exemplifies Romanticism in his frequent avoidance of tonality and his arabesques. He is also known for his use of chromaticism:

As tonal harmony continued to widen and even break down, the chromatic scale became the basis of modern music written using the twelve tone technique, a tone row being a specific ordering or series of the chromatic scale.

Many composers of the early twentieth century reacted to the Post-Romantic and Impressionist styles by creating a plurality of techniques and expression. This was accomplished chiefly by means of a break with tonality. An early twentieth century composer, Aaron Schoenberg of Vienna, is credited with atonality, created by using an occurrence of pitches which are in unique combinations. Closely connected to this technique is one called "dissonant counterpoint" in which new chords and progressions are created. In creating this dissonance, some composers, such as Leonard Berstein added jazz to some of his compositions. Experimentation with other forms such as jazz is not unusual. For instance, some twentieth-century compositions use electronic music 

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,916 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question