As I see it, the vogue of musical tastes and styles for any historical period is a complex reaction to the tastes and styles that immediately preceded it. Some are embracing and extending the thoughts of their peers and predecessors, others are rejecting and avoiding them. To make matters more complicated,
it isn't just a matter of who thinks/does what, but when.
We've all seen the same thing happen in conversations. Person A says something. Person B starts to prepare a really witty and interesting response, but Person C jumps in with some peurile comment and before you know it, the ground is no longer fertile for Person B's more valuable contribution. The flow is off in some new territory now and the world is deprived of whatever B was going to say.
Well the evolution of music is no different. Think of it as a conversation taking place between cultures, rather than between people. The course of the conversation is not always dictated by the most interesting or the most thoughtful contributions. The real tragedy in the example above is when B's comment would have been that tiny speck of an idea from which entire new schools of thought or expression might arise.
In alternate universes, where any number of historical events might have transpired differently than they did in ours, what alternative progressions in the flow of Western musical thought might have taken place? What if, due to a conversation that never took place in our world, some other universe had its 19th century dominated by issues of harmonic discord and syncopation, rather than technical virtuosity and florid arpeggios? Well, in that universe, their 20th century music would have developed in reaction to a completely different aesthetic.
I guess this is an overly complicated way of wondering what other kinds of music are possible. Rock and roll bores me. Punk never got my attention and hip-hop, while expressive enough, is not melodic enough (at least within my aesthetic system) to reach me emotionally. So I've turned my attention to older styles. Romanticism is too showy and self-indulgent for my tastes.
I'm really getting into the pre-Romantics: Bach and Beethoven more than Mozart. And I'm starting to explore more of their contemporaries: Czerny, Clementi, the mini-Bachs. It will take me a few years at least to reach the point where I feel I've internalized their aesthetic sensibilities. But what then? As a dabbling composer, I'm wondering about exploring what might come AFTER their styles, without necessarily assuming that it must be the Romantics.
Do other people do this? For now, until somebody tells me there's a better term for it, I'm going to call it 'alternate history mining': the process of going back to a previous historical period, and re-imagining how it might have progressed along different lines. (Of course, I can never completely divorce myself from my immersion in actual 19th and 20th century music, but I can try.)
This is an idea that's intrigued me for years in other domains. For example, what would we be using for transportation now if the internal combustion engine had never arrived to scratch that itch? We would have used steam for a while, but it would likely have never become truly satisfactory. Are there really fabulous ideas waiting to be discovered, accessible to 19th century science, that we've never uncovered because Mother Necessity had turned her attention elsewhere?