Classical modernism and its impacts on British society

Classical modernism is defined as a transformation of the musical aesthetics established before the 20th century.

Among musicologists and specialists, the periodization of this phenomena can slightly vary depending on the dates. As such, it is believed that musical modernism extends from 1890 to 1930. Whereas the period widening from 1930 to the late 70’s is likely to belong to postmodernism.
On the other hand, some professionals prefer attaching the composer’s attitude to this musical movement and disrupt with historical periods and times.


Dissolution and transformation


Eero Tarasti, Professor of Musicology at the University of Helsinki declared that musical modernism is “the dissolution of the traditional tonality and transformation of the very foundations of tonal language”.

During the 20th century, Jazz played an important role on influencing British composer’s work. A certain number of them decided to combine jazz elements to classic compositions. Composers as Constant Lambert and Sir Harrison Birtwistle enlighten those new tonalities with their pieces called Piano Sonata, released in 1928/29 and Panic, composed in 1995 for alto saxophone, jazz drum kit and orchestra.

Benjamin Britten’s work during modernism

Declaring he wanted his music to be “of use of the people”, Benjamin Britten stand out during his Aspen Award acceptance speech as a people’s compositor. Referred as the most influential composer of the 20th century, he revived the English opera alongside with Peter Grimes while developing the concept of pocket opera.

One of his biggest success was to make classical music accessible for children and young people. His mostly known pieces are The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, The little Sweep and Noye’s Fludde.

Today, Benjamin Britten’s work is still influencing people and art. The film Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson is considered a “sort of set to Britten’s music” because of the use of his masterworks as soundtrack. Russel Platt, music writer and composer stated that the film “sets to Britten’s opera and the final credits of the movie are matched gesture for gesture to the sounds of The Young Person’s guide to the Orchestra.


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