A Short History | Turn of the Century | Opera

The early nineteenth century was a period of insurgence in Europe, from the French Revolution in 1789 to the uprisings of around 1848. The Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain before spreading south to the rest of Europe, was also making its mark.

These two strands of revolution transformed society, with a growing awareness of national identity, social development, growth of cities and important technological advances. All of these were reflected in the arts.

The industrial revolution had slowly but surely altered the day-to-day life of all Europeans. By the middle of the 1800s, there had been dramatic changes in personal circumstances. Increased personal choice, due to improving earning power, co-existed with increases in social control, which were largely a result of the rapidly expanding workforce. On the other hand, the growth of industry brought about by the industrial revolution created a divide between the wealthy and the poor that was exacerbated by problems of sanitization and welfare. It was these unappealing aspects of mid-nineteenth-century society that led to artistic reaction against the opulence and self-indulgence of the Romantics.

Émile Zola began an artistic school of thought known as ‘naturalism’. He believed that art, specifically the novel in his case, should examine people and their social environment in scientific detail. His work intentionally tackles social problems such as alcoholism, disease and degeneracy head-on. A zealous social reformer, Zola was convinced in order to solve such problems, we first had to understand them, however unattractive they appeared. Zola’s approach ran alongside a similar belief system known as ‘realism’. The two concepts often converge, but the realist school did not hold to such rigidly scientific methods. Writers such as Gustave Flaubert (1821–80) and George Eliot (1819–80) aimed to describe life as they saw it, without idealization. In their work, a character’s environment is often an integral part of the dramatic canvas.

Key Events

1894 Alfred Dreyfuss is tried for treason and imprisoned on Devil’s Island
1898 Pierre and Marie Curie discover radium and polonium
1899 Boer War begins between Britain and the Boers in South Africa
1900 Italian King Umberto I is assassinated; Sigmund Freud publishes The Interpretation of Dreams
1902 Edward VII becomes King of Britain
1903 The Wright brothers make the first powered flight in America
1904 The Russo–Japanese War begins; work starts on the Panama Canal
1905 Bloody Sunday in Russia, storming of the Winter Palace; Fauvism is introduced by artist Henri Matisse
1907 Birth of the Cubist style in art
1908 The Model-T Ford is launched
1909 Robert Peary becomes the first man to reach the North Pole
1911 Ernest Rutherford discovers the structure of the atom
1912 The Titanic sinks on its maiden voyage
1914 Assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary leads to world war

Introduction | Turn of the Century | Opera
Styles & Forms | Turn of the Century | Opera
Techniques | Realism, Naturalisme & Verismo | High Romantic | Opera


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