Neoclassicism: “Orthodox Europeanism” or Empowering Internationalism?

Carol J. Oja

in Making Music Modern

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780195058499
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199865031 | DOI:
Neoclassicism: “Orthodox Europeanism” or Empowering Internationalism?

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The stylistic designation “neoclassicism” met with especially strong resistance from young composers in the United States during the 1920s. Although slippery to define, neoclassicism popped up all across the Western modernist spectrum, often encompassing stylistic principles of “clarity” and “simplicity” and a broad range of attempts in art, music, and literature to re-imagine materials from the past. Whatever its profile, as a loosely defined aesthetic it affected a significant body of American works written late in the decade. These included compositions by Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris, Roger Sessions, Carlos Chavez, Walter Piston, and other newcomers to the scene. Much of the ambivalence of American composers toward neoclassicism hung on the question of whether the aesthetic yielded orthodox Europeanism, or whether it represented an empowering form of internationalism. Selected works from the Copland-Sessions Concerts exhibit sprightly responses to varying aspects of the aesthetic, showing how American composers achieved individuality while responding to a transnational set of aesthetic values.

Keywords: neoclassicism; composers; orthodox Europeanism; United States; internationalism; modernist music; Aaron Copland; aesthetic

Chapter.  2635 words. 

Subjects: American Music

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