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23.2 - Stravinsky and His Early Ballets Russes

When you think of Impressionism, you probably think of paintings, likely the beautiful canvases of Claude Monet. But the emotionally evocative, non-realistic style of Impressionism pervaded all aspects of art. For music, another Claude, this time Debussy, typified the Impressionist movement. After learning about the sometimes outrageous lives of some of history’s famous composers, it may shock you to hear that Debussy led a rather banal existence, with no depression, psychosis or family tragedy to speak of. But from an ordinary life can come extraordinary music! We’ll look at three pieces, one each from his early, middle, and late career, to see how Debussy's style shifted away from more goal-oriented Romanticism to the “live in the moment” style that came to define Impressionism. After a brief guitar lesson taught with the help of the talented Solomon Silber, we’ll continue on to the Modernist period. As is well known to all by now, musical style is constantly changing. Sometimes the change is subtle, like the shift from Classical to Romantic music. At other times, however, change crashes like a Tsunami against previous traditions. This is what we experience as we engage the bracing sounds of Modernism. Beginning in the early 20th century, composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg abandoned traditional melody and scale. Simply put, audiences were, at times, less than receptive to this change. We’ll listen to samples of the music that provoked audience hostility, and discuss what seems to make this music so inaccessible, at times downright unpleasant, for most listeners.We will close this week, and our course, with Postmodernism and Minimalism. We’ll see how composers like Aaron Copland brought orchestral music back to the people by paring it down to its most basic terms. We’ll then hear how artists such as Philip Glass and John Adams, took this idea and ran with it, composing captivating trance-like movements around the simplest of ideas.

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