Review of Walter Frisch. 2005. German Modernism: Music and the Arts. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press

Painter, Karen

Long admired for judicious analysis steeped in history, from Schoenbergian Brahms to Brahmsian Schoenberg, Walter Frisch, in German Modernism: Music and the Arts, topples a historiography in place for at least sixty years. Chapters on ”Ambivalent Modernism” (Parsifal) and “Regressive Modernism” (Pfitzner’s Palestrina) serve as bookends. Reger receives twenty-three pages, Schoenberg four-and those four on the works in a performance that set Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc aglow. The book traverses a half-century of early modernism, as Frisch occasionally specifies, from 1870 to 1920. If the book’s title overreaches, laying claim to the entire sweep of German modernism, one need only recall that at the time, the music of Wagner and Strauss, Mahler and Schreker, sparked debates over “modern” music, whereas Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg fell by the wayside, receiving scant notice in the annals of history and more scorn than recognition from critics. All this would change, but only after World War I, when musical life became politicized and polarized, each camp with its own advocates. Frisch has a different story, and one worth telling.


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August 18, 2022