Arts & Culture | Paris | Modern Era | Classical
In the twentieth century, Paris regained its place as the centre of musical innovation, especially in the years either side of World War I. In the late nineteenth century, Debussy’s influential musical innovations and explicitly anti-Wagnerian stance made Paris the centre of post-Wagnerian modernity. This was confirmed in the early modern period by the arrival of Serge Diaghilev in 1907, with Russian art exhibitions, concerts and, later, ballets. The last, with the works of Stravinsky as much as anything, made Paris the centre of non-Wagnerian musical innovation, particularly with the scandalous success of Le sacre du printemps (‘The Rite of Spring’, 1913). Music in Paris was only one part of what was almost a frenzy of creation. Exhibitions by Picasso and Braque, the appearance of the Ballets Russes’ rival Ballet Suédois and the immigration of such writers as Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and later Ernest Hemingway guaranteed Paris hegemony.
Characteristic of the 1920s were the extravagant ephemerality of such fashion-setters as Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, the cult of such music-hall chansonnières as Mistinguett and the emergence of Surrealism. During the grimmer 1930s, much of this disappeared, coming to an end in the wartime occupation by the Nazis. More typical of the seriousness with which such events had to be met were the poems of Paul Eluard, the works of Poulenc and the work written in a prisoner-of-war camp by the young Olivier Messiaen (1908–92), Quatuor pour la fin du temps (‘Quartet for the End of Time’, 1941), a voice that ensured Paris’s musical centrality throughout the twentieth century.
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