A compositional style. Minimalism began as an avant-garde musical style, but evolved into a more popular compositional technique. In minimalism, new ideas are introduced slowly, sometimes taking 15 minutes to build a single chord. Prominent minimalist composers include: Glass, Reich, and Adams.
An artistic movement and musical style. The goal of impressionism was to give a brief idea of the feeling the composer had about a given subject. In art, this was manifested through an obsession with light and its changing nature, and the use of broad, undefined brush strokes in paintings. In music, this resulted in symbolic works, where themes are used more as images to portray the work’s meaning. Debussy and Ravel were two prominent impressionist composers.
An artistic movement and musical style. Expressionism developed as a reaction against Impressionism. It strove to defy traditional definitions of beauty and to give an almost graphic representation of the composer or artist’s feelings. In art, this resulted in distortion of reality and extreme focus on emotion. In music, this resulted in fragmented rhythms and melodies used to show strong feelings. Schoenberg and Berg were two prominent Expressionist composers.
Twelve-Tone Method
A musical form and compositional technique. The 12-tone method is an atonal form based on the systematic ordering of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. In this method, the pitches are related to one another instead of to a tonal center. 12-tone music was first invented by Arnold Schoenberg.
An artistic and literary movement. The term “Dada” is nonsensical, and the movement later led into surrealism, avant-garde, and punk rock. Dadaism began almost simultaneously with World War I, and was a largely anti-war movement. It rebelled against conventional views of art as established by The French Academy, which was the leading voice in the art world at the time. One of the most famous moments in Dadaism was Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture “The Fountain,” which was a urinal.
Nadia Boulanger
A composition teacher. Because of World War I, the study of music by Americans shifted largely from Germany to France. Starting in the 1920s, many American composers went to France to study with Boulanger. Some prominent composers who studied with her are Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Elliott Carter.
Musique Concrete
A musical genre and compositional style. In Musique concrete the composer works with already recorded sounds and alters them electronically. It translates to mean “concrete music” because the composer is working with existing, concrete sounds instead of scores and notes. It originated with Pierre Schaeffer’s composition: Five Studies of Noises.
A vocal style. Literally means “spoken-voice” because the performer approximates written musical pitches using speech instead of singing. In Pierrot Lunaire, Schoenberg describes the technique as hitting the written pitch and immediately sliding off of it, using a speaking tone. The technique is meant to reflect the style of recitation in a melodrama.
Prepared Piano
A modification of an instrument to create a new one. Prepared piano was first employed by John Cage, who found that a screw placed between the strings of the piano would change the pitch of that note. Other materials would produce new sounds altogether, and Cage drew a variety of percussion-like sounds from the Prepared Piano. He used this technique first in Bacchanale since the performance venue was too small to hold a percussion ensemble.
Total Serialism
A compositional style. Total serialism took Schoenberg’s technique of tone rows, which affected only what pitches are played when, and applied it to all aspects of the music. Total serialism addressed intensity, dynamics, timbre, rhythm, duration, pitch, etc. These other elements of the music must first be numerically categorized before they can be worked into serialism (a set of numbers to describe dynamics, a set of numbers to describe duration, etc.).
Les Six
A group of composers. The name “Les Six” is a reflection of the Romantic Nationalist Russian composers “The Mighty Five.” Les Six were six French composers of the Neo-classicist style that wanted to re-define French music. They rejected Romantic music and strove for clarity and emotional restraint in their compositions. One of the most famous members of Les Six was Francis Poulenc.
The Technique of My Musical Language
A book of compositional techniques. Written by Olivier Messiaen, The Technique of My Musical Language described his approach to composition. It describes characteristic devices that helped him achieve his goal of writing meditative music. These devices can be found in his Quartet for the End of Time.
Sergei Diaghilev
A patron of music and the arts. He commissioned Stravinsky to write ballets. He commissioned The Rite of Spring, Firebird, and Petrushka for the Ballets Russes in Paris. He was involved in the composition and choreography of the ballets.
A literary, artistic, and musical movement. Neo-classicism as a movement lasted mainly from 1910 – 1950, though its ideals are still in use today. Neo-classicist composers strove to imitate pre-Romantic music. It rejected overly emotional or Romantic works, and valued form, symmetry, and balance over excessive expression. Stravinsky was a prominent Neo-classicist composer.
Union of Soviet Composers
A group of composers. After the Bolshevik Revolution, there was less restriction on music and composition. Because of this new freedom, many groups of composers emerged, composing as they wished. When Stalin rose to power, he replaced all of the groups of composers with the Union of Soviet Composers in 1932.
A compositional style. Composers using indeterminancy will leave one or more aspects of the piece to the discretion of the performers. They will often not dictate specific durations of pitches, and will purposefully use elements (such as radios) that cannot be planned. No two performances of an indeterminate piece should be alike. Later in his career, John Cage used indeterminancy frequently and liberally.
A compositional technique. It originated with Part, who strove to imitate the sound of church bells in his compositions. There is a specific set of rules that apply to tintinnabuli, covering pitch, rhythm, and duration of notes. Compositions that employ tintinnabuli will center around one triad, and use primarily stepwise melodies.
October Revolution
A historical revolution. Also known as the Soviet Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution. This was the rise of the Soviets, lead by Vladimir Lenin, against the Tsarist regime. It began in October of 1917, giving it the name “The October Revolution.” During this time, the country was in too much of a state of upheaval to worry about music, and many different compositional styles emerged.
Arnold Schoenberg
1874 – 1951
Claude Debussy
1862 – 1918
Igor Stravinsky
1882 – 1971
Bacchanale Premier
Pierrot Lunaire Premier
Rite of Spring Premier