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date: 22 February 2020


  • Arnold Whittall


A movement of style in the works of certain 20th-century composers, who, particularly during the period between the two world wars, revived the balanced forms and clearly perceptible thematic processes of earlier styles to replace what were, to them, the increasingly exaggerated gestures and formlessness of late Romanticism. The history and evolution of the term in all its aspects have been traced by Messing. Since a neo-classicist is more likely to employ some kind of extended tonality, modality or even atonality than to reproduce the hierarchically structured tonal system of true (Viennese) Classicism, the prefix ‘neo-’ often carries the implication of parody, or distortion, of truly Classical traits. The advent of postmodern sensibilities since the 1970s has made it possible to see neo-classicism not as regressive or nostalgic but as expressing a distinctly contemporary multiplicity of awareness. It is therefore difficult and even artificial to regard neo-classicism and postmodernism as separate except in historical sequence, with the former the preferred term for the period from World War I to the ...

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The New Oxford History of Music (Oxford, 1954-90)
Musical Quarterly
19th Century Music