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Expressionism - Music in the 20th Century


The 20th century witnessed more developments in the sheer diversity of music styles than ever before. Composers reacted to what they saw as the emotionalism or indulgence of the Romantic era in different ways, and this led to the birth of several new styles such as expressionism, serialism, musical theatre and minimalism.


Features of Expressionism
The following are features of expressionism in general, most of which are present in expressionist work:

  • Expressionist music is atonal - it avoids the normal hierarchy of keys and chords, giving each of the 12 semitones of equal importance.
  • Each piece generally confines itself to expressing one intense emotion.
  • Composers make full use of the pitch range of instruments, exploring the difference in instrumental colour that can be heard at the extremes of the instruments' registers.
  • Timbre is felt to be as important as the melody - the sound of the instruments is felt to contribute to the melody as much as pitch.
  • Extremes of dynamics are common, from as quiet as possible to as loud as possible. This can be even more dramatic in large ensembles when the music can go from just a few instruments playing very quietly to the full ensemble playing very loudly.
  • Pieces ten to be quite short - it is difficult to write a piece of considerable length without the framework of a key structure and the use of recognisable themes that can be developed in a traditional sense.

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

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