What Is Neoclassicism In Music? An Overview (2024)

During the early 20th century, neoclassicism was one of the most important styles in music. The era is characterized by a return to traditional musical forms and instruments with an increased emphasis on formal compositional techniques.

This article will examine the neoclassicism era of music during the 20th century music era and explore how contemporary music expresses its influence today. We’ll explore the history of neoclassic music, review various musical theories and stylistic elements developed at the time, and learn about some noteworthy neoclassic composers.

We hope you’ll leave this article with a newfound appreciation of neoclassic music and what it means for musicians today.

Table of Contents

When Was the Neoclassic Music Era?

After the expressionist period’s chaotic emotional dissonance, composers sought to reconcile music with traditional forms.

The 20-year interwar period from the end of World War I in 1918 to the beginning of World War II in 1939 provided a backdrop for this renewed call to order and traditional musical theories.

Neoclassicism was an effort to return to the basics, stripping away all that is superfluous.

Composers sought to create a purer form of music to express their ideas more clearly and with greater ease than before.

Neoclassical then refers to any compositional styles following this brief, especially between 1917 to 1930.

Many refer specifically to works by Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Arthur Honegger or Dmitri Shostakovich.

These forms can be seen as reactions against tendencies present during late romanticism when musical composition became progressively complex; neoclassicism believes that it’s possible for art not only to imitate life but also to influence it.

What Was the Neoclassic Style in Music?

Musicians working during the neoclassical period often used formal compositional techniques that reflected a desire for order and control.

They also drew on past musical styles, including Baroque forms like fugues and techniques such as counterpoint to create their pieces.

Neoclassicism emerged as new ideas about how music should be composed gained a foothold throughout Europe.

But it is not enough simply to describe neoclassicism by its return to tradition or attention to traditional theories.

The “Second Viennese School” (though it did not follow Schoenberg’s dodecaphony) developed concurrently with neoclassicism but independently from it.

Arnold Schoenberg’s emersion from expressionism into neoclassicism led composers of the time to virtually abandon their musical experiments with chaos and dissonance and adopt the order, safety, and beauty of classical music theory once more.

In form and thematic technique, neoclassical music often drew inspiration from musical themes of the 18th century, though the inspiring canon belonged as frequently to theBaroqueand even earlier periodsliketheClassical period.

Neoclassical composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev consciously referenced Baroque models when writing music in theneoclassicalstyle.

New Musical Forms in Neoclassicism

Neoclassicism branched out into two distinct stylistic elements, French and German.

The two branches each created unique musical forms and adaptations of classic and baroque musical forms and interpretations.

At this time, neoclassicism in music was more of a trend than a proper musical movement.

Neoclassical distinction refers to anystyleinfluenced by classicalmusic, whether the performer offers updated arrangements of established works by other composers orattempts toweave“purer” elements from the baroque, classical, romantic, impressionistic, or later 20th century musical styles.

Neoclassical music examines how this style emerged during a “period between two wars” and evolved into an anti-establishment movement that challenged many traditional musical ideas.

It emphasizes its origins in Russia, with Igor Stravinsky as its most prominent proponent and touches on Germany, where Paul Hindemith took it up.

Neoclassicists were not necessarily attracted to specific aspects of music such as counterpoint or Baroque forms; instead, they sought freedom from the rigidity of form and structure prevalent at the time by drawing inspiration from the work of composers like Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt.

Neoclassical music attempted to create a new musical language that departed from traditional tonality by drawing upon non-Western scales and chromaticism.

Order in the Neoclassic Era

Neoclassical music of the 20th century emphasized orderliness and structure.

In addition, the music was often heavily influenced by early classical forms.

The end of World War I inspired a period where artists and composers sought new styles different from those that had become stale over time.

Musical forms such as baroque dances became popular again among many musical genres.

When examining neoclassicism in music, it is essential to explore the term itself – what does “neoclassical” mean?

Neoclassicism refers to a style or movement during a specific era (in this case, the 20th century).

However, some more particular elements are associated with neoclassical compositions, which include harmony based on tonal centers rather than modality and an emphasis on balanced triadic melodies.

Notable Composers of the Neoclassic Era

During the 20th century, the neoclassic era started in Europe and quickly spread worldwide to such countries as United States, Russia, etc.

It was a time when music embraced a Greek or Roman influence as composers attempted to break from traditional tonality by using non-Western scales.

Neoclassicism wasn’t about specific forms but rather freedom from artistic rigidity that was prevalent at this time.

Many notable neoclassical musicians like Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith contributed to the development of a new musical language that used chromatic elements along with new musical arrangements to create modern interpretations of prior works.

Many other composers also developed new musical forms and used neoclassic aspects in their works during this period, for example:

Although his works included masterpieces that spanned many genres, Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev was known for his neoclassical music.

Maurice Ravel’s work is an example of neoclassical music that stemmed from impressionist influences.

During the neoclassic era, he was considered one of the best French composers.

Eventually called the “Dean of American music” by his peers, American composer Aaron Copland was afledglingcomposerduringtheearlyneoclassic era.

The folk music of America primarily influenced his “populist” music.

Among the first American composers to gain international renown, Charles Ives wrote compositions inspired by hymns he heard as a child.

Though largely ignored during his early years as a composer, his later works were regarded as “American original” compositions.

The French-born composer Edgard Varèse spent most of his working years in the United States and was acclaimed as one of the more experimental composers.

Varèse called his style “organized sound,” a term that later caught on regarding musical styles that emphasize rhythm and timbre.


In instrumentation, neoclassicism found a natural expression with instruments from the 18th century.

Wind instruments like the clarinet and brass horns often substituted for oboes, while string ensembles used lighter gauge strings to achieve period-appropriate texture as opposed to modern, thicker violin/viola strings that produce greater volume but sacrificed warmth.

This texture can be heard in Italian operatic works by Antonio Vivaldi, who employed flute and oboe instead of the traditional classical or baroque recorder in his operatic masterpiece “The Four Seasons.”

Instrumentation was also different from before as it included atonality which became more prominent after WWI ended when many artists felt that they needed to express themselves differently than what traditional tonal music had been offering up until then.

Electric keyboards and acoustic pianos played a significant role in neoclassic music, and strings featured prominently in neoclassic works, especially violin or viola with cellos doubling in bass parts.


Neoclassicism is a vital part of musical history because it reflected changing social values and political climates and how musicians wanted to share their views through artistry.

The neoclassical movement was a strong cultural force that changed Western art, literature, architecture, and society as a whole into something more individualistic than in earlier periods.

Now that you have learned more about neoclassicism in music, we hope that you can examine how different social values influenced artists at the time, why this period reflected changing political climates, and how composers tried to express their feelings about politics through their works by using various musical styles and instruments both new and old.

What Is Neoclassicism In Music? An Overview (2024)


What is neoclassicism music summary? ›

Neoclassicism in music was a twentieth-century trend, particularly current in the interwar period, in which composers sought to return to aesthetic precepts associated with the broadly defined concept of "classicism", namely order, balance, clarity, economy, and emotional restraint.

What is the overview of neoclassicism? ›

Neoclassicism is characterized by clarity of form, sober colors, shallow space, strong horizontal and verticals that render that subject matter timeless (instead of temporal as in the dynamic Baroque works), and classical subject matter (or classicizing contemporary subject matter).

What is neoclassicism answers? ›

Hey mate here is your answer ✌️ Neoclassicism is the 18th and 19th century movement that developed in Europe as a reaction to the excesses of Baroque and Rococo. The movement sought to return to the classical beauty and magnificence of the Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire.

What is neoclassicism in music quizlet? ›

Neoclassicism. the period between 1920-1950 marks an artistic movement; marked by emotional restraint, clarity of form, and balance; largely anti-romantic and predominantly objective. Contrapuntal Technique. a technique that uses counterpoint or simultaneous setting of two or more melodies.

What is the neoclassical form of music? ›

Neoclassical Music Features

The focus is on balanced and transparent musical textures, where each voice or instrument has a distinct role. This musical movement draws inspiration from the musical forms and structures of the Classical era, such as sonatas, minuets, rondos, and variations.

What is neo classical summary? ›

Neoclassicism is a revival of the many styles and spirit of classic antiquity inspired directly from the classical period, which coincided and reflected the developments in philosophy and other areas of the Age of Enlightenment, and was initially a reaction against the excesses of the preceding Rococo style.

What are 3 things about Neoclassicism? ›

Neoclassicism in the arts is an aesthetic attitude based on the art of Greece and Rome in antiquity, which invokes harmony, clarity, restraint, universality, and idealism.

What is the conclusion of Neoclassicism? ›

Conclusion. In the neoclassical theory of the firm, the firm sets price and quantity in order to maximize profit subject to the constraint of market demand.

What is the definition of Neoclassical? ›

: of, relating to, or constituting a revival or adaptation of the classical especially in literature, music, art, or architecture.

What does neoclassicism literally mean? ›

Neoclassicism literally means 'new classicism' or a revival of classical values. The word is used as a style label and is applied to aspects of the arts of the later 18th and early 19th centuries. At that period there was a conscious revival and appropriation of classical models of art and architecture.

What is neoclassicism today? ›

The modern Neo-classical style is characterized by its focus on balance, symmetry, and proportion. The design often features columns, pediments, and friezes, which are traditional elements of classical architecture.

What does neoclassicism look like? ›

Neoclassical buildings typically feature columns, simple geometric forms, a grand scale, and ornamental details—particularly the Doric order—that were popular in ancient Greece and Rome. The style is different from Greek Revival, which was more concerned with reusing certain classical parts.

What does neoclassicism mean in music? ›

Neoclassicism in music was a twentieth-century trend, particularly current in the period between the two World Wars, in which composers sought to return to aesthetic precepts associated with the broadly defined concept of “classicism,” namely order, balance, clarity, economy, and emotional restraint.

How would you describe the musical elements of neoclassicism? ›

This style was characterized by smaller performing forces, an emphasis on rhythm and contrapuntal texture, updated or expanded tonal harmony, and mainly focusing on absolute music instead of program music from the Romantic period.

What five terms characterize neoclassicism? ›

Neoclassicism was characterized by emotional restraint, order, logic, technical precision, balance, elegance of diction, an emphasis of form over content, clarity, dignity, and decorum.

What is the main concept of neoclassical plays? ›

Neoclassicism in theater is characterized by the purity of theatrical form, five acts, realism, decorum or restraint, and purpose. The dominant forms of the theater during this period were tragedies, which focused on the upper social classes, and comedies, which focused on the lower social classes.

What are the 3 main themes of neoclassicism? ›

  • Intellectuals and Intellectualism. Devotion to the exercise or application of the intellect was important to the neoclassical writer. ...
  • Social Protest. The seemingly unchecked actions and irresponsibility of the monarchy were a source of deep contention among its critics. ...
  • Imitation.

What is neoclassical poetry summary? ›

Lesson Summary. The school of neoclassical poetry, dated between 1660 and 1798, marked a return to the classic Greek and Roman conventions of poetry. Major characteristics included the use of allusions, the heroic couplet, strict meter and rhyme, and topics discussed in the public sphere.


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