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7.4: Neoclassicism

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    In the decades between World War I and World War II, many composers in the Western world began to write in a style we now call Neoclassicism. When composing in a neoclassic manner, composers attempted to infuse many of the characteristics of the classic period into their music, incorporating concepts like balance (of form and phrase), economy of material, emotional restraint, and clarity in design. They also returned to popular classical forms like the Fugue, the Concerto Grosso, and the Symphony.

    Numerous well-known composers incorporated neoclassic techniques and philosophy into their compositions. Stravinsky was among them, and his ballet entitled Pulcinella (1920) is an early example of neoclassical style. It was based on music that Stravinsky originally thought was written by the Baroque composer Giovanni Pergolesi. Music historians later deduced that the compositions were actually written by contemporaries of Pergolesi and not by Pergolesi himself. Stravinsky borrowed specific themes from these earlier works and combined them with more modern harmonies and rhythms. Listen to how in some sections the music closely approximates the style and sounds of Baroque composers, while in other sections it sounds much more aggressive, primitive, and modern.

    Stravinsky, Pulcinella

    One composer who was able to combine elements of neo-Classicism with the traditions of his homeland was Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945). Bartok was born in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary and was an important figure in the music of the early twentieth century. A noted composer, teacher, pianist, and ethnomusicologist, he was appointed to a position in the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest in 1907 and worked there until 1934. Along with his friend and colleague Zoltán Kodály, Bartók enthusiastically researched and sought out the music of Hungarian peasants, and both composers transcribed the music they found for piano, as well as using it as inspiration for their own original compositions.

    In addition to Hungarian folk music, Bartók’s style was also influenced by the Romantic music of Strauss and the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. He was also influenced by Debussy’s impressionism and the more modern music of Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg. As a result of all of these influences, his music was often quite rhythmic, and it incorporated both tonal and chromatic (moving by half-steps) elements. Bartók composed numerous piano works, six string quartets, and an opera titled Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, as well as a ballet entitled The Wooden Prince (1916), and a pantomime entitled The Miraculous Mandarin (1919). His string quartets and his Concerto for Orchestra have become part of the standard repertoire of professional performing groups around the world.


    For audio, go to:

    Composer: Béla Bartók
    Composition: Concerto for Orchestra – Movement Five “Finale”
    Date: 1944
    Genre: Orchestral composition featuring all of the different sections of the orchestra
    Form: Concerto in five movements – this is the fifth movement only
    Performing Forces: Full Orchestra
    Timing Performing Force, Melody and Texture

    Chord tones.

    French horns.

    Tonal scales.



    Strings and timpani.

    Fast scale patterns.

    Tonal scales


    Adds flute background figures.

    Fast scale patterns.

    Tonal scales



    Adds muted brass background figures.

    Fast scale patterns



    Adds full brass and woodwind fanfare like accompaniment.

    Violin scales and other playing chords.



    Brief interlude figure.



    Scale patterns.



    Scale patterns.



    Very fast and high scale patterns.


    This page titled 7.4: Neoclassicism is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Clark, Heflin, Kluball, & Kramer (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.