20th century classical music

20th century classical music

At the turn of the 20th century classical music was characteristically late Romantic in style, while at the same time the Impressionist movement, spearheaded by Claude Debussy was taking form. America began forming its own vernacular style of classical music, notably in the works of Charles Ives, John Alden Carpenter, and (later) George Gershwin, while in Vienna, Arnold Schoenberg conceived atonality, and later developed the twelve-tone technique. Classical music in the 20th century varied greatly, from the expressionism of early Schoenberg, Neoclassical music of Igor Stravinsky, the futurism ("bruitisme" and "machine music") of Luigi Russolo, Alexander Mossolov, early Prokofiev and Antheil, to the microtonal music of Julián Carrillo, Alois Hába, Harry Partch, and Ben Johnston, to the socialist realism of late Prokofiev and Glière, Kabalevsky, and other Russian composers, as well as the simple harmonies and rhythms of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich, and Philip Glass, to the musique concrète of Pierre Schaeffer and the intuitive music of Karlheinz Stockhausen; from the total serialism of Pierre Boulez and the political commitment of Luigi Nono to the aleatoric music of John Cage.

Perhaps the most salient feature during this time period of classical music was the increased use of dissonance. Because of this, the twentieth century is sometimes called the "Dissonant Period" of classical music, following the common practice period, which emphasized consonance (Schwartz and Godfrey 1993, 9–43). The watershed transitional moment was the international Paris Exposition celebrating the centennial of the French Revolution, in 1889 (Fauser 2005). While some writers hold that Debussy's "Prélude à l'après-midi- d'un faune" and Schoenberg's "Verklärte Nacht" are dramatic departures from Romanticism and have strong modernist traits (Ibid.), others hold that the Schoenberg work is squarely within the late-Romantic tradition of Wagner and Brahms (Neighbour 2001, 582) and, more generally, that "the composer who most directly and completely connects late Wagner and the twentieth century is Arnold Schoenberg" (Salzman 1988, 10).

An important feature of twentieth-century concert music is the splitting of the audience into traditional and avant-garde, with many figures prominent in one world considered minor or unacceptable in the other.Fact|date=September 2008 Composers such as Anton Webern, Elliott Carter, Edgard Varèse, Milton Babbitt, Luigi Nono and Luciano Berio have devoted followings within the avant-garde, but are often attacked outside of it. As time has passed, however, it is increasingly accepted, though by no means universally so, that the boundaries are more porous than the many polemics would lead one to believe: many of the techniques pioneered by the above composers show up in popular music by The Beatles, Deep Purple, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, ELP, Mike Oldfield, Enigma, Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre and in film scores (plus video game music, to an extent) that draw mass audiences.

It should be kept in mind that this article presents an overview of twentieth-century classical music and many of the composers listed under the following trends and movements may not identify exclusively as such and may be considered as participating in different movements. For instance, at different times during his career, Igor Stravinsky may be considered a romantic, modernist, neoclassicist, and a serialist.

Romantic style

Particularly in the early part of the century, many composers wrote music which was an extension of nineteenth-century Romantic music, and traditional instrumental groupings such as the orchestra and string quartet remained the most usual. Traditional forms such as the symphony and concerto remained in use. (See Romantic Music)

Many prominent composers — among them Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Maurice Ravel, and Benjamin Britten — made significant advances in style and technique while still employing a melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, structural, and textural language which was related to that of the nineteenth century.

Music along these lines was written throughout the twentieth century, and continues to be written today.

Second Viennese School, atonality, twelve-tone technique, and serialism

Arnold Schoenberg is one of the most significant figures in 20th century music. In 1921, he developed the twelve-tone technique of composition, which he first described privately to his associates in 1923 (Schoenberg 1975, 213).

In Europe, the "punctual", "pointist", or "pointillist" style of Messiaen's "Mode de valeurs et d'intensités"—in which individual tones' characteristics, or "parameters" are each determined independently—was very influential in the years immediately following 1951 among composers such as Pierre Boulez, Karel Goeyvaerts, Luigi Nono and Karlheinz Stockhausen.Fact|date=June 2007

Free dissonance and experimentalism

In the early part of the 20th century Charles Ives integrated American and European traditions as well as vernacular and church styles, while innovating in rhythm, harmony, and form (Burkholder 2001). Edgard Varèse wrote highly dissonant pieces that utilized unusual sonorities and futuristic, scientific sounding names.


"Main Article:" Neoclassicism (music)

Post-modernist music

Birth of post-modernism

Post-modernism can be said to be a response to modernism, but it can also be viewed as a response to a deep-seated shift in societal attitude. According to this view, postmodernism began when historic (as opposed to personal) optimism turned to pessimism, at the latest by 1930 (Meyer 1994, 331).

John Cage is a prominent figure in 20th century music whose influence steadily grew during his lifetime. Michael Nyman argues that minimalism was a reaction to and made possible by both serialism and indeterminism (Nyman 1999, 139). (See also experimental music)


"Main article:" Minimalist music

Many composersweasel-inline|date=September 2008 in the later twentieth century began to explore what is now called minimalism. Early examples include Terry Riley's "In C" and Steve Reich's "Drumming".

Electronic music

"Main article:" Electronic art music

Technological advances in the 20th century enabled composers to use electronic means of producing sound. The first electronic musical instrument was invented in The United States in 1897 by Thaddeus Cahill, and was called the telharmonium.Fact|date=September 2008 Some composers simply incorporated electronic instruments into relatively conventional pieces.Fact|date=September 2008

Other composers abandoned conventional instruments and used magnetic tape to create music, recording sounds and then manipulating them in some way. Sometimes such electronic music was combined with more conventional instruments, Stockhausen's "Hymnen", Edgard Varèse's "Déserts", and Mario Davidovsky's "Synchronisms" offer three examples.

Jazz-influenced classical composition

"See also:" list of jazz influenced classical composions

A number of composers combined elements of the jazz idiom with classical compositional styles, notably George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.

Recording Technology

"See also:" History of the World Music Market

The 20th century saw a change in the way in which classical music was heard. Advances in recording technologies, beginning with the rise in popularity of the phonograph in the early part of the century, and later with the inventions of the cassette and the compact disk, has led to sheet music losing its place as the principal means by which music is distributedFact|date=July 2008. In addition, broadcasting technologies, such as radio and television have meant that the concert hall is no longer the only means by which a performance can reach its audience.


Prominent spectral composers include Tristan Murail and Gérard Grisey, and the 'post-spectral' composers Kaija Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg.

Notable 20th century composers

*Milton Babbitt
*Samuel Barber
*Béla Bartók
*Alban Berg
*Luciano Berio
*Leonard Bernstein
*Harrison Birtwistle
*Pierre Boulez
*Benjamin Britten
*John Cage
*Elliott Carter
*Aaron Copland
*Peter Maxwell Davies
*Claude Debussy
*Frederick Delius
*Henri Dutilleux
*Edward Elgar
*George Enescu
*Manuel de Falla
*Gabriel Fauré
*Morton Feldman
* George Gershwin
*Alberto Ginastera
* Howard Hanson
* Roy Harris
*Paul Hindemith
*Gustav Holst
*Charles Ives
*Mauricio Kagel
*Ernst Krenek
*György Ligeti
*Witold Lutosławski
*Gustav Mahler
*Olivier Messiaen
*Gian-Carlo Menotti
*Carl Nielsen
*Luigi Nono
*Carl Orff
*Sergei Prokofiev
*Giacomo Puccini
*Sergei Rachmaninoff
*Maurice Ravel
*Ottorino Respighi
*Ned Rorem
*Arnold Schoenberg
*Dmitri Shostakovich
*Jean Sibelius
*Karlheinz Stockhausen
*Richard Strauss
*Igor Stravinsky
*Edgard Varèse
*Ralph Vaughan Williams
*Heitor Villa-Lobos
*William Walton
*Anton Webern
*Kurt Weill
*Iannis Xenakis

ee also

*List of 20th century classical composers
*Contemporary music
*Acousmatic art
*Electronic art music


* Burkholder, J. Peter. 2001. "Ives, Charles (Edward)." "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians", ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
* Fauser, Annegret. 2005. "Musical Encounters at the 1889 Paris World's Fair". Eastman Studies in Music 32. Rochester: University of Rochester Press. ISBN 978-1580461856
* Meyer, Leonard B. 1994. "Music, the Arts, and Ideas". 2d ed., with a new postlude. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226521435
* Neighbour, O. W. 2001. "Schoenberg, Arnold". "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians", ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell, xxii, 577–604. London: Macmillan.
* Nyman, Michael. 1999. "Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond". Music in the Twentieth Century. Second edition. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521653835
* Salzman, Eric. 1988. "Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction", 4th edition. Prentice-Hall History of Music Series. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-935057-8
* Schoenberg, Arnold. 1975. "Style and Idea", edited by Leonard Stein with translations by Leo Black. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-05294-3.
* Schwartz, Elliott, and Daniel Godfrey. 1993. "Music Since 1945: Issues, Materials and Literature". New York: Schirmer Books; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada; New York: Maxwell Macmillan International. ISBN 0028730402


* [http://www.schirmer.com/ G. Schirmer, Inc.]
* [http://www.boosey.com/ Boosey&Hawkes Music Publishers]
* [http://www.schott-music.com Schott Music International]
* [http://www.verlag433.de 4´33" Vierdreiunddreißig München Musikverlag]
* [http://www.atoposmusic.com Atopos Foundation for Contemporary Classical Music]
* [http://www.orchestronics.com Orchestronics]

Further reading

* Teachout, Terry. 1999. "Masterpieces of the Century: A Finale—20th Century Classical Music". "Commentary" 107, no. 6 (June): 55.
* Lee, Douglas. 2002. "Masterworks of 20th-Century Music: The Modern Repertory of the Symphony Orchestra". New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415938473, ISBN 978-0415938471
* Roberts, Paul. 2008. "Claude Debussy". 20th-Century Composers. London and New York: Phaidon Press. ISBN 0714835129, ISBN 978-0714835129

External links

* [http://www.avantgardeproject.org/index.htm The Avant Garde Project] , free downloads of out of print avant garde music
* [http://www.ircam.fr/ Ircam Paris]
* [http://www.udayton.edu/~music/faculty/magnuson/microcosms/index.html MICROCOSMS: A Simplified Approach to Musical Styles of the Twentieth Century by Phillip Magnuson]
* [http://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory40.htm Dolmetsch.com: music history online: music of the 20th century by Dr. Brian Blood]
* [http://artofthestates.org Art of the States]
* [http://www.ronsheim.org/CEClasses.html Recordings of classes on 20th Century Music given by a Dallapiccola pupil]
* [http://www.cuentayrazon.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=Publications&file=index&p_op=showcontent&pnid=1168605462 Música y filosofía contemporánea; Registros polifónicos de John Cage a Peter Sloterdijk | Dr. Adolfo Vasquez Rocca]

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