An Ox on the Roof

wed 3 apr 2019 21:00 

An Ox on the Roof 2: Expressionism and impressionism. {Etching: Guus Glass]

The second episode of an Ox on the Roof by Thea Derks, in this programme she loosely follows the argument of her book, Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht (An ox on the roof: a brief sketch of modern music after 1900), which was published in 2018. The book introduces contemporary music, written in everyday language.

During the first episode Derks zoomed in on the abandoning of tonality, in which one single tone, the root or tonic, would pull in all focus towards itself. Schönberg tried

to break through the hierarchy and by-pass the centre of gravity of that root by equalizing all 12 semitones of the octave.

The outcome was not appreciated by the audience and critics who mockingly called it ‘atonal’ music, but Schönberg tenaciously continued on his chosen path. At the beginning of the 20th century he wrote some highly dramatic works, which because of their tormented expression were denoted as ‘expressionistic’, in analogy with the art of painting. An example of this is the one-acter Die glückliche Hand about an artist that struggles with being underestimated. A reference to Schönberg himself?

While Schönberg was developing his atonal music in Vienna, Debussy in Paris was also looking at ways to avoid the root’s gravitational pull. He used different scales than the usual major and minor scales and composed colourful music with them. This music was also rejected by critics because it was deemed vague and ‘impressionistic’.

Tip: if you use the following site: boekenbestellen.nl to order Een os op het dak, you will receive a copy with a personalized inscription.


1. Arnold Schönberg. Die glückliche Hand. Siegmund Nimsgern, bass. BBC Singers and Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez.

2. Claude Debussy. Printemps.
Orchestre de Paris conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

3. Lili Boulanger. a. D’un soir triste. b. D’un matin de Printemps.
BBC Philharmonic conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier.

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