When folk talk about the revolution that heaved music out of the 19th century and into the 20th, ripping out the roots of Romanticism and plunging music into the uncharted waters of modernism, they always use Stravinsky's 1913 ballet score, The Rite Of Spring, as the point of reference.
Quite right: to this day, performances of The Rite retain their power to shock. You can hear those roots being torn out of the ground. You hear the rule book being shredded as the thudding chords of The Augurs Of Spring begin. You can sense the previous orthodoxies of musical construction, including melody, harmony, rhythm, shape, symmetry and flow, being heaved out of the window, lock, stock, barrel and time signature. Nor is there a chance you might escape the resonances of Stravinsky's revolution, which is a very noisy revolution.
But Stravinsky's was not the only revolution signalling that seismic shift in musical history. Another was the work of the Second Viennese school of composers, spearheaded by Arnold Schoenberg and his disciples, Berg and Webern, whose revolution began in the heartland of the music of Austro-German traditions, including Brahms, and sought alternative routes towards clarity from the disintegrating hold that the densely chromatic music of the late 19th century had on the stability of European music.
Loading article content
At the same time, there was a third revolution, a different and quieter affair. That was the French revolution of Claude Debussy, who wanted nothing to do with the trappings and traditions of Austro-German music. He sought a uniquely French music, liberated from all that heavyweight German baggage, free in its expression, and effective more by suggestion than by statement. He found it in 1894 with his magical Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune.
Interestingly, Stravinsky's Rite and Debussy's Faune will sit side by side in a two-piano performance on Sunday, May 18 in Perth Concert Hall. Two revolutions for the price of one.