What is modernism in classical music

Modern: definition, 6 characteristics & 12 representatives of the era

With the age of modernity, a new age dawned for all arts. The understanding of art broke with old traditions and developed completely new forms. In addition to the definition, important characteristics and representatives, we have a lot more information about this epoch. Here we have placed the focus on modern literature. But you will also find small digressions on art and architecture.

In this article you will find everything you need to know about the modern era. She is characterized by numerous sub-periods (currents) each with different characteristics. For this reason, modernity is not only one of the newest, but also one of the most multifaceted eras. We pay attention to the versatile Modern literature placed. But then you will also find a little digression into the Modern art and the Modern architecture.

The modern age: a new age

The modern age: a new age begins

Below you will find a definition of modernity as well as information on the term (“modern”, “classic modern”). Then you will learn something about the historical background and the many different currents of this time. The characteristics of modern literature can help you prepare for exams or presentations. The outlook into postmodernism helps you to delimit modernity more clearly. If you are also interested in modern art and architecture, you will also find a few important characteristics.

Definition of the epoch

The modern age is an epoch between 1890 and 1920. It is also often called "Classic Modern" denotes and includes some different currents such as impressionism, expressionism, symbolism, aestheticism and other epochs, which we have detailed for you in this article.

The main characteristic of modern eras is that Subjectification of art, your aesthetic consideration as art for art's sake and that Freedom of the artistthat can now live out individually instead of having to follow traditional forms and imitations of nature. This includes art in the form of painting, sculpture, photography and the like as well as the arts in general, which also include literature, architecture and music.

About the term "modernity"

As "modern" has been used since the Middle Ages everything innovative and new designated. In the 18th century the term became more common for requested artistic novelties used. The meaning of the term has not changed much to this day and describes not only new, innovative phenomena but also often contemporary ones. “The modern” as a new age did not become a concept until the turn of the century (from 1890). When speaking of the closed epoch, the name is often used "Classical Modernity" used.

Classic modern

Classical modernity describes all innovations between 1890 and 1920

As classic modernism, the completed epoch which emerged around the turn of the century. It does not refer to a specific art direction, but rather designates all innovations in technology, human sciences, natural sciences, social policy, modern art and literature as well as music and architecture. Political changes in particular were imminent at this time: the constitutional monarchy of the imperial era was replaced by the Weimar Republic. This lasted from 1918 to 1933 and formed the first parliamentary democracy in Germany. It ended when the NSDAP came to power.

Historical background

Since taking office in 1888, Kaiser Wilhelm II tried to expand Germany's position as a world power. It is being upgraded; nationalism, the pursuit of expansion as well as economic and technical innovations determine people's lives. Anonymity, overstimulation and poor working conditions arise as a result of the progression Industrialization and urbanization (Urbanization). There are also new ones scientific knowledge by Albert Einstein, Max Planck and Sigmund Freud. The First World War raged from 1914 to 1918. In this Time of change Different types of coping developed.

In order to understand the artistic zeitgeist of modernity, let's take a look at the previous epoch. The Naturalism (1880-1900) wanted to be clear about his predecessor, the transfigured one Realism (1848–1890) delimit. Realism wanted to create an idealized but realistic picture of things. Naturalism, on the other hand, focused on exact scientific fidelity to nature. In addition to numerous nature images also takes place the unadorned ugly its place in literature and art. Everything should be mapped exactly as in reality.

In the Modern these objective tendencies are reversed: Art should now simply be art, aesthetically, subjectively and individually. There was no longer any claim to being true to nature or an exact depiction of reality. Different currents with different motives and topics developed, which we have detailed for you in the following chapters.

Currents of modernity

Example of the art style of impressionism

The currents of modernism include impressionism, symbolism, expressionism and aestheticism, decadence and Viennese modernism. Your common ground lies in the fact that they are a have opposite understandings of what naturalism represented.

He wanted to overcome artistically transfigured realism and devoted himself to detailed illustrations of reality. This also meant including socially marginalized groups and reproducing their lives as it is. Naturalism was shaped by rationality, scientification and causality. The epochs of modernity go against this principle. You want one create a new way of thinking and focus on the self.


Impressionism (1890–1920) was characterized by the subjective representation of impressions. The awareness was imitated and there were Insights into the soul given. For this purpose the own perception disclosed and Sensory impressions precisely represented. Snapshots were a popular means of representation to give these impressions. The self was the focus of this movement and was very important to the artists of the time. Colors and lighting effects increasingly played a role in literature, and the imagery of the representations also intensified. Short text forms such as novellas, one-act plays or poems were popular.


Symbolism (1860–1925) was idealistic. There were Parts taken from reality and inserted into new symbols. This is how their own symbols and aesthetic art worlds emerged open to interpretation were and should trigger sensations. This symbolism went far beyond simple metaphors. Artists and authors wanted to fathom the deeper connection between things. The topics included Sin, Passion, Death and Myths.

Motifs were sensory experiences and impressions from memory, such as certain smells, sounds and colors. The Literature was not very rational and often drifted into dream worlds or into the surreal. A representative work from late Symbolism is Arthur Schnitzler's “Traumnovelle” (1926), in which almost all of the themes and motifs mentioned above are taken up.


Example of the art style of expressionism

The expressionismlasted in literature from about 1905 to 1925 at. He is the one Epoch of expression and individuality and represents in exaggerated form what all other epochs of modernity also tend to: a new way of thinking. The expressionists wanted change and a whole new understanding of art create by deconstructing familiar shapes and creative-free-spirited worked.

Literature no longer adhered to traditional formal requirements, there was no longer related to reality, no logical connections, many neologisms, metaphors and color symbolism. Motifs were the big city, anonymity, overstimulation, intoxication, dream, death, the ugly and the grotesque. Through this type of art, the Expressionists sought to loosen the rigid, traditional way of thinking of the older generation, to rouse and shock them so that they could give way to new, contemporary views.


Aestheticism is a literary epoch of around 1890 to 1920. She looked at the beautiful as the greatest good and subordinated ethics, knowledge, religion and social affairs to the beautiful. This setting is also called aesthetic amoralism, that is, the rejection of moral norms in favor of the beautiful.

Aestheticism found its roots in the romance(1795–1835), among others with Théophile Gautier, who saw beauty solely in the purposeless and classified everything useful as ugly. A representative work is “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” (1890) by Oscar Wilde, who manifested in his foreword what aestheticism is about.

Decadence (fin de siècle)

The term decadence was derived from the French of “Décadence” for “decay” accepted. The current can be found within the European literature of the Turn of the century (fin de siècle)from about 1890 to 1914. Your literature complained about that Loss of self, created a world in which art stands above nature and conveyed one Mood of decline and of decay. The novel is an example of phenomena of decadence “Buddenbrooks: Decay of a Family” (1901) by Thomas Mann. Other German representatives are Rainer Maria Rilke, Arthur Schnitzler and the early works of Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Viennese modernism

Example of the art style of Viennese modernism (Gustav Klimt: The Kiss, 1907/08)

As Viennese Modernism becomes a Austria's artistic peak from around 1890 to 1910 in which the city of Vienna flourishes culturally. Music, painting, architecture, philosophy and literature produced many novel works that were called Counter-movement to naturalism can be understood. Art should not depict reality, but rather be art for art's sake.

Viennese modernism is an important concept, especially in literature. Austrian literature not only spilled over to Germany, but also represents an important part of German-language literary history. Important authors are Hugo von Hofmannsthal (“A Letter” letter from Lord Chandos to Francis Bacon, 1902), Arthur Schnitzler (“Traumnovelle”, novella, 1925), Georg Trakl (“Sebastian im Traum”, Lyric Collection, 1915) and Robert Musil (“Confusions of the Zöglins Törless”, novel, 1906).

Outlook: new objectivity

The New Objectivity describes an epoch that its beginning in the late modern era took. In literature it ranged from around 1918 to 1933, was in the period of the Weimar Republic after the First World War. The New Objectivity forced the return to the visible and thus formed a counter-movement to the currents of modernity.

you resembles naturalism again, practices social criticism, has a sober presentation and focuses on technology. In addition, there are erotic representations, the theming of the Great Depression and a positive attitude to democracy. This led to the fact that in 1933 many writings were burned and authors arrested who did not manage to flee into exile in good time before the NSDAP came to power.

Modern literature

Modern literature

A special feature of modern literature is experimenting with new techniques. That's why it sometimes becomes Experimental literature called. New scientific theories and findings around 1900, such as Sigmund Freud's interpretation of dreams, Albert Einstein's theory of relativity and Max Planck's quantum theory, had a major influence here. It creates a fragmented worldview that not only triggers crises of consciousness, but also language crises.

The previous artistic means seem inadequate and new forms of expression and ways of thinking that correspond to modern developments are required. There arises a new art-artist relationship. In the different currents there are different characteristics, for which we have created an overview for you below. So you can quickly get an overview for school or university.

6 characteristics of modern literature

Features of modern literature

If you are to analyze a particular work of modernity, it is helpful to first identify a tangible trend. You can then place this trend in the context of the epoch of modernity. The following features can help you with this. They are also suitable if you have a work that cannot be assigned to a particular trend (such as Franz Kafka's works).

1. Period:

2. Current trends:

  • Impressionism (subjective impressions)
  • Symbolism (creating new from old)
  • Expressionism (individual, free expression)
  • Aestheticism (the beauty of art is paramount)
  • Decadence / fin de siècle (loss of ego, decay)
  • Viennese Modernism (art for art's sake)

3. Subjects of the literature:

  • Self-reflection / reflection of personal aesthetic perception
  • Imitation of consciousness
  • Depending on the trend: decay, death, dream, big city, anonymity, overstimulation, loss of the ego, the grotesque, the ugly, crisis of consciousness, language crisis, language criticism, lack of communication, dealing with sexuality
  • Different views and their relativization, change of perspective (as in the works of Franz Kafka and James Joyce)

4.Language and style of literature:

  • Experienced speech reflects a fragmented worldview (Experienced speech: figure speech between report and monologue, between direct and indirect speech, mostly personal narrator)
  • Narrator resigns
  • Subjectification and psychologization of the experience of reality, of perception and processes of consciousness
  • Events no longer strictly chronological, but adjusted to a subjective sense of time
  • Representation of space and figures often interrupted by other perspectives
  • Detailed descriptions paint clearer images of perception than before
  • Frequent use of metaphors, symbols, images, alliterations, assonances, synesthesias and neologisms

5. Objectives of the literature:

  • overcome naturalism
  • create something new, innovative
  • overcome the inadequacy of language
  • loosen up the literary traditions
  • Create art
  • let the spirit live out individually

6. Genera:

  • Novels (many changes of perspective)
  • Poems (urban poetry)
  • Novellas
  • stories
  • Essays
  • Plays
  • Speeches and lectures

Outlook: Postmodern Literature

Postmodern literature turns against modernity

Postmodern literature goes back to the previous epoch of modernity. It is not clear from when to when this flow can roughly be classified. The term originated in the late 1950s. The Postmodernism tries to break away from modernity and leads again literary traditions a. Representatives criticize the constant striving for something new and innovative.

So postmodern thinking cannot really be limited in time as it can principally against the beliefs of classical modernism turns, wants to overcome it and shows alternatives. The literature makes use of known means for this purpose, but selects them carefully. Popular design tools are Collage, quote, metafictionality (the work's own fiction is deliberately thematized) and intertextuality (Reference to other texts and authors).

Modern literature: 12 representatives and 25 works

As in other modern art forms, there are also numerous representatives belonging to different currents in literature. They all have a certain style in common, which consists of trying to reflect on the world and what is experienced in it Fragmentation in new forms of expression to convey.

The difficulty of finding words and the topic Language crisis is for example in “A letter” from Hugo von Hofmannsthal illustrated. It is primarily assigned to the German-speaking Fin de Siècle and Viennese Modernism. Franz Kafka tends to recur to recurring themes like that in his works Relationship with father, the shortcomings of a huge bureaucratic system and the retreat from work and achievement.His style cannot be explicitly subordinated to a trend, but he is considered one of the most important authors of modernism.

To recurring motifs Rainer Maria Rilkes belonged to the Death and the interpreted world. It is also only roughly assigned to the modern age. Alfred Doblin is one of the expressionists and pioneers of modern literature. His most famous work is "Berlin Alexanderplatz". In the following you will find further representatives and works of modernism. Some of them were created after 1920, but the authors were significantly influenced by modernism and, as children of their time, produced works that correspond to the characteristics of the epoch. So it had a long lasting effect.

An important representative of European modernism: James Joyce

  1. Rainer Maria Rilke
    The notes of Malte Laurids Brigge (novel, 1910)
    Duinese elegies (poetry cycles, 1923)
    Sonnets to Orpheus (Sonnets, 1922)
  2. Franz Kafka
    The verdict (novella, 1913)
    Der Verschollene / Amerika (fragment of a novel, written 1911–1914, published posthumously in 1927)
    The Metamorphosis (story, written in 1912, published in 1915)
    The process (fragment of a novel, written 1914/15, published in 1925)
  3. Alfred Doblin
    Wallenstein (novel, 1920)
    Berlin Alexanderplatz (novel, 1929)
  4. Robert Musil
    The confusions of the pupil Törless (novel, 1906)
    The man without qualities (novel, 1930–1952)
  5. Hugo von Hofmannsthal
    A letter (also called “Letter of Lord Chandos to Francis Bacon” or “Chandos Letter”, fictional letter, 1902)
    The poet and this time (lecture, 1907)
    The woman without a shadow (story, 1919)
  6. Hermann Broch
    The sleepwalkers (novel, 1931/32)
  7. Wolfgang Koeppen
    Pigeons in the grass (novel, 1951)
  8. Marcel Proust
    A la recherche du temps perdu (novel, 1913–1927, In search of lost time)
  9. T. S. Eliot
    The Waste Land (poem, 1922, Das wüsten Land)
    Four Quartets (Poems, 1944, Four Quartets)
  10. Ezra Pound
    The Cantos (collection of poems, 1917–1970)
  11. Virginia Woolf
    The Voyage Out (novel, 1915, The Voyage Out)
    Mrs. Dalloway (novel, 1925)
    A Room of One’s Own (Essay, 1929, A Room of One’s Own)
  12. James Joyce
    Ulysses (novel, 1922, Odysseus)
    Finnegans Wake (novel, 1923-1939)

Modern art

Example of modern art by Paul Gauguin

Modern art (also known as modern art) refers to a Art period from around 1900 to 1970. She is known for her progressive view of aesthetics and the art-artist relationship. From it a number of styles have emerged that have raised art to a new level. Since the Individuality of the artist and the work of art Now the focus was on, numerous opened up New opportunities.

Some currents, for example, included the Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism or Dadaismall of which have developed their own, unmistakable style. The possibilities and forms of modern art not only include painting, but also Photography, installations, sculptures, collages, audio art and video art. In the following you will find the most important features of this art era.

6 characteristics of modern art

  1. Subjectivity (new worldviews are designed)
  2. Originality (own ideas are expressed in their own style)
  3. Authenticity (old teachings and techniques about shapes and proportions are thrown overboard and replaced by their own representations)
  4. Individuality (the world shown is as individual as the person who looks at it)
  5. Experimentality (new styles are constantly being tried and techniques discovered)
  6. Openness (the viewer can interpret the art for themselves as they wish)

Some representatives and works

As in literature, the representatives and works can usually be assigned to different currents of modernity. So falls Vincent van Gogh, one of the founders of modern painting, mainly in the field of impressionism, but also inspired many Expressionists and Fauves (followers of Fauvism). One of his most famous works is "Starry Night" by 1889.

Paul Gauguin made ceramics, carvings and woodcuts, but also painted and is one of the Post-impressionists as well as to the Symbolists and pioneers of Expressionists. He was best known for his South Seas paintings, which show naked people in an original, paradisiacal landscape - a paradise that the painter had imagined, but that did not show reality. An example is “Magnificent Land (Te nave nave fenua)” by 1892.

Also Paul Cezanne is a representative who represents several eras. His early works are still the romance assigned. Later works show characteristics of the realism and des impressionism on and he is also one of the Pioneers of Classical Modernism. His works often showed bathers, landscapes around mountains, still lifes and portraits. An example is “The Bay of Marseille” around 1885. In addition to the aforementioned representatives, there are numerous other artists in this multifaceted epoch.

Modern architecture

Example of modern architecture: Le Corbusier Church (1950–1955) in Ronchamp

Modernism lasted in architecture from around 1910 to 1960 at. It is also commonly referred to as Classic modern designated and has a "International Style", a general understanding of the architecture of the time. The forerunner of this era was Art Nouveau. It was characterized by curved lines, numerous decorative elements and floral ornaments.

Modern architecture, on the other hand, works against historicismwho often fell back on old architectural styles. you wants to be new and modern, does without striking details, uses industrially manufactured building materials, is often asymmetrical and plastered white. Geometric shapes in the cubist style often appear (cubism is a French style of the avant-garde movement). Currents within modern architecture are the Functionalism, Expressionism, Neoclassicism, Rationalism, International Style, Organic Architecture and Bauhaus.

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