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119 7 Williams’s Neo­ clas­ si­ cism Style and Hab­ its What is mu­ si­ cal neo­ clas­ si­ cism? In ­ art-music historiog­ ra­ phy, neo­ clas­ si- ­ cism was a trend that ­ brought back the clar­ ity of past forms as op­ posed to the ex­ cesses of con­ tem­ po­ rary music: [It is a] mu­ si­ cal trend that arose in the sec­ ond half of the nine­ teenth cen­ tury (with the Bach re­ vi­ val pro­ moted by such com­ pos­ ers as ­ Brahms and Max Reger) and ­ gained full vis­ ibil­ ity in the 1920s as a re­ ac­ tion­ against ­ post-Wagnerian the­ mat­ i­ cism and chro­ mat­ i­ cism and with the pur­ pose of the sty­ lis­ tic ­ re-creation of ­ clear-cut ­ pre-Romantic forms. Neo­ clas­ si­ cism can be ­ placed ­ within those ­ twentieth-century ar­ tis­ tic move­ ments in­ spired by the ­ ideals of ob­ jec­ tiv­ ity, ra­ tion­ al­ ity and con­ crete­ ness, as op­ posed to those of sub­ jec­ tiv­ ity and ir­ ra­ tion­ al­ ity typ­ i­ cal of Ro­ man­ ti­ cism and in large part in­ her­ ited by Im­ pres­ sion­ ism and Ex­ pres­ sion­ ism.1 For ex­ am­ ple, the musi­ col­ o­ gist Guido Sal­ vetti ­ writes the fol­ low­ ing about Igor ­ Stravinsky’s neo­ clas­ si­ cism in Pul­ ci­ nella (1920): The mod­ ifi­ ca­ tions of the orig­ i­ nal music were not aimed at the def­ or­ ma­ tion of the model: Stra­ vin­ sky just added some ­ canon-like dis­ so­ nant pas­ sages, major sec­ onds to some per­ fect ­ chords, in a ca­ dence he ­ placed 120 • Williams’s Neoclassicism the ­ chords built on the V and I de­ grees si­ mul­ ta­ ne­ ously, ­ shifted a bar’s ac­ cent on the weak beat, and of ­ course, in­ vented a per­ sonal or­ ches­ tral color. . . . This Stra­ vins­ kyan “neo­ clas­ si­ cism” was char­ ac­ ter­ ized, even in its early days, by the dual as­ pect of both the re­ spect­ ful re­ con­ struc­ tion and the ir­ rev­ er­ ent par­ ody. . . . The Stra­ vins­ kyan neo­ clas­ si­ cism ­ reached its peak in The ­ Rake’s Prog­ ress (1951). . . . The huge va­ riety of cul­ tural ref­ er­ ences re­ sulted in a huge num­ ber of mu­ si­ cal “tips of the hat” where once again the whole his­ tory of music is lev­ eled on a ­ ground where every­ thing can be ­ reused and en­ joyed anew.2 What Sal­ vetti says about Oed­ i­ pus Rex (1927) in the fol­ low­ ing pas­ sage seems to apply to the neo­ clas­ si­ cal na­ ture of the Star Wars score too: “Neo­ clas­ si­ cism is even bet­ ter under­ stood in this sense: it is the es­ cape from the ­ present and the plung­ ing into the eter­ nal di­ men­ sion of Myth, where Time and His­ tory lose any per­ spec­ tive.”3 The de­ ci­ sion to ­ choose this kind of music for Star Wars—very un­ usual for a ­ sci-fi film—also fol­ lowed the de­ sire to evoke a com­ mon mu­ si­ cal her­ i­ tage that would re­ in­ force the ­ mythic di­ men­ sion of the nar­ ra­ tive. These neo­ clas­ si­ cal ­ traits are also ac­ knowl­ edged by the musi­ col­ o­ gist Ser­ gio ­ Miceli: [T]here are some char­ ac­ ter­ is­ tics that dis­ tin­ guish ­ Williams from every­ one else. . . . ­ Williams has ­ proved to be able to take on the most rep­ re­ sen­ ta­ tive sty­ lis­ tic ­ traits of his gen­ er­ a­ tion while smoothing their ex­ cesses by draw­ ing in­ spi­ ra­ tion from the sec­ ond and even first gen­ er­ a­ tion of Hol­ ly­ wood film com­ pos­ ers. To put it an­ other way, in a work of syn­ the­ sis ­ rather than in­ no­ va­ tion, ­ Williams has skill­ fully re­ cov­ ered leit­ mo­ tivic func­ tions, more ex­ ten­ sive and com­ plex the­ mat­ i­ cism, to­ gether with the­ matic inter­ play and im­ plicit sym­ bol­ ism. The most sig­ nif­i­ cant dif­ fer­ ence if we com­ pare his work to that of his pre­ de­ ces­ sors...


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