Reinventing Music: 1910-1925

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Q2 Music has been invited to curate a dynamic, innovative sound chamber as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s multidisciplinary exhibition examining the rise of abstract art, Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925.

The standalone, enclosed room, titled Reinventing Music: 1910-1925 envelopes visitors in the breathtakingly new music composed during those watershed years, with works by Stravinsky, Varèse, Schoenberg, Ives, Webern and Debussy; and serves as counterpoint to MoMA’s sweeping survey of the development of abstraction, running from December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013.

Stream below the complete playlist for Reinventing Music: 1910-1925

On May 29, 1913, at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) premiered his The Rite of Spring. Abetted by Vaslav Nijinsky’s salacious choreography, Stravinsky’s ballet tore at the very foundations of rhythmic structure with an unprecedented, unapologetic confidence, drawing from the folk rhythms of the past while setting the stage for a new era of modern music. A decade later, German-born composer, painter, and theorist Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) would codify serialism, an innovative system of composition that defied the gravity of tonality, the traditional system of musical thought whereby melodies and harmonies are oriented around a center, or “tonic,” pitch. Schoenberg insisted that all notes be related only to one another, and thus sound with equal importance. His first published piece to fully employ this system was “Walzer,” from his Five Pieces for Piano, Op. 23, composed in 1923. These two landmark moments nearly bookend the years 1910–25, a period not only of experimentation and renewal in the visual arts, but also of radical, definitive shifts in the field of music composition.

American composer Charles Ives (1874–1954) used subtle explorations of sound quality to subdivide the Western classical-standard pitch increments in his Three Quarter-Tone Pieces (1923–1924); and French-born composer Edgard Varèse’s (1883–1965) violently beautiful music—represented here by Hyperprism (1922–1923)—built on Futurist ambitions and evoked mechanized city life. These innovations through the expansion of musical means were balanced with an equally revolutionary economization of means, as in the delicate simplicity of Claude Debussy’s (1862–1918) Syrinx (1913), which de-emphasizes metric pulse and phrasing to the point of nonexistence; or the sparse, unique minimalism of Anton Webern (1883–1945), an Austrian student of Arnold Schoenberg’s, whose Six Bagatelles, Op. 9 (1911–1913), offered a distinct response to the crisis of abandoning tonality, where timbre almost trumps pitch and silence contains unusual expressive power.

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Recording Information:

Igor Stravinsky. “Games of the Rival Tribes” and “Procession of the Sage,” from The Rite of Spring. 1911–1913. Performed by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with Leonard Bernstein, conductor. Courtesy Deutsche Grammophon. 3 min. Buy.

Claude Debussy. Syrinx. 1913. Performed by Doriot Anthony Dwyer, flute. Courtesy Deutsche Grammophon. 3 min. Buy.

Arnold Schoenberg. “Walzer,” from Five Pieces for Piano, Op. 23. 1920–23. Performed by Paul Jacobs, piano. Courtesy Nonesuch Records. 3 min. Buy.

Edgard Varèse. Hyperprism. 1922–23. Performed by Asko Ensemble with Riccardo Chailly, conductor. Courtesy Decca Records. 4 min. Buy.

Anton Webern. Six Bagatelles, Op. 9. 1911–13. Performed by Kronos Quartet. Courtesy Nonesuch Records. 4 min. Buy.

Charles Ives. “Chorale,” from Three Quarter-Tone Pieces, Op. 128. 1923–24. Performed by Donald Berman and Stephen Drury, pianos. Courtesy New World Records. 4 min. Buy.