Pre-war Narrative of Creativity

1913: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring causes a riot in a concert hall and is seen to unleash the primitivism that reaches its full horror on the battlefields of Europe within a year. At the same time, Marcel Duchamp provokes a furore in New York with Nude Descending a Staircase, again sensing primitive instincts beneath a revered form.

1914: Ralph Vaughan Williams writes The Lark Ascending (inspired by George Meredith’s poem: “he rises and begins to round, He drops the silver chain of sound”). It can be seen as one of the last pieces of English music to be written in the world that disappeared with the war or, paradoxically, as one of the first post-war pieces. It’s first performance was in December 1920, by which time VW had revised it after serving at the front in Flanders.

1915: Filippo Marinetti publishes the Futurist manifesto, ‘parole in liberta‘ or words-set-free. Written partly in response to the new technology, and perspective, of flying, it suggests, according to the critic Charles Darwent (Independent on Sunday 19/1/2005), that just as flight defies the laws of gravity, so poetry can break the surly bonds of syntax. It prefigures the Bauhaus wish in 1919 to erase everything, even capital letters, and to start over in a Heroic, Modernist mode.