PrinciplesNeoclassicism had its most articulate spokesman in Igor Stravinsky. He moved from the Post-Impressionism of "The Firebird" through the Primitivism of "The Rite of Spring" to a more controlled classicism of his maturity. He consistently preached the formal above the emotional elements in art. "I can not compose until I have decided what problem I must solve." The problem was always aesthetic, not personal. He wrote, "I evoke neither human joy nor human sadness."
Stravinsky's doctrine represented an effort on a grand scale to purge music of pictorial, literary, and ethical meanings. His aim was to draw the listener's attention away from his own emotions and to concentrate it on the tones instead, although in the later phase of his career he departed from this doctrine to a philosophy which no longer separated life from art.
One of the main achievements of Neoclassicism was the revival of the absolute forms -- symphony, concerto, sonata, and various types of chamber music. Equally significant was the return to the forms of the pre-romantic eras such as suite, divertimento, toccata, concerto grosso, fugue, passacaglia, and chaconne.
The music of the romantics had adhered to a melodic style based on the voice, but the neoclassicists favored an instrumental melody that made use of wider intervals and a more extended range. Harmonically, they moved away from the chromaticism of the post-Wagnerian style to pandiatonicism, based on the seven tones of the diatonic scale. In contrast to the multitude of sharps and flats in the early 20th century, it favored a sparing use of accidentals and showed an affinity for the key of C major. Many pages of neoclassic music were prime examples of the term "white music" coined during this period.
The composers of the Neoclassic period focused their attention on elegance of style and purity of taste. In exalting the how over the what, they were led to the classical virtues of order, discipline, balance, and proportion.
ComposersThe New Classicism attracted musicians of a certain taste and temperament -- especially those who were fascinated by formal perfection and inclined to separate art from life. It drew artists as dissimilar as Schoenberg and Hindemith, Bartok and Milhaud, Honegger and Prokofiev, Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions. Taken in its broadest sense, it can be seen to have influenced most of the prominent figures of the 1920's and 30's.
ExamplesThe Neoclassical aesthetic dominates Stravinsky's "Symphonies of Wind Instruments" (1920). The instrumental works that followed incarnate the principle of the old concerto grosso -- pitting contrasting tone masses against each other. This "return to Bach" crystallized in the "Octet," the "Piano Sonata," the "Concerto" for piano and wind orchestra, and the "Serenade in A," all of which date from the years 1923-25.(See also 20th Century Movements)
Stravinsky's classical period culminates in several major compositions. Three of these are "Oedipus Rex" (1927), an opera-oratorio, the ballet "Orpheus" (1947), and the "Symphony in C" (1940) which pays tribute to Haydn and Mozart. His ballet "Pulcinella" (1920) is based on an 18th-century theme by Pergolesi. "Symphony of Psalms" contains a double fugue in the 2nd movement and the third movement is in a version of Sonata-Rondo form.
In respect to form Hindemith was a traditionalist. His models were the great contrapuntal forms of the Baroque: concerto grosso, passacaglia and chaconne, toccata and fugue; also the balanced form of the Classical sonata. His work "Ludus Tonalis" (1942) for piano,was modeled after Bach's "Well Tempered Clavier." It contains 12 fugues in 12 different key centers, along with 11 interludes, a prelude and a postlude (the postlude being the retrograde of the prelude).
Chamber music occupies a central place in Hindemith's output. The compositions entitled "Kammermusik," for various combinations of instruments, are flanked by a long list of solo sonatas, duo, trios, quartets, quintets, and concertos.
Hindemith helped revive the spirit of Classical chamber music in unpretentious works that could by played by amateurs at home as well as by professionals on stage. A fine example of this is his "Kleine Kammermusik" (Small Chamber Music), Opus 24, No. 2, for five winds, which he wrote in 1922. The five instruments are flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon. The following is a brief overview of this work.The first movement is in common time (4/4) and boasts a strong energetic rhythm. The opening melody, marked by broad, undulating curves, is rich in motives that are capable of growth and development. Hindemith weaves a closely knit texture where each of the motives can work out its own destiny.
The second movement is a kind of parody-waltz with a roguish lilt. The main idea is a wide-ranging melody introduced by clarinet and echoes a tone lower (in sequence) by the piccolo, which replaces the flute in this movement. The lower wind instruments mark the waltz rhythm very effectively without the use of percussion.
In the third movement we encounter a structure typical of Hindemith -- a slow movement that encloses a faster, more eventful middle section. There's a hushed ostinato rhythm, repeated over and over again under a flowing melody.
The fourth is a brief interlude which alternates cadenza-like passages in each of the instruments. The effect of this movement is a dialogue between strict and free rhythm and an exchange of color.
The final movement utilizes syncopated passages and the subtle shifting of metrical accents.