What Is Neoclassical Music?

Neoclassical music, also known as new classical music, is a genre of music that draws on traditional classical elements such as emotional restraint, balance, order, and clarity. The music was a rebuttal to the much less formal and more emotional music of the Romantic Period, which was popular between World Wars I and II. Following a wave of musical experimentation at the turn of the century, composers in the first half of the twentieth century wrote neoclassical music to restore the link to musical tradition. The composers wanted to reintroduce a clear form, a tonal center, and a melodic element to music that had developed after the Classical Period. They added more modern chromatic elements, dissonance, and varied rhythm to the classical structure that had been developed since the Classical Period.

Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, dubbed The Classical Symphony the composer, was one of the first works to be labeled as neoclassical music. The composer used modern techniques within the classical form, and the symphony reflects the composer’s own compositional voice. This work, written in 1917, was in four movements in the style of a Franz Joseph Haydn symphony. Igor Stravinsky composed some works in the 1920s that were influenced Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Johann Sebastian Bach. Wind instruments, the piano, and chamber orchestras were used in these works, which were much smaller than the large-scale orchestras he had previously used. The Dumbarton Oaks Concerto and the Symphony of Psalms are two notable works from his Neoclassical Period.

Stravinsky believed that adopting the classical form did not limit a composer’s ability to express his musical personality, but that composing within a set order allowed for greater expression of musical ideas. Not all neoclassical composers shared the same goals, and the neoclassical movement has included composers with a wide range of styles. In the 1920s, the German composer Paul Hindemith wrote works with complex counterpoint that owed a debt to Bach, and this music has been referred to as neoclassical.

Neo-Baroque music is music that harkens back to the time of Bach and his contemporaries. Even though it is written in the idiom of Shostakovich’s own musical work, Dmitri Shostakovitch composed a set of preludes and fugues for piano, partly inspired his admiration for Bach. This work could be referred to as neoclassical music. As a result of his disagreements with the political authorities of his time, who believed that some of his music was out of touch with the general public, Shostakovitch wrote pieces in traditional musical forms.