The term Expressionism was originally borrowed from visual art and literature. Artists created vivid pictures, distorting colours and shapes to make unrealistic images that suggested strong emotions. Expressionist composers poured intense emotional expression into their music and explored the subconscious mind.

The Fox by Franz Marc
The Fox by Franz Marc

Expressionist music often features:

  • a high level of dissonance
  • extreme contrasts of dynamics
  • constantly changing textures
  • ‘distorted’ melodies and harmonies
  • angular melodies with wide leaps
  • extremes of pitch
  • no cadences