'Down with Romanticism'?: changing aesthetics in cello performance practice 1920-1960

Krista Low

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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Scholars past and present identify a widespread shift in aesthetics and philosophy across Europe following the First World War. The declaration "Down with Romanticism" was noted in artistic circles by Leonid Sabeneev in 1928 to summarise the departure from the values of intense individualism and emotional expression which had dominated the late-nineteenth century. Happening concurrently within musical performance practices during this time was a trend towards objectivity of interpretation and emotional restraint which closely mirrored these broader aesthetic changes. However, the Romantic aesthetic is also recognised by scholars as a pervasive force in music throughout history; hence this shift was not met without opposition by critics, audiences and performers. Whilst studies which address the aesthetic shift in musical performance practices of this era focus primarily on violin and keyboard practices, the response of cellists to these issues during the period remain comparatively unexplored. By drawing upon treatises, articles and sound recordings of the period, this thesis addresses this lacuna by discussing the changing aesthetics of the period, the extent to which these aesthetics represented a decline in Romanticism and the extent of their manifestation in cello performance practice practises during the period 1920 to 1960.

The study examines this central aim in five parts. Firstly, a general summary is made of the changing aesthetics of Western art music and in particular the decline of late-nineteenth-century Romanticism. Secondly, this aesthetic shift is examined in relation to general music performance. Thirdly, written sources which specifically describe cello performance aesthetics are consulted in relation to the major pedagogical lineages to examine the extent to which the Romantic aesthetic declined within individual schools of playing. Fourthly, this discussion is continued with reference to recordings of cellists of the period. Analysis focuses on the deployment of rubato, vibrato and portamento allowing some conclusions to be drawn about the extent to which individual performers - and by extension the pedagogical lineages to which they belong - were affected by the decline in Romantic aesthetic discussed in the previous chapters. Finally, the critical reception of cello performance practice in prominent publications will be examined, thus situating the practices of cellists within the wider context of general instrumental performance practices. The conclusions of the study contribute to an understanding, not only of the music and emotional climate of the time, but of the inherited influences of such aesthetic changes present today.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


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