notes on expressionism

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Expressionism originated in Germany in the early part of the 20th century. In both art and
music, it was particularly strong during the end part of the First World War and afterwards.
This is because, in Germany at this time, there were lots of feelings of discontent and
insecurity to do with all of the limitations placed on the country after the Treaty of
Versailles. It was felt that the people of Germany had very mixed emotions and strived to
put these down in paper, hence they are expressed through art and music.
The Expressionist style often provokes feelings of insecurity and makes the listener feel
uncomfortable as the emotions come poring out of the music. It is far more emotional than
the other impressionist work of the early 20th century. Unlike Impressionism, its goals were
not to reproduce the impression suggested by the surrounding world, but to strongly
impose the artist's own sensibility to the world's representation.
It could be described as being similar to romanticism because it very strongly expresses
emotions, but expressionism puts emotion above everything else, and is less concerned
with the melody and tonality of the piece. Expressionist music is often extremely
experimental which can lead to it sounding almost spontaneous.
Features of Expressionist Music:
Atonality ­ all 12 notes of the scale are used as opposed to the usual tonal structure.
A lot of very intense emotion
Very extreme dynamics ­ pieces can go from pp to ff in a matter of bars.
They are often very short pieces of music ­ the ideas are not always thoroughly
The timbre of the music is as important to the composer (and the listener) as the
It uses the full range pitch of all the instruments.
Different extremes on instruments are used, making sounds that are not usually
heard, and are almost awkward-sounding.
The three central figures of musical expressionism are Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils,
Anton Webern and Alban Berg, the so-called Second Viennese School.


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