[Pt. IV Proj.3] – Moving into the Twentieth Century – Project 3 -Serialism – Research point 4.5-Stravinsky and Neoclassicism.

[Pt. IV Proj. 3] – Research point 4.5-Stravinsky and Neoclassicism. At around the same time as Schoenberg was developing serialism, the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (whom we encountered in the assignment of the Renaissance chapter) was spearheading a counter musical movement called Neoclassicism. Your research point here is to find out about Neoclassicism and its primary exponents in the first 40 years or so of the Twentieth Century. What is it and how does it compare to serialism? Aim to write around 500 words.


Neoclassicism is a revival of the Classical and Baroque (in fact mainly Baroque) styles of music which were themselves a revival of the ancient Greek and Roman Classical ideals. The whole movement which emerged in the years between the world wars was heavily influenced and based on Respighi’s 1917 work ‘Ancient Airs and Dances’ which was in turn based on 17th century modal contrapuntal writing. The emotional excess and chromaticism of the Romanticism was abandoned in favour of neatly and clearly structured music and harmonies and a strong, almost dance like rhythmical component. There was some departure from the Classical music of the past, mainly in the shape of greater and brighter dissonance, suspension techniques and a much wider tessitura and more extreme key modulations. Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev spearheaded the movement, Stravinsky basing his style on Baroque musicians such as Bach and various opera composers and Prokofiev using Haydn’s symphonies as his model. Other composers who composed in this style are Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith, Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc.

Aside from aesthetic influences there were practical and social issues which were instrumental in the turning away from Romanticism. The austerity brought on by the wars had affected the composers, opera houses and concert halls. There simply was not enough money to put on lavish productions nor could people afford much luxury. The mood was also very sober and there was a craving for order in the chaos.

For ‘Music 1 ~ From the Present to the Past’ I recently wrote an analysis of and comparison between two major Neoclassical works; Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella and Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25. I shan’t repeat what I wrote, but feel free to read it here; https://sunnylazic.com/assignment-four-pt-iv-revised-after-formative-feedback-neoclassicism/

Lastly, I’d like to add that Igor Stravinsky’s himself ended up using an altered version of serialism towards the end of his life, after meeting and being influenced by the composer Robert Craft. The techniques used in serialism, such as inversions and retrograde are already compositional techniques employed in Baroque contrapuntal music so the transition for Stravinsky and Neoclassicism would have been natural. Stravinsky often used rows of less than 12 tones, but nevertheless some of his thinking during this time seems to align with both Schoenberg’s and Webern’s ideals.