Architecture and Music

4 Machine Aesthetics and Neoclassicism

In the first half of the twentieth century, aesthetic attitudes that tied in both with the synthesis of the arts proclaimed by the artistic avant-garde and with the aesthetics of the machine constituted the standards of comparison and reference for musical composition and architectural design. The characteristics of progressing industrialization, the large city, and modern life influenced the visual arts and music. In particular in Italian futurism, the model character of the machine became especially noticeable for sound composition, for instance in the manifestos and works by Francesco Balilla Pratella and Luigi Russolo, and for New Architecture, such as in designs by Antonio Sant’Elia. In much the same way Russolo generated new musical forms with his intonarumori (noise-generating instruments) on the basis of a sound-related machine aesthetics, the futurist building was to resemble a gigantic machine that rose up from the edge of a tumultuous abyss. The machine as a perfectly functioning apparatus and expression of modern urban life played a major role both in French purism of the 1920s (Le Corbusier) – and, derived from this, in the constructivist phase of Bauhaus architecture (for example, Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer) and the International Style – as well as in the early forms of machine music in the 1910s and 1920s. Eric Satie’s Parade (1916-1917) as well as Edgard Varèse’s Amériques (1921, revised 1927) and Ionisation (1931) can be cited as examples. Le Corbusier’s thesis that the house is a machine for living in[1] as well as his early living machines – from the Villa La Roche (1925) to the Villa Savoye (1928-31) – and the conceptions by other architects of a mechanical house, for instance, Georg Muche’s experimental Haus am Horn (1923) in Weimar, found their counterparts in compositions such as George Antheil’s Ballet mécanique (1924) and in numerous mechanical compositions such as Paul Hindemith’s composition for mechanical organ for Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet.

On the one hand, New Architecture’s living machines of the 1920s represent forms of functionalist architecture that, like the forms of popular utility music found in the 1920s, are to essentially be considered under function-oriented aspects; on the other hand, they lead to a new standardized canonization of architectural forms that tie in with traditional standardized concepts of architecture (for example, Platonic bodies and neoclassicism). These neoclassicist tendencies in modern architecture, for example in Le Corbusier’s work, have their analogy in the new classicism of modern music, such as in works by Erik Satie, Ferruccio Busoni, and Igor Stravinsky. Satie’s compositions, which in an exceptional way conceptually make reference to a space (his Musique d’ameublement, for example, which as a background in the form of ribbons or carpets of sound is meant to belong to the space’s furnishings; or his piano pieces Ogives [1889], which were inspired by Gothic architecture and his having read Eugène Emmanuel Viollet – Le – Duc), were intended to be white and pure like antiquity, as can be read in the preface to his score Socrate (1916). Reference to antiquity as well as features of Satie’s white and pure music, such as lack of ornamentation, simplicity, clarity, precision, and balance, can also be perceived as aesthetic exemplifications in classic modern architecture and, in particular, in the purist architecture of Le Corbusier, whom Satie presented as the central figure in a new aesthetics of music in the journal L’Esprit Nouveau, of which he was co-editor.