Music was perhaps the last of the arts to be affected by realism because music is unrealistic by nature. Music heightens, rather than downplays, the importance of the drama and the people represented – the very opposite of realism. So, realism was not as effective in music as in the other arts because composers still needed formal and stylistic methods that were the opposite of the principles of literary realism.
Puccini was shrewd; he wanted to become rich and famous. So, he chose operatic subjects that reflected the realistic, deterministic attitude of his day. Also, he preferred presenting human situations for their dramatic effect, as opposed to the mystical and metaphysical ones. He portrays his heroines especially as figures who lack the power to control or change their fates. In La Bohème, for instance, Mimi’s love for Rodolfo is doomed by her ill health and his poverty.
By the turn of the century, discoveries in theoretical physics by Albert Einstein, Max Planck and others, contradicted the tenets of realism. New developments argued that time and place were not objective facts, but a matter of perspective. Artists in all fields then began to reflect this scientific overthrow of realism with a wide variety of new, non-objective, non-representational approaches. Post-realism includes writers James Joyce and Thomas Mann; painters Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Piet Mondrian; and the opera composer Benjamin Britten.
Realism, however, did not die. In fact, it continues to be a major force in commercial art today. Its influence can be felt in advertising, in films and on television programs, and in virtually all popular fiction.