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Futurism in Venice, Crisis and “la musica dell’avvenire,” 1924*


In January 1924 the latest incarnation of Futurist music theatre, Il Nuovo Teatro Futurista, began a twenty-eight city tour of the peninsula. The Venice stopover, at the Teatro Goldoni on January 25, prompted a flurry of media activity. Press reports, manifestos, and one-off periodicals advertized and then discussed the performance. Central to this Futurist-controlled discourse was the notion of la musica dell’avvenire, one that built on recent technological developments to provide a way out of a perceived crisis of musical language. The Futurists positioned themselves as inhabiting a moment of transition: soothsayers of a musical future that no one else could imagine. In this article I argue that these three aspects—Futurism as a media enterprise, la musica dell’avvenire, and cultural crisis—share a common impulse, as offshoots of contemporary concerns with media and technology, culture and posterity, and language and crisis, all of which had a pervasive import in postwar Italian culture. I suggest that the Futurists sought to control media networks, so as to take charge amid a culture of crisis. Yet in the process, their rhetoric of extremes saw a disavowal of all they were most reliant on—something that in the end proved their undoing. In particular, their futurology was contradicted by a reliance on older media, genres, and sounds, which revealed them to be an embodiment of the crisis from which they were trying to detach themselves. I seek to excavate the aesthetic and historical stakes that contributed to this deep-seated contradiction, and to illustrate the predicament at the heart of postwar 1920s Italian culture: of forging a path to the future amid the ever-present ruins of the past.

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