The Age of Rebellion
In the fifth episode, composer Howard Goodall looks at the period when modernism in music arrived, and when the birth of recorded sound changed the way music was heard, played, and sold, forever.
The death of Richard Wagner in 1883 led, not to a series of pseudo-Wagners, but to a series of developments that in many ways were in opposition to his monumental ambitions. In France the uncluttered and 'chillaxed' music of Gabriel Faure, Erik Satie and others was like a long hot lazy afternoon. The symphonies of Gustav Mahler invited all forms of music, including Jewish folk music into their generous embrace.
Elsewhere folk music was beginning to make an impact on musical form and texture. The self-taught Mussorgsky actually sounded Russian - unlike Tchaikovsky, the most famous Russian composer of the day! When Mussorgsky's music came to the Paris World Fair in 1889 it astonished non-Russian composers, especially Claude Debussy. He was also greatly influenced by the music of Java, also showcased at the World Fair. These influences from abroad were to change mainstream music and prefigure what we'd now call 'World Music'. And when Diaghilev and Stravinsky collaborated on a series of ballets, the results - also using Russian folk forms, with revolutionary rhythms attached - astonished, terrified and scandalised the audience in equal measure, in works like the ground-breaking Rite of Spring. So too the extraordinary dissonant and erotic operas of Richard Strauss, especially Salome. Modern music had begun.
But meanwhile another crucial building block of modern music was sliding into place. More than anything recording brought the music of America - particularly the folk idioms of African Americans, Chinese, and Irish and Scottish labourers into the mainstream as the blues, ragtime and then jazz developed, and then swept the planet. Classical music - for a time - retreated into a golden summer of nostalgia, exemplified by the enduring appeal of Elgar's Enigma Variations, written as the nineteenth century drew to a close. And before the First World War ripped Europe apart.