Between Universal and Local: From Modernism to Postmodernism

University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Ljubljana, 28–30 September 2015


Department of Musicology, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana

Slovenian Musicological Society

Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts

Society of Slovene Composers, as a section of the ISCM



The Department of Musicology (Faculty of Arts, University in Ljubljana) is pleased to invite proposals for the international musicological conference Between Universal and Local: From Modernism to Postmodernism, to be held in Ljubljana at the end of September 2015 as part of the World Music Days Slovenia 2015. The conference is dedicated to the 80th anniversaries of composers Vinko Globokar and Lojze Lebič.

The second wave of Modernism emerged from the cataclysmic atmosphere that pervaded Europe at the end of the Second World War. It was a case of “ground zero”: the younger generation did not want to have anything in common with the spiritual and aesthetic humus from which 20th century totalitarianism had been able to grow; there was a need to start afresh and to erase the old. In art, this attitude was manifested in a radical break with the aesthetic and stylistic characteristics that had marked the decades prior to the outbreak of Nazism and fascism. In music, this marked the final break from traditional music “language” (Stephan, 1969), while suspicion was also cast on the “progressive heroes” of the 20th century, such as Arnold Schoenberg, whose work was declared imperfect and dead by Pierre Boulez in his renowned article Schönberg est mort (The Score, 1952). Composers sought to renounce precisely those aesthetic postulates that had most strongly marked the art of the previous decades: the prominence of subjectivity (which continues to resound in the Expressionist trust of the formal logic of the inner consciousness and in the literary technique of inner monologue) and with this the characteristic local and national marking and readability of musical semantics. In architecture, this was best exemplified by the International Style (as in musical modernism, its roots reach back to the 1920s and 1930s), which renounces ornamentation in favour of clear geometric structures in which all of the social functions of architecture are assumed to be hidden, while being completely insensitive to the local and contextual characteristics of the environment (thus its label “international”). A similar “desubjectification” and “universality” was also characteristic of musical serialism: in the case of integral serialism, it seems that the serial model takes over the majority of the decision-making roles, while the composer and his personal characteristics increasingly withdraw from composition (which is also probably why Boulez, in his composition Structures Ia, does not choose his own twelve-note row but instead borrows one from Messiaen). It is precisely for this reason that it is impossible to discover genuine stylistic differences or important local characteristics between modernists of diverse national provenances. To borrow Saussure’s famous division, one could say that music increasingly changed from parole to langue.

From the beginning of the 1970s, or from the historical turning point of 1968 (marked by the Prague Spring, the beginning of the Vietnam War, the Korean Crisis, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and student protests), which Baudrillard understands as the decline of political ideologies and their mutation from political content to empty signifiers (Baudrillard, 1976, 1981), the wheels again begin to turn in the other direction: the powerful de(con)structive will of modernism increasingly waivers, and the period after modernism – postmodernism – begins. This period defined itself very early on as the era of “double coding” (Jencks, 1977), the combining of the high and the low (Fiedler, 1969), the new and the old, as well as the simultaneous establishment (or “parallel constructing”; McHale, 1987, 1992) of the universal and the local. From works retaining a fundamentally modernist conception (in terms of material and approach), there is a gradual breakthrough of non-modernist “islands” of meaning, fragments, allusions, citations and “local” features.

In the last half of century, we have thus witnessed two radical turnarounds, two changes of “direction”, the alternate emphasis on and denial of the local and the universal. The conference will focus on questions related to the reasons for these turnarounds, their consequences and their implications. We welcome contributions that touch upon the following themes:

  • the theoretical and aesthetic points of departure of modernism and postmodernism;
  • the compositional-technical characteristics of the music of modernism and postmodernism;
  • the social and historical reasons for the aesthetic and social ruptures in the second half of the 20th century;
  • the specifics of modernism in individual European countries;
  • the relationship between the universal and the local in the music of the second half of the 20th century;
  • the question of the semantics of modern and postmodern music;
  • the subject in the music of modernism and postmodernism;
  • the reception of modern and postmodern music at the beginning of the 21st century;
  • modernism–postmodernism–globalism: relationships and attitudes in the music of recent decades;
  • modernist composers in the postmodern period;
  • outstanding modern and postmodern musical works.

We welcome original musicological and interdisciplinary research. The official language of the conference is English. Proposals (up to 400 words) for 20-minute papers and short biographical notes (up to 200 words) should be sent to the conference email address ( by 1 March 2015 (receipt of proposals will be acknowledged by email). Proposals will be reviewed by the conference committee and the results will be announced by 1 April 2015. A selection of papers will be published. Conference fee: €25.00.


Organisational Committee:

Dr Gregor Pompe (president)

Dr Katarina Bogunović Hočevar

Nejc Sukljan


Conference Committee:

Dr Matjaž Barbo

Dr Gražina Daunoravičienė

Dr Nikša Gligo

Dr Kenneth Gloag

Dr Aleš Nagode

Dr Niall O’Loughlin

Dr Gregor Pompe

Dr Tijana Popović Mladjenović

Dr Cornelia Szabó-Knotik

Dr Michael Walter