How late is late modernism?

The Dome, Bramall Music Building
Arts and Law, Research
Wednesday 22nd March 2017 (13:00)
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  • Music Colloquium series 2016-2017

Speaker: Sarah Collins

Venue: The Dome, Bramall Music Building (3rd Floor)


Given the variation in the historical period to which the phrase ‘late modernism’ applies across art, music and literary histories, it may be more accurate to refer to the ethos of late modernism as a ‘style’. ‘Style’ can be distinguished from ‘period’ in that period forms part of a narrative of development (be it progressive, declining, cyclic or alternate) and is therefore diachronic. On the other hand style, according to Knittel, ‘originates from internal evidence, and reflects something about the way in which the music is heard’, and is therefore synchronic. It is true that styles can define periods and can therefore partake of narrative discourse, but they can also be invoked as evidence against the ubiquity of periodization, and styles across a vast historical and geographical remit can be viewed together as part of a continuous practice. In addition to describing features of music, style might also refer to forms of selfhood that condition the composition and criticism of music, in this case referring to an ‘attitude, stance, posture, and consciousness’ (Walkowitz). To speak of late modernism as a style then, involves discerning what it is to be ‘late’ and construing the aspects of lateness as they are manifest in art and persona. This paper considers the periodization of late modernism in music, and invites discussion on the relationship between inter-war and post-WWII musical modernisms in particular.