Claude Debussy

 Paris, France; Pre-1950 (1862- 1918); orchestral and piano works; Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (ballet, 1892- 1894) & Preludes (for piano, 2 books, 1910 and 1912)

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Influential bc of his treatment of orchestra (learned a lot from Rimsky-Korsakov)- very colorful, used average size orchestra, typically favored winds over strings, seldom doubled melodic lines.  His one opera, Pelleas et Melisande, is landmark in French opera.  Gave primacy to text; uses kind of recitative for singing, no dances or arias; musically and psychologically forerunner of Berg’s Wozzeck.  One of most important composers of piano music in early 20th century; two books of Preludes provide excellent cross section of Debussy’s piano writing.  [Stolba]

One of the most potent influences on the course of 20th century music.  (talks more about his orchestration

Alexander Scriabin


 Russia; Pre-1950 (1872- 1915); Piano Music (including Preludes, etudes, 10 sonatas and 1 concerto) and orchestral works (primarily symphonies); Symphony No. 4 “The Poem of Ecstasy”, Op. 54 (1905- 1908) (transitional work, blends his early and middle styles) [also Prometheus, 1910]

Influenced by chromaticism of Liszt and Wagner and mood-evoking methods of impressionism, Scriabin evolved a complex harmonic vocabulary all his own.  His development can be traced in the ten piano sonatas (the last five of which dispense with key signatures and drift towards atonality.  Replaced common tonal hierarchy with complex chord from which all the work’s harmonic and melodic material could be derived [Grout]

Also influenced by piano music of Chopin.  Used chords based on fourths, tritones, French and German sixth chords and Scriabin sixth chord (augmented triad with added whole tone), used flat II, whole tone and octatonic scales with an added nonharmonic pitch were used symmetrically; (talks about his color- music relationship) [Stolba]

Erik Satie


France; Pre- 1950 (1866- 1925); piano music and ballets; Three Gymnopedies (1888, piano)

Extremely individualistic; almost avant-garde [Stolba]

Spearheaded anti-Impressionism movement; sometimes spare, dry, capricious, brief, repetitive, full of parody and witty (esp. some piano music) [Grout]

Carl August Nielsen


Denmark; Pre-1950 (1865-1931); opera and symphonies; 5th Symphony (1922)

Wrote songs, opera, piano and chamber music, concertos and symphonies.  His best-known work, the 5th Symphony, is unconventional in form and orchestration and original in its adaptation of tonality to a sometimes very dissonant harmonic idiom.  [Grout]

Principal Danish composer at end of 19th century.  Style rooted in Classicism and strongly influenced by village music he heard as a child.  Early works show preference for tonal functional harmony with rather fast harmonic rhythm.  In 1890s, he began using what he called “extended tonality” (considered all 12 semitones within a key autonomous, each pitch directly relating to tonic; allowed free use of chromaticism within a key); regarded his music as being in a certain key, but could modulate freely from one key to another bc he wasn’t using functional harmony.  Sometimes his music sounds modal bc there was no functional difference between intervals (major and minor 3rds, for example).  Polytonal and atonal passages appear sometimes in his later works.  Created themes first and preferred concise motives to melodies; the themes then dictated the harmonies.  Adapt at motivic development and thematic variation and transformation, and counterpoint.  Symphony no. 5 has “group polyphony,” treatment of groups of orch. insts. polyphonically.  Finest orchestral work and one that best exemplifies his mature style is Symphony No. 3: Expansive Symphony (1910-11).  Excellent string quartets are op. 14 (Eb major, 1989) and op. 44 (F major, 1919)  [Stolba]

Maurice Ravel


French; Pre-1950 (1875- 1937); piano music and symphonic works …songs?; Rapsodie Espagnole (“Spanish Rhapsody”, for orchestra, 1907-1908) or La Tombeau de Couperin (“Lament for Couperin”, piano, 1917)

Considered the leading French composer after death of Debussy, who he is less Impressionistic than.  Mingled Imp. with Classicism; preferred modal (esp. Dorian and Phrygian) scales rather than whole tone; harmonies are complex but generally diatonic and functional.  [Stolba]

Richard Strauss


German; Pre-1950 (1864-1949); orchestral tone poems and operas; Don Juan (tone poem, 1889; first completely mature work) or Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (tone poem, 1895; popular favorite) & Elektra (opera, 1908; based of Sophocles’ play) or Die Rosenkavalier (The Cavalier of the Rose, 1909-1910; Strauss’ operatic masterpiece)

The most famous German composer around 1900; chief models were Liszt and Berlioz.  Tone poems renowned for orchestration.  In his operas, he deal with subjects, actions, and emotions stranger than attempted in opera before.  This stimulated him to create harmonically complex and dissonant musical idioms that greatly influenced the later grow of expressionism and the dissolution on tonality in German music.  [Grout]


Alban Berg


Vienna; Pre-1950 (1885-1935); opera; Wozzeck (opera composed 1917-21 and premiered 1925) and Lulu (opera, composed 1928-35, orchestration not completed at his death); also Lyric Suite (for string orchestra, 1926) and a Violin Concerto (1935)

Pupil of Schoenberg; member of so-called 2nd Viennese School.  Did not adhere to a single row for an entire composition or movement and often combined tonal and nontonal elements in a work.  [Stolba]

Adopted most of Schoenberg’s techniques, but used them freely, often choosing tone rows that allowed for tonal-sounding chords and chord progressions.  Invested technique with feeling of warmth that gives it more immediate impact than it had in hands of other 12-tone composers.  Chief works are Lyric Suite (for string orchestra, 1926), a Violin Concerto (1935), Wozzeck (opera, composed 1917-21 and premiered 1925) and Lulu (opera, composed 1928-35, orchestration not completed at his death).  Lyric Suite and Violin Concerto typify Berg’s constant effort to connect new style with past.  

Jean Sibelius


Finland; Pre-1950 (1865-1957); Orchestral works (symphonies, symphonic poems); Symphony No. 7 in C major, op. 105 (“Fantastic Symphony,” 1924)

The genius of Sibelius is best revealed in his symphonies, symphonic poems, and the Violin Concerto.  Some of his favorite adjectives for his own music were “somber,” “bleak,” and “elemental.”  Most original in his music are his themes, his technique of thematic development, and his treatment of form.  Doesn’t use full periodic melodies; instead, uses themes built on short motives that first sound separately, then come together.  Motives from one theme can be transferred to another, or themes can be dissolved and their motives recombined in such a way that the original theme is gradually transformed.  [Grout]

Arnold Schoenberg


Vienna; Pre-1950 (1874- 1951); opera and chamber music; Pierrot lunaire and Piano Concerto, op. 42

 713-20 g; 596-99 s [Variations for Orchestra, 1926-1928, generally acknowledged to be one of Schoenberg’s finest works, illustrates blending of traditional procedures with 12-tone method]

Devised 12-tone system.  Earliest important work is string sextet Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night; 1899; chromatic idiom that shows late German Romantic origins, which is typical of first period works).  Second period works- chose small instrumental groups (or, in orchestral texture, treated insts. in small groups); rhythm and counterpoint became more complex; melodic line fragmented; composition as whole became more compact and concentrated.  

1908-1923- Around 1908 he moved from chromatic style centered on keynote to atonality.  Pierrot lunaire  (Moonstruck Pierrot, op. 21, 1912) is his best-known composition of the pre-war era.  Expressionistic.  Cycle of 21 songs drawn from Belgian symbolist poet Albert Giraurd (1884).  Woman’s voice with chamber ensemble of 5 players/ 8 insts.: flt (dbl. pic.), clr (dbl. bass clr.), violin (dbl. viola), cello, and piano.  Voice throughout cycle declaims text in Sprechstimme (speech-voice), only approximating the written pitches but keeping closely to notated rhythm.  

Published no music from 1917-1923; after 1923, 12-tone.  First works that deliberately apply these are five piano pieces op. 23 (1923; only last has complete row of 12 tones).  One of his finest works is the Variations for Orchestra (1926-1928); blend traditional procedures with 12-tone method.  [Grout]


Schoenberg’s career as composer may be divided into five periods:

1) 1895-1908, characterized by tonal works that are post-Romantic in style, containing much chromaticism and reflecting influences of Wagner, Mahler, and Richard Strauss

2) 1909-1914, composed dissonant pantonal Expressionistic works the defied or ignored principles of traditional harmony (pantonal- the presence of all tonal centers with none distinctive enough to achieve preeminence over any of the others)

3) 1914-1923, period of experimentation during which he formulated the 12-tone method and serial principles but composed nothing for publication

4) 1923-1933, period of 12-tone composition

5) 1934-1951, sought to reconcile 12-tone and key tonality and, by his own statement, wanted to compose according to traditional principles of tonality (but occasionally found himself slipping back into pantonality)

His compositions grew more chromatic, with an abundance of highly dissonant chords that aren’t resolved.  The first composition to use a single 12-tone row throughout was Suite fur Klavier (Piano Suite, op. 25, 1923)  Certain stylistic characteristics are present in all periods: melodies containing wide leaps; use of small motives; absence of vigorous, propelling rhythms; emphasis on counterpoint, esp. in 12-tone works; penchant for constant changing tone colors, particularly in orchestral works.  In many pieces, the rhythmic beat is deliberately obscured though such techniques as dense texture, placement of rests on primary beats, frequent tempos changes, and sustained tones.  [Stolba]

*Igor Stravinsky


Paris, France or America (Los Angeles or Boston); Pre-1950 (1882-1971); ballets and orchestral music; The Rite of Spring (1913, ballet, “Russian Period”), Les Noces (“The Wedding”, 1914-1917; his most important work from the WWI years), Symphony in C (1940, “Neo-Classical Period”), The Symphony of Psalms (1930), Requiem Canticles (1965-1966)

Participated in the most significant musical developments of the first half of the 20th century.  [Grout]  Three periods- Russian; Neo-Classical; Serial

Bela Bartók


Budapest, Hungary; Pre-1950 (1881-1945); string quartets and orchestral works; Concerto for Orchestra (1943) or Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1937) and String Quartet No. 2 (op. 17, 1915-1917; contains a great deal of folk music)  

Style fused folk elements with highly developed techniques of art music.   Mikrokosmos (1926-1937) is a six-book collection of 135 piano pieces that is not only of great pedagogical value, but summarizes Bartok’s style and presents a microcosm of development of European music in the first third of the 20th century.  [Grout]  The six string quartets do the same thing through the lens of chamber music.  [Stolba]

Aaron Copland


America; Pre-1950 (1900-1990); ballets; Appalachian Spring (1943-1944, ballet written for Martha Graham) and Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson (1950, vc. and pno.; uses some features of dodecaphony)

Studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris.  Wanted his music to be clearly American; began to incorporate ragtime, blues and jazz elements (eg Music for the Theatre and Piano Concerto).  Experimented with serial techniques, but in general, a strong sense of tonality is present in his music; sometimes wrote on two tonal levels (combining major and minor or tonic and dominant).  Wrote simple chords with variable spacings and was adept at writing syncopations and polyrhythms and, on occasion, devising rhythmic intricacies.  He was an important influence in the lives and careers of many American composers, [Stolba] such as Bernstein, Lukas Foss, Marc Blitzstein, David Diamond, and David Del Tredici.  [Grout]

Charles Ives


America; Pre-1950 (1874-1954); songs and orchestral music (symphonies, etc); Concord, Mass., 1840-1860 (second piano sonata, 1916-1919; his most famous work), Variations on “America” (organ, 1891) [also Unanswered Question, Central Park in the Dark]

First distinctively American art-music composer to gain eminence.  Created a body of highly original works, mostly unperformed and unpublished during his lifetime.  Anticipated some of the radical developments of the 20th century, including free dissonance, polytonality, polyrhythm, and experimental form.  Used American folk songs, hymns, etc., but quoted and changed them.  His work has been of incalculable importance to younger generations of American musicians.  He questioned value of the traditional forms and of thematic unity, setting meter and tonality adrift.  He indulged in apparently irrational tone clusters, allowing several independent layers of sound to coexist without a harmonic relationship.  He admitted melodies from the sacred and secular, popular and artistic realms as equally valid material for his compositions.  He gave performers a chance in certain compositions to chose among several options.  In all these departures from the conventional, Ives set an example for later composers, tempting them to cast constraints overboard and to experiment.  [Grout]

Anton Webern


Vienna; Pre-1950 (1883-1945); chamber music and songs; Five Pieces (for orchestra, op. 10 no. 1) [Symphonie, op. 21] [Morgan 200]

Pupil of Schoenberg; member of so-called 2nd Viennese School.  Strictly adhered to serial principles, used one row per movement, and wrote highly ordered counterpoint that was concentrated in extremely compressed forms.  He used serial principles scientifically, creating rows whose variant forms, in transposition, reverted to the original, and rows in which the intervals of the second hexachord, in retrograde, exactly duplicated those of the first hexachord.  [Stolba]

(kind of opposite of Berg), wrote no opera and never used Sprechstimme; mature compositions unfold by imitative counterpoint (often strictly canonic); avoided sequences and repetitions but used inversions and rhythmic shifts; melodic cells generally involve intervals (such as M7 and m9) that preclude tonal implications; bare texture; complex rhythmic patterns; dynamics seldom rise above forte and finely specified.  Instrumentation is most remarkable; melodic line distributed among different instruments so that only a few tones are heard in one timbre.  Intense concentration resulted in short compositions.  Passed through stages of late Romantic chromaticism, free atonality, organization by tone row.  Small output, received little acclaim during lifetime.  With few exceptions, his works are pretty much split between instrumental and vocal and are chamber in nature.  [Grout]

opus numbers can be divided into two groups: op. 1-16- two tonal works (ops. 1 and 2) and 14 atonal AND op. 17-31- 12-tone serial works.  All his works are short, silence present.  Textual clarity and harmonic simplicity evident; less obvious are motivic organization, symmetry, and intervallic structure (esp. that of m2).  [Stolba]

Webern applied the new technique more rigorously than either Schoenberg, who took many liberties, or Berg, who never used it exclusively; Webern’s strictness, and his innovative organization of rhythm and dynamics, were seized upon eagerly by Boulez and Stockhausen and other integral serialists of the Darmstadt School in the 1950s and were a significant influence on music in the second half of the century.; From 1915-1926, wrote songs; his style began to change: lines became longer and individual parts more continuous, and the result was a linear polyphony which was more prophetic than retrospective.; During this 11-year period, all of Webern’s finished works were inspired by lyric texts.  Webern’s style changed three times: in 1908, when he abandoned tonality altogether and began to write the very brief, pointillistically disposed pieces of opp.3;11; in 1914, when he took up songwriting again and began to connect the scattered parts of his ensembles to form continuities; and in 1926, when he became secure in the 12-note technique and for the first time began to compose successfully in extended instrumental forms; [despite these changes, the aforementioned stylistic characteristics stayed consistent].; [Groves]

Edgard Var;se


born in France but spent most of life in New York, America; Pre-1950 (1883-1965); electronic music; Deserts (1950-1954; earliest major composition created on tape) and Poeme electronique (1957; for 1958 Worlds Fair; last composition he completed)

Called his music ;organized sound.;; In 1920s, began writing for percussion (esp. interested in non-pitched percussion).; Also interested in electronic music.; Deserts combines conventional instruments with tapes of real sounds that cannot be produced with conventional musical instruments.; Timbral contrasts create ABABABA form (A= instruments, B=tape), though the piece has no recognizable thematic material, there is unity and continuity in the work; piece is atonal but not serial. Poeme electronique obtains spatial effects by transmitting tape through strategically placed loudspeakers to surround listener with sound.; A control tape ran special lighting effects from a variety of sources in the pavilion.;

More concerned with sound masses and their manipulation than themes and their development.; In works such as Integrales (1925) and Ionisation (for percussion only, 1931), Varese aimed to liberate composition from conventional melody, harmony, meter, regular pulse, recurrent beat, and traditional orchestration.; Instead, he envisioned individual and massed instrumental ensembles as the raw material of organized sound. ;

Kurt Weill


Berlin, Germany and New York, America; Pre-1950 (1900-1950!); opera (in Germany) and musical comedies and operettas (in America); The Threepenny Opera (1928; parodied American hit songs and juxtaposed 18th century ballets, European dance music and American jazz; also based off John Gay;s 1728 Beggar;s Opera)


Dimitri Shostakovich


;Leningrad, Russia; Post-1950 (1906-1975); symphonies and string quartets (though at first was very prolific in ballet, film and opera (Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, 1934); Symphony No. 5 in D minor, op. 47 (1937)

Benjamin Britten

;England; Post-1950 (1913-1976); opera ; choral works and songs; Peter Grimes (1945, opera) and War Requiem (1962);

Best known and most prolific British composer of the mid-20th century.; Typically adheres to tonal and diatonic techniques colored with modal and chromatic elements.; [Grout]

Most of Britten;s opera deal with social issues.; [Stolba]

Oliver Messiaen


Paris, France; Post-1950 (1908-1992); organ music and chamber music; Quartet for the End of Time (1940; vln, vcl, clr, pno) and Meditations on the Mystery of the Holy Trinty (1969, organ work)

One of 20th century;s most individualistic composers.; Highly influential as a teacher and composer, but did not found a ;school; of composition.; Religion (esp. Roman Catholicism) influenced him; melodies influenced by chant and folk song and birdsong; most unusual characteristic of his music is treatment of rhythm- rhythm is an accumulation of durations rather than a division of time into equal parts.; Influenced by Greek poetry and Hindu music.; Some rhythmic techniques he used include augmentation or diminution of rhythms, nonretrogradable rhythms (palindromes), rhythmic ostinatio, rhythmic inversion.; Harmonically, tried to capture colors he saw; used ;resonance chords; that were basically a pitch and its overtone series.; Got into serialism and total serialism later in his life.; [Stolba]

Worked mainly in a rich homophonic texture or with sweeping gestures, sometimes in counterpoint against one another.; Drew melodic and harmonic material from a variety of courses, like plainchant modes, conventional tonality, octatonic scales and pitch sets.; Used timbral contrasts to serve a structural function.; [Grout]

John Cage


John Cage– American; Post-1950 (1912-1992 ); prepared piano and piano; 4;33; (1952) and Variations IV (1963; about 1956, he moved toward complete openness in ever aspect of his composition and performance, by offering performers such options as in Variations IV: ;for any number of players, any sounds or combinations of sounds produced by any means, with or without other activities; (such as dance, theater, etc). ;

Almost more important as a music philosopher than a composer; his indeterminacy raised questions about the nature and purpose of music.; When a composer extends spontaneity to a point where all control is voluntarily abandoned, the listener simply hears sounds as sounds, enjoying (or not) tem as they come along, not trying to connect them, not expecting the music to communicate feelings or meanings of any kind.; Value judgments become irrelevant and musical time becomes simply duration, something that can be measured by a clock.; Consonant with trend in Western art (and civilization in general) to become more open to ideas and beliefs of other world cultures.; [Grout]

Wrote for prepared piano. His early compositions are based on organized arrangements of the pitches in the chromatic scale.; Studied and influenced by Zen Buddhism; sought to express musically the idea of zero thought [like me when I play], endeavored to create purposeless music like Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951, for 12 radio receivers; used element of chance to determine choice of wavelengths, duration, and volume).; Used Chinese I Ching: The Book of Changes to help create ;indeterminacy; (what other composers called aleatoric music).; Next innovation was to create musical ;happenings;- actions or presentations, musical and nonmusical, that are simultaneous but uncoordinated.; Indeterminacy allowed Cage to write pieces with open form- works that allowed performer(s) to choose the order in which movements or portions of movements were played.; His work has been highly influential, esp. with regard to chance operations and indeterminacy.; Works (like HPSCHD) combine techniques of collage, quotation and indeterminacy, as well as multimedia.; Why did Cage create such unusual works?; His response might have been, to affirm the reality of life and living in our world, to break down the distinctions and barriers between art and living, to make people realize that we are surrounded by sounds and that everything we do is music.; [Stolba]


Witold Lutoslawski– Poland; Post-1950 (1913-1994); orchestral works; Concerto for Orchestra (1954), Funeral Music (1958, written for Bartok, established his international reputation)

Made selective use of indeterminacy, later adopted very personal version of 12-tone serial method.; In his Symphony No. 3 (1983), the conductor signals the beginning of each section; result is harmonically static blocks, as the composer limits the players to a small number of pitches for each section.; Ad lib sections allow individual players to dwell on a figure or develop a motive like a soloist during a cadenza.; [Grout]

First wrote diatonic melodies based on folk music and used nonfunctional harmony; later employed 12-tone serial techniques but allowed one chord to dominate.; [Stolba]

Major Polish composer of the 20th century. ;

Gyorgy Ligeti


Hungary; Post-1950 (1923-); orchestral works and chamber music; Atmospheres (1961), Aventures (1962, chamber piece for voice employing a specially create language consisting of a wide variety of unconventional sounds) and Three Pieces for Two Pianos (1976; one is ;Slef-Portrait with Reich and Riley [and Chopin is also there];)

Three characteristics of his compositional style include clusters, extremely soft sustained chords, and canon.; Focused on development of musical textures to the extent that other elements of music were pushed to the background.; His significance lies in the fact that he moved away from areas that attracted the attention of many avant-garde composers (serialism, electronic music, etc) into other technical developments that have influenced a younger generation of composers.; [Stolba]


Luciano Berio


;Italy; Post-1950 (1925- ); chamber music and electronic music; Sequenza (Sequence, series of virtuosic works written for conventional insts.) and Thema: Omaggio a Joyce (Theme: Homage to Joyce; 1958; 2-track tape based on a portion of Joyce;s Ulysses, after speaker presents text, remainder of work is manipulation of word out of context and with filtering to suppress overtones and change timbres)

One of most important Italian composers.; Has experimented with electronic music techniques, 12-tone serialism, multimedia, and eclecticism. ;

[782-4 g; 647-8 s]


Pierre Boulez


France; Post-1950 (1925-); piano music and chamber music; Structures I (for two pianos, 1952; most successful work in total serialism), The Hammer without a Master (1954, chamber group; setting of surrealist poems for contralto interspersed with purely inst. mvts.; best-known composition and one that is probably his most expressive musically)

Messian;s most talented pupil; experimented with total serialism (not just pitches but attacks, dynamics, etc). [Grout]

Regarded music from a scientific viewpoint and was firmly convinced of the necessity for atonality.; Influenced esp. by Webern.; One contribution to serialism was chord multiplication (pg. 637) [Stolba]

;Karlheinz Stockhausen


Germany; Post-1950 (1928-2007); electronic music; Gesang der Junglinge (Song of the Youths, 1956, one of most prominent early electronic compositions) and Klavierstuck XI (Piano Piece No. 11, 1956)

European composer who worked most consistently with indeterminacy.; Klavierstuck XI (Piano Piece No. 11, 1956) consists of 19 short segments of notation displayed on a large sheet.; These segments can be put together in various ways as the performer;s eye happens to light on them.; Certain directions are given for choosing and linking the segments played: not all need be played, any may be repeated.; When in the course of a performance the pianist plays any one segment a third time, the piece ends.; Opus 1970 uses quotation.; Piece is for pno., elec. vla., electronium (whatever the fuck that is), tam-tam and four loudspeakers.; ;Material is obtained from a regulating system (radio short waves), selected by freely by the player and immediately developed; spread, condensed, shortened, differently colored, more or less articulated, transposed, modulated, multiplied, synchronized; the players imitate and vary, adhering to the system of development specified by the score; As a regulating system each of the four players has a tape player on which, for the whole of the recording period, a tape, prepared differently for each of the players, continually reproduced fragments of music by Beethoven.; The player opens and shuts the loudspeaker control whenever he wishes.; ;

George Crumb


America; Post-1950 (1929-); vocal music and chamber music; Ancient Voices of Children (1970, song cycle of 4 songs with texts by Lorca and 2 instrumental interludes; for soprano, boy soprano, ob., mand., hrp., elec. pno. and toy pno.) and Black Angels: 13 Images from the Dark Land (1970, amplified string quartet; kind of parable with God and devil in polarity)


Not intrigued by electronic music; obtained new sounds by ingenious choices of sound sources and unusual combinations of instruments.; In his vocal music, has mainly set verse by Frederico Garcia Lorca, and regards these settings as an extended cycle.; His vocal music is exceptionally demanding (micro intervals, very wide leaps, sound effects by tongue clicking, hissing, etc., and creating unusual timbres like imitating various muted trumpet sounds).; [Stolba]

Has been most imaginative in coaxing new sounds out of ordinary instruments and objects.; (lists some ways, pg. 772-773); [Grout]

Toru Takemitsu


Japan; Post-1950 (1930-1996); orchestral works and film scores; Fantasma/Cantos (Grawemeyer Award winner 1994)

Joined elements of their native musical cultures with those of Western music.; Has written extenseively for Western ensembles as well as for native insts. (sometimes combining the two) are delicate studies in textural shadings, almost always at a low dynamic level.; While employing the full resources of Western chromaticism, Takemitsu uses subtle nuances of timbre and articulation to shape extremely ephemeral musical materials, whose quality of understatement and restraint recalls Japanese painting.; [422 Morgan]

Krzysztof Penderecki


;Poland; Post-1950 (1933-); large works for vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra that are liturgical or on religious subjects; Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (string orchestra, 1960)

Harrison Birtwhistle


;England; Post-1950 (1934- ); opera and chamber music; The Mask of Orpheus (Grawemeyer Award winner 1987)


Has received great international attention.; Fiercely dissonant and inscrutable in his more abstract works, he also shows a flair for the dramatic in his theatrical and virtually theatrical works.; [Grout]

Widely regarded as greatest British composer since Britten. “The Mask of Orpheus,” a modern opera by British composer Harrison Birtwistle; four-hour opera features masked singers, mimes and electronic music. ;


John Adams


American; Post-1950 (1947-); opera; Nixon in China (1987, depicts Nixon;s historic meeting with the Chinese government) and The Death of Klinghoffer (1991; relates 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship ;Achille Lauro; and the murder of American tourist Leon Klinghoffer)

Was minimalist in early part of career (ex. Phrygian Gates, for piano, 1977-8).; Is not so much now. ;

Morton Feldman


America; Post-1950 (1926-1987); chamber music; Projections (1950-51, series of five compositions for violin and piano; designed different type of graphic notation that would enable performers to make certain compositional choices within definitely prescribed limits)

Worked with Cage in early 1950s in indeterminacy.; In later compositions, Feldman avoided indeterminacy entirely, yet the general character of his music- the sparse, atmospheric, motionless textures produced by fragmentary events- remained largely unchanged.; Even in the indeterminate scores, unspecified elements always appear within an unambiguous framework that controls the overall sonic character.; Unlike Cage, Feldman;s concern was more with musical effect than with social, political, or philosophical concerns.; Moreover, he never used change operations for compositional purposes, but only with reference to performance.; [365-366 Morgan]

Sofia Gubaidulina


Russia (emigrated to Germany in 1991); Post-1950 (1931-); chamber and orchestral music; Rejoice! (written 1981 but not performed until 1988; sonata for violin and cello; inspired by 18-th century devotional texts; example of her spiritual dimension)

Regarded, with Schnittke and Denisov, as one of leaders of Soviet music since death of Shostakovich.; Has wide literary interests and her music is influenced by religious faith.; [Grove] ;


Tan Dun


;China and America; Post-1950 (1957-); theater music, opera, and film scores and chamber music; Marco Polo (1996, opera; won Grawemeyer Award 1998)

Later music combines Chinese and Western methods and is influenced by Cage.; [Ox Dic] Altogether more ambitious in scale was Marco Polo (1995), which charts both the ;outer;, physical journey of the title character and an ;inner;, spiritual journey from West to East, played out by characters symbolizing ;shadows;, ;memory; and ;nature;. These physical and spiritual dimensions are demarcated musically, the former represented predominantly by music in a Western avant-garde idiom, the latter by the style of Beijing opera. Meanwhile the changes of geographical landscape in the course of the voyage are mirrored by changes of instrumentation within an ensemble that incorporates medieval European, Indian, Tibetan and Chinese instruments.; [Groves]


Kaija Saariaho


Finland and France; Post-1950 (1952); electronic and orchestral music; L;amour de loin (2003 Grawemeyer Award winner)

Although her early sympathies were with post-serialist modernism, she soon grew more eclectic: ;Everything is permissible as long as it’s done in good taste’. Many of Saariaho’s works involve electronics, but she has been increasingly drawn towards the conventional symphony orchestra, as in the paired orchestral works Du cristal and ; ; la fum;e (1990). Her outstanding achievement is her opera L’Amour de loin (2000), widely praised for its refined beauty and surprising lyrical warmth.  [Oxford Companion]

Saariaho’s early output from the late 1970s includes many melodious vocal works. With Im Traume for cello and piano (1980), however, her focus shifted from melody to tone-colour, which with harmony became a central element in her music; melodies and distinct rhythmic patterns rarely appear. Characteristics of her works from the 1980s include tonal surfaces worked out in rich detail; sensitive, descriptive lyrical writing; and slow transformations. Her search for new timbres has stimulated a wide-ranging study of new instrumental techniques. In many of her works Saariaho has exploited the possibilities of new technology (e.g. live electronics, tape and computer-assisted composition).; Saariaho’s music of the late 1980s and 90s is more expressive and often more rapid in its fluctuations. Rhythmic elements are stronger, although regular pulses remain absent. Rich tone-colours still hold a central position.  [Groves]


Rite of Spring



ballet composed in 1913 by Igor Stravinsky for the Ballet Russe [tell what it’s about]. Used polytonality, polyrhyhtm, ostinati, contrasting instrumental colors, savage dissonances; musical counterpart to primitivism being expressed in art works of the time.  [Stolba]  Novelty consists not only in rhythms but in previously unheard orchestral effects and chordal combinations.  




outstanding example of expressionist opera.  Music is atonal (not 12-tone) and continuous throughout all 3 acts (the changing scenes, 5 in each act, connected by orchestral interludes).  Uses leitmotifs to unify, pitch-class sets identified with main characters; adapts traditional closed forms.  Vocal parts move from speech, Sprechstimme, and singing.  [Grout]

The Genesis of Music


 from Harry Partch, American composer, theoretician, instrument maker, and performer.  His treatise, Genesis of a Music, was finally published in 1949; in it the ‘expanded tonality diamond’, based on the consonant hexad and revealing an interlocking series of common tones, reached fruition. It is an account of his own music, with discussions of music theory and instrument design.  It is considered a standard text of microtonal music theory and expounds his concept of “Corporeality”: the fusion of all art forms with the body as its central focus.  [Groves]

Gesang der Jünglinge

 initially surrounded by controversy on account of its avant-garde treatment of a sacred text (the Benedicite), became the first work to establish fully the aesthetic viability of the electro-acoustic medium.  However, its significance goes beyond this.  It was the first major multi-track work (five channels, subsequently reduced to four), and it partly broke down the doctrinaire division between electronic music and musique concrète by including a boy’s voice alongside the electronically generated sounds.; It also embodied Stockhausen’s ideas about the integration of materials, bringing together a number of different types of pitch scales and time proportions, and establishing a continuum between pitched and unpitched sound.  [Groves]  One of most prominent early electronic compositions.  [729-30 Grout]



4′ 33″– John Cage’s most extreme



1961, work by Gyorgy Ligeti (b. 1923; used part of in Kubrick’s 2001).  Begins with large orchestra playing simultaneously all 12 notes through a 5-octave range.  Sudden changes of dynamics; string harmonics and vibrato; dense canonic imitations [Grout]

Concentrated on chromatic complexes, with pitches in sustained clusters; avoided any feelings of harmony, rhythmic pulse, or definite durations.  Scores are precise in conventional notation.  [Stolba]  [Listen to; see if you can view an image of the score]


In C


Terry Riley composition from 1935.  One of best known minimal works; is minimalist and aleatoric.  Each player decides when to move to each figure, where to place the primary accent, and how often to repeat each figure.  [Stolba]  Important because of these two characteristics; indeterminacy extends to makeup of ensemble; interactions of players with each other and rhythmic pulse; notation of score

Pierrot lunaire


(Moonstruck Pierrot, op. 21, 1912) is Schoenberg’s best-known composition of the pre-war era.  Expressionistic.  Cycle of 21 songs drawn from Belgian symbolist poet Albert Giraurd (1884).  Woman’s voice with chamber ensemble of 5 players/ 8 insts.: flt (dbl. pic.), clr (dbl. bass clr.), violin (dbl. viola), cello, and piano.  Voice throughout cycle declaims text in Sprechstimme (speech-voice), only approximating the written pitches but keeping closely to notated rhythm.  [714-5 Grout]


Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima


1960 composition by Krzysztof Penderecki; important because of extreme use of extended performance techniques.  Uses quarter tones and glissandos; indeterminacy (players play “highest note” on inst., as opposed to specific note); strings bow on or behind bridge or strike soundboard; score gives few definite pulses or note values, time is measured by units of clock time.  Beginning and end give players most freedom, while middle is most precisely notated and has most intense variety of sound.  [Grout]



first applied to school of French painting (1880-1900) chiefly represented by Claude Monet; aimed to represent objects of the external world as perceived at a given moment [title of movement derived from Monet painting titled “Impression: Sunrise”; look up painting].  Musically, aimed to evoke moods and sensuous impressions mainly through harmony and tone color.  Unlike early program music, imp. did not seek to express deeply felt emotion or tell a story but to evoke a mood, a fleeting sentiment, an atmosphere.  It used enigmatic titles, reminisces of natural sounds, dance rhythms, characteristic bits of melody, and the like to suggest the subject.  Impressionism relied on allusion and understatement, the antithesis of the forthright, energetic, deep expressions of the Romantics.  [Grout]

Characteristics of painting style are avoidance of sharp outlines and formal precision, reliance on the effect of light and color, and a certain fluidity of design.  The paintings manifest both blurring and brilliance.  They are representational but not graphic and usually not realistic.  Comparable movement in French poetry called Symbolism [Debussy’s “Prelude…” was to a poem called “Afternoon of a Faun” by Mallarme]  Impressionist music is characterized by irregular phrases and blurring of formal outlines, avoidance of traditional harmonic progressions, use of streams of chords in parallel motion and altered chords with unresolved dissonances, and choice of instruments for their colorists possibilities.  Composers wanted to create an atmosphere, to suggest rather than to define, to hint rather than to state.  Debussy is considered chief exponent, though this is but one aspect of his style and he strongly opposed label, instead identifying his works as “Symbolism.”  [Stolba]



also originally a movement in painting [example- O. Kokoshka, The Tempest (1914)]  Depicted real objects in distorted representations, to reflect their feelings about their surroundings and themselves.  Sought to represent inner experience.  Grew out of subjectivity of Romanticism; differed from R in the kind of inner experience it aimed to portray and in the means chose to portray it.  Expressionism dealt with the emotional life of the modern person, isolated, helpless in the grip of poorly understood forces, prey to inner conflict, tension, anxiety, feat, and all the elemental irrational drives of the subconscious, and in angry rebellion against the established order and accepted forms. Because of the subject matter, expressionistic art is characterized by desperate and revolutionary modes of utterance.  Schonberg, etc. used exaggerated graphic images and speech inflections to express poet’s inner feelings in works such as Pierrot lunaire.  In works like this, he didn’t aspire to make music that was either pretty or realistic.  Instead, he deployed the most forceful and direct means, no matter how unusual- whether in music, subject matter, text, scenic design, or lighting- to communicate the particular compelling though and emotion he wanted.  At this stage in his writing, Schoenberg was depending mostly on the text to establish a thread in his extended works.  [Grout]

Appeared in art and literature in Germany and Paris early in the 20th century.  The philosophy fundamental to Expressionism is that the artist’s or writer’s personal feelings and emotional reaction to a subject are more important than objective representation of it.  Rather than objectively and accurately portraying a subject, the artist used bold color and strong linear patterns to express his emotional reaction to that subject.  Exaggeration and distortion are features of Expressionism.  German painters, in addition to using strong color and linear patterns, also chose subjects of highly emotion character [like Edvard Munch’s The Scream].  As Expressionism developed, subjectivity of presentation increased, and representation of external reality weakened and disappeared.  In music, Expressionism is seen in atonal/ pantonal compositions that distort or ignore the conventions of traditional harmony and formal patterns and are abstract and intense.  [Stolba]

Heinrich Schenker


Wrote several theoretical books. Inventor of famous system of analysis based on theory that one type of mus. structure was basis of all masterpieces from Bach to Brahms.  [Oxford Dictionary]

Schenker’s theory amounts to a probing analysis of musical cognition within the tradition of Western European music as practised in the 18th and 19th centuries. In his theoretical writings he established the cognitive prototypes of musical perception, based upon subtle readings of works by composers widely recognized as the leading artists in the tradition, vigorous examination of his own hearing and a thorough study of the evidence presented indirectly in the disciplines of species counterpoint (according to Fux) and thorough-bass (according to C.P.E. Bach). In his analytical writings he illustrated how his theory of musical cognition operated in the perception of musical artworks. The cognition Schenker described is the superior competence of a skilled practitioner, not the ordinary competence of average musicians or listeners. He was convinced, in fact, that his theory accurately described the mind and intentions of master composers. To the extent that it is a theory of how mental prototypes shape musical perception, his theory is consistent in its approach with the most recent advances in the understanding of perception.  [Groves]



 one of the many compositional trends that followed serialism and indeterminacy.  [Morgan]  Its re-emergence in the avant garde of the late 20th century (however changed in musical and cultural significance) with postmodernism.  [Groves]

Copland uses?