Formalism and Expressionism in the Aesthetics of European Music


  • Ivo Supičić



Formalism can be defined as a conception which negates any possibility of expressing the contents which are outside the fields of music, by music. Expressionism can be defined as a conception which considers music capable of expressing definite contents outside the fields of music. Individual authors give very different definitions of the one and the other conception which range from extremism to an attempt to find a synthesis and a moderate solution. Radical formalism and expressionism cannot be justified simply by the irrefutable fact that there exists a pure and an expressive music. Expression is not to be attributed by generalisation to compositions which do not contain modes of expression. However, it must be recognised when and where it exists. Expressive music is not connected exclusively with romanticism though during this period it was developed to its greatest extent. The specific in music and its autonomy as an art on the aesthetic level was emphasized during the post-romantic period and corresponds to the growth of independence of music on a social level and its defunctionalisation. The term »form« denotes aesthetically formed musical elements; the term »musical form« describes the structure of the work. These terms have nothing in common with »formalism« which represents an aesthetic conception and attitude. A more exact differentiation between »programme« and »absolute« music is necessary. Programme music is a special kind of expressive music, while the term absolute music is not appropriate because »absolute« is considered as the opposite of »relative«. However, we cannot speak about relative music just as we can in no way consider it as absolute. Moreover pure music is an expression of creative personality from the onthological viewpoint and not from the phenomenal viewpoint. However, this premise depends on the composition being not merely an exercise nor must it have an artificial, cerebral, technical structure. A deeper analysis of musical works proves that the principles of form and expression do not conflict but on the contrary, they can coexist, as they did so successfully in Bach's works.


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How to Cite

Supičić, I. (1967). Formalism and Expressionism in the Aesthetics of European Music. Musicological Annual, 3(1), 95–104.