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The works of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, and Bartok are remarkably rich in allusions to earlier music. Joseph Straus details the revisionary strategies of these twentieth-century composers—how they transformed the music of the tonal tradition in creating their radically new sonorities and structures. He defines a main stream of musical modernism, a mainstream shaped by the aggressive reinterpretation of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century models.
Through close analysis of selected works, Straus considers “recompositions” of earlier music—Schoenberg’s orchestrations of works by Bach, for example—and examines twentieth-century transformations of three basic elements of tonal music: the triad (the central structure of tonal harmony); the sonata form; and traditional melodic motion by perfect fourth or fifth.
Drawing upon literary critic Harold Bloom’s theory of poetic influence, Straus explores a perplexing question about musical modernism: why allusions to traditional music persisted at a time of radical stylistic and structural change. Modern music, he shows, has at its core a tension, even a struggle, between traditional elements and the post-tonal structure that subsumes them.
Students of music seeking a fuller understanding of twentieth-century music and general readers interested in modernism will find this study illuminating and rewarding.