The Return of Nationalism

We explored nationalism in music in the 19th Century in the music of Anton Dvorak. You would have also come across nationalist influences in your readings on Tchaikovsky and Brahms. This desire to infuse art music with folk elements did not end with the turn of the century, though 20th century nationalists made a greater effort to use authentic folk idioms and avoid caricature. Many composers sought to incorporate folk idioms into their musical works. As you have already read, Stravinsky’s teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, was an outspoken musical nationalist and all three of Stravinsky’s early ballets were based on Russian themes. For composers who wanted to explore alternatives to tonality but did not want to use twelve-tone technique, folk elements often provided a useful foundation. Many folk music traditions predate the rise of tonal music in the 16th and 17th centuries, and therefore provided a melodic and harmonic framework that was not tonally centered but still provided a sense of familiarity to the listener. Our next two composers, Bela Bartok and Aaron Copland, made extensive use of folk elements in their efforts to create music that reflected a particular nation and culture.