A Short History | Modern Era | Classical

There is no escaping the crucial importance of World War I (1914–18) in the formation of the Modern Age (as the first half of the twentieth century has come to be known). The war changed irrevocably the development and directions of almost all pre-war innovations in politics, society, the arts and ideas in general.

Declining economic conditions also altered the political face of Europe. The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, and its Habsburg emperor, like the German kaiser, resigned. The Russian Tsar lost both the throne and his life following the revolutions of 1917. New self-governing countries emerged in Central Europe as part of the fragmentation of the Habsburg Empire. Republican governments became the norm in the new countries and the breadth of the public franchise became greatly enlarged.

The war deeply affected the economies of Europe and the US. By the end of the 1920s a collapse came, epitomized in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Left and Centre governments became torn by internal disputes. Disillusion followed, leading to dictatorships in Russia, Italy, Spain and Germany. Fascism became the ideology of the new Right. Eventually Europe became embroiled in another war between 1939 and 1945. In its aftermath, as after World War I, economic conditions and collapses changed political structures and governments. Europe became divided into two major power blocs: one governed by the Soviet Union, the other a looser organization of Western European nations allied to the US.

The first half of the twentieth century was a period of almost unrelenting experimentation. No major area escaped the march of change. Realism in painting was challenged by Cubism, abstraction and action painting. New narrative techniques in literature transformed the novel. In music, atonality and the 12-tone system challenged the dominance of tonality in musical structure and harmony. New instruments, the use of unusual folk scales and an increased awareness of and experimentation with rhythm similarly altered its character. Music was also affected by profound changes in aesthetics and ideologies. New technology had its effect, not only aesthetically in Futurism, but also in the rise of electronically generated sounds.

Key Events

1905 Bloody Sunday in Russia, storming of the Winter Palace
1907 Birth of Cubist style in art
1914 Assassination of Habsburg heir in July leads to world war by August
1915 Germans use poison gas in warfare for the first time
1916 Battle of the Somme; Allies suffer 60,000 casualties, Germany 450,000
1917 February Revolution in Russia establishes parliament, which is overturned by October Bolshevik Revolution
1918 Armistice between defeated Germany and Allies comes into force on 11 November
1920 League of Nations brought into effect by Versailles Treaty
1921 First Salzburg festival; D. H. Lawrence publishes Women in Love; Chanel No. 5 scent launched
1926 Great Britain experiences first and only General Strike
1929 Shares crash in New York; market is closed in October
1933 Adolf Hitler appointed German chancellor; German civil liberties suspended after Reichstag fire; Franklin Roosevelt elected president of the US
1936 Following Republican victory...

To read the full article please either login or register .


An extensive music information resource, bringing together the talents and expertise of a wide range of editors and musicologists, including Stanley Sadie, Charles Wilson, Paul Du Noyer, Tony Byworth, Bob Allen, Howard Mandel, Cliff Douse, William Schafer, John Wilson...


Classical, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Country and more. Flame Tree has been making encyclopaedias and guides about music for over 20 years. Now Flame Tree Pro brings together a huge canon of carefully curated information on genres, styles, artists and instruments. It's a perfect tool for study, and entertaining too, a great companion to our music books.

Rock, A Life Story

Rock, A Life Story

The ultimate story of a life of rock music, from the 1950s to the present day.

David Bowie

David Bowie

Fantastic new, unofficial biography covers his life, music, art and movies, with a sweep of incredible photographs.