expressionism in music

In music, expressionism is a term normally applied to atonal works written near the beginning of the 20th century, characterized by large orchestras, extreme tessitura and avoidance of repetition. Expressionism originated in the visual arts, with the German group Die Brücke (The Bridge) in 1905, and was later extended to music. Although not stylistically homogenous, the movement's program provides stylistic clues that apply across the visual arts, literature, cinema, and music: fragmentation rather than unity, no imitation of nature, and an emphasis on the individualized, subjective artist.


In music, the early atonal works of Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), from about 1908, most clearly manifested these characteristics. They were highly original pieces, avoiding standard melodic and harmonic constructs and repetitions, and in the case of textured compositions, they dealt with human emotion rather than lyrical description. Schoenberg's Erwantung (Expectation, 1909), for example, a drama for one voice, connects musical expressionism with a surreal, psycho analytically laden libretto: a woman who wanders in the forest searching for her lover, eventually finds his bloodstained corpse. Schoenberg described his intention as to "represent in slow motion everything that occurs during a single second of maximum spiritual excitement, stretching it out to half an hour".


The Nazi seizure of power, followed by the Degenerate Art-Exhibition in Munich in 1937 (in which many expressionistic works were displayed), ended the movement in Germany, although it continued to develop in art and cinema. In music, it regained popularity in the 1950s. Hungarian composer György Ligetti (1923–2006), in particular, used expressionist stylistic traits and reinvigorated expressionism.