Techniques | Expressionism | Modern Era | Opera
Initially a facet of the visual arts, the Expressionist movement was best delineated by the painter Vincent van Gogh, when he consciously used different colours and forms to express his feelings about a particular subject. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the art world embraced expressionist works as created by the likes of Munch and Matisse, who utilized distortion as a means of higher expression. However, the movement would not become a key aspect of musical composition until the 1910s and early 1920s.
Büchner’s play Woyzeck had already anticipated an eerie world of inner thoughts, fears and distortions, and the main feature of Berg’s operatic adaption, Wozzeck, is that every character, every action, every locality is perceived from a single point of view. In Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream, the central figure is shrieking and the surrounding environment echoes his pain. The painting’s colours and shape, devoid of realism, reveal the anguish of a tortured soul; much the same is achieved musically in Wozzeck.
In Act III, Scene Four, after Wozzeck murders Marie, he searches for the murder weapon in a blood-red pool and quickly finds himself drowning in it. While he is still descending into the pool, the musical glissandi ascend rather than descend, providing us with Wozzeck’s own perspective as his body sinks and his life fades away.
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