||[pictured: "Self-portrait with Horn" by Max Beckmann]
Much like impressionism,
expressionism is a term that was first used in connection
with painting. In many aspects, it is the direct opposite of
impressionism. Unlike impressionism, its goals were not to create
passive impressions and moods, but to strongly express (hence the
name) intense feelings and emotions.
Expression is actually pretty difficult to describe. You could
say that it is somewhat like romanticism because they both seek to portray
the composer's emotions. The main difference is that expressionism
puts the emotional expression above everything else. While
romantics (such as Robert
Schumann or Johannes
Brahms) also showed emotion in their music, they did so while
still following traditional methods of writing music. On the other
side, expressionists completely ignored tradition and focused on
expressing emotions at all costs. For this reason, expressionistic
music is often dissonant, fragmented, and densely written.
To put it another way, let's compare it once more to impressionism. You could say that an
impressionist work portrays what is in the world around the
composer: it creates an impression of what is being seen. An
expressionist work, on the other hand, portrays what is going on
inside the composer's mind: it is an expression of what is
being felt. The example we've provided here is the beginning of Pierrot
Lunaire, by Arnold
Schöenberg. Notice how it's not like much of the music
you're probably used to hearing.
(MIDI): Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg...
journey inside the mind of the composer
Three major expressionist composers are Schöenberg, Alban Berg, and Paul Hindemith.