Monday, March 14, 2005

Best works of the 1920's

An OT thread on the Finale users' list asked about the best works of the 1920's. This was my list:

Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920), Pulchinella (1919-20)
Ives: Orchestral Set Nr. 2 (rev. ca. 1925)
Antheil: Ballet méchanique (1927)
Bartok: Dance Suite (1923), String Quartet Nr. 4 (1928)
Cowell: The Banshee (1925)
Milhaud: Six Petites Symphonies
Puccini: Turandot (-1924, compl. 1926)
Sibelius: Sinfonia 7 (1924), Tapiola (1926)
Varese: Hyperprism (1922-3), Ionization (1929-31)
Webern: Three Lieder, for voice, E flat clarinet and guitar, opus 18 (1925)

I also considered Wozzeck, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, the Copland Organ Symphony, The Makropulos Affair, and some Respighi, all music that I like, but none of which really struck me as more worth listing than the pieces above. The Schönberg Suite, Op. 25, also considered, is one of those historically important pieces that is less than convincing as a piece of music outside of that historical context. (The Monteverdi Vespers are a similar case, but in the case of the Vespers, I say that the sum of the parts, all of them beautiful, outweighs the whole, so I'd definitely keep it on my list of the best works of the 1610's. As long as I'm at it, Lou Harrison's Suite for piano, also a twelve-tone work, is a wonderful piece that ought to have more attention and I find it more successful than the Schönberg model).

This decade offers some surprising juxtapositions of generations and styles, and while some works on my list still clearly reflect a "masterwork" ethic of works of great scale and moment, most of the pieces on this list challenge that ethic in some substantial way -- a single movement symphony, stripped-down, souped-up, or spaced-out orchestras, percussion and extended techniques, and radical miniatures of condensed expression.

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