Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 September 2011
‘Back to Bach’ ‘a call to order’ given the nature of the neo-classicists' own slogans, one can perhaps forgive their critics for portraying them as proponents of aesthetic regression. ‘Stravinsky and Reaction’ is in fact the very heading of the second half of Theodor Adorno's Philosophy of the New Music, written in the mid-1940s, in which the author uses all his formidable linguistic and philosophical powers to hold up Schoenberg as a paragon by at the same time stripping Stravinsky's works, in particular those of his neo-classical oeuvre, of any aesthetic justification: ‘the Soldier's Tale turns psychotic behavioural patterns into musical configurations without any hesitation’ ‘in purely musical terms, no difference can be perceived between his infantile and his neo-classical works’ (Adorno 1978a, 160, 187). Pierre Boulez has been more succinct in his judgement of Stravinsky's neo-classicism: ‘I really hate these works, I cannot stand them’ (in Danuser 1997, 330).
The term ‘neo-classicism’ has been used both to castigate and to praise. It has generally been applied solely to that music written between c. 1920 and 1950 which – as in the case of Stravinsky – is essentially tonal and employs formal, harmonic or melodic elements (or any combination thereof) taken from the music of the eighteenth century, often to ironic effect – though the term ‘neo-classicism’ is somewhat misleading, in that the source of those forms and gestures was primarily the music of the baroque rather than of Viennese classicism.