Bela Bartok
Bela Bartok was a Hungarian composer and pianist, considered to be one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, and regarded, along with Liszt, as his country’s greatest composer. Through his collection and analytical study of folk music, he was one of the founders of ethnomusicology.
Carl Orff
Carl Orff was a 20th-century German composer, best known for his oratorio Carmina Burana. In addition to his career as a composer, Orff developed an influential method of music education for children.
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song; this also influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, which began in 1904, many folk song arrangements being set as hymn tunes, in addition to several original compositions.
Gustav Holst
Gustav Theodore Holst was an English composer. He is most famous for his orchestral suite The Planets. Having studied at the Royal College of Music in London, his early work was influenced by Grieg, Wagner, Richard Strauss and fellow student Ralph Vaughan Williams, and later, through Vaughan Williams, the music of Ravel. The combined influence of Ravel, Hindu spiritualism and English folk tunes enabled Holst to free himself of the influence of Wagner and Strauss and to forge his own style. Holst’s music is well known for unconventional use of metre and haunting melodies. Holst composed almost 200 works, including operas, ballets, choral hymns and songs.
Benjamin Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten was an English composer, conductor, violist and pianist. One of Britten’s best known works is The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1946), which was composed to accompany Instruments of the Orchestra, an educational film produced by the British government, narrated and conducted by Malcolm Sargent. Its subtitle is Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, the theme is a melody from Henry Purcell’s Abdelazar. Britten gives individual variations to each of the sections of the orchestra, starting with the woodwind, then the string instruments, the brass instruments and finally the percussion. Britten then brings the whole orchestra together again in a fugue before restating the theme to close the work. The original film’s spoken commentary is often omitted in concert performances and recordings.
Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland was an American composer of concert and film music, as well as an accomplished pianist. Instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, he was widely known as “the dean of American composers”. Copland’s music achieved a balance between modern music and American folk styles. The open, slowly changing harmonies of many of his works are said to evoke the vast American landscape. He also incorporated percussive orchestration, changing meter, polyrhythms, polychords, and tone rows in a broad range of works for concert hall, theater, ballet, and films. Aside from composing, Copland was a teacher, lecturer, critic, writer, and conductor (generally, but not always, of his own works).
Gian-Carlo Menotti
Gian Carlo Menotti was an Italian-American composer and librettist. Although he often referred to himself as an American composer, he kept his Italian citizenship. He wrote the classic Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors among about two dozen other operas intended to appeal to popular taste. He won the Pulitzer Prize for two of them, The Consul and The Saint of Bleecker Street. He founded the noted Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds) in 1958 and its American counterpart, Spoleto Festival USA, in 1977. In 1986 he commenced a Melbourne Spoleto Festival in Australia, but he withdrew after three years.
Darius Milhaud
Darius Milhaud was a French composer and teacher. He was a member of Les Six – also known as the Groupe des Six – and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are particularly noted as being influenced by jazz and for their use of polytonality (music in more than one key at once).
Arthur Honegger
Arthur Honegger was a Swiss composer, who was born in France and lived a large part of his life in Paris. He was a member of Les Six. His most frequently performed work is probably the orchestral work Pacific 231, which is interpreted as imitating the sound of a steam locomotive.
Francis Poulenc
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc was a French composer and a member of the French group Les Six. He composed music in all major genres, including art song, chamber music, oratorio, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music. Critic Claude Rostand, in a July 1950 Paris-Presse article, described Poulenc as “half monk, half delinquent” (“le moine et le voyou”), a tag that was to be attached to his name for the rest of his career.
Paul Hindemith
Paul Hindemith was a German composer, violist, violinist, teacher, music theorist and conductor. Hindemith wrote Gebrauchsmusik (Music for use) – compositions intended to have a social or political purpose and sometimes written to be played by amateurs. The concept was inspired by Bertolt Brecht. An example of this is his Trauermusik (Funeral Music), written in January 1936. Hindemith was preparing the London premiere of Der Schwanendreher when he heard news of the death of George V. He quickly wrote this piece for solo viola and string orchestra in tribute to the late king, and the premiere was given that same evening, the day after the king’s death. Hindemith later disowned the term Gebrauchsmusik, saying it was misleading.
Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen was a French composer, organist, and ornithologist. On the fall of France in 1940 Messiaen was made a prisoner of war, and while incarcerated he composed his Quatuor pour la fin du temps (“Quartet for the end of time”) for the four available instruments, piano, violin, cello, and clarinet. The piece was first performed by Messiaen and fellow prisoners for an audience of inmates and prison guards. Messiaen’s music is rhythmically complex (he was interested in rhythms from ancient Greek and from Hindu sources), and is harmonically and melodically based on modes of limited transposition, which were Messiaen’s own innovation. Many of his compositions depict what he termed “the marvellous aspects of the faith”, drawing on his unshakeable Roman Catholicism.
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor, widely acknowledged as one of the most important and influential composers of 20th century music. He was a quintessentially cosmopolitan Russian who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the century. In addition to the recognition he received for his compositions, he also achieved fame as a pianist and a conductor, often at the premieres of his works.
Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian and later American composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School. Schoenberg was known early in his career for successfully extending the traditionally opposed German Romantic traditions of both Brahms and Wagner, and later and more notably for his pioneering innovations in atonality. In the 1920s, he developed the twelve-tone technique, a widely influential compositional method of manipulating an ordered series of all twelve notes in the chromatic scale. He also coined the term developing variation, and was the first modern composer to embrace ways of developing motifs without resorting to the dominance of a centralized melodic idea. Schoenberg’s approach, both in terms of harmony and development, is among the major landmarks of 20th century musical thought; at least three generations of composers in the European and American traditions have consciously extended his thinking and, in some cases, passionately reacted against it.
Alban Berg
Alban Maria Johannes Berg was an Austrian composer. He was a member of the Second Viennese School with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, and produced compositions that combined Mahlerian Romanticism with a personal adaptation of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique.
Anton Webern
Anton Webern was an Austrian composer and conductor. He was a member of the Second Viennese School. As a student and significant follower of Arnold Schoenberg, he became one of the best-known exponents of the twelve-tone technique; in addition, his innovations regarding schematic organization of pitch, rhythm and dynamics were formative in the musical technique later known as total serialism.
Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a Russian composer of the Soviet period and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century. After a period influenced by Prokofiev and Stravinsky, Shostakovich developed a hybrid style, as exemplified by his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934). This single work juxtaposed a wide variety of trends, including the neo-classical style (showing the influence of Stravinsky) and post-Romanticism (after Mahler). Sharp contrasts and elements of the grotesque characterize much of his music. Shostakovich’s orchestration is clear, economical and cool.
Serge Prokofiev
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor who mastered numerous musical genres and came to be admired as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.
Edgard Varese
Edgard Varese was an innovative French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States. Varese’s music features an emphasis on timbre and rhythm. He was the inventor of the term “organized sound”, a phrase meaning that certain timbres and rhythms can be grouped together, sublimating into a whole new definition of music. Although his complete surviving works only last about three hours, he has been recognised as an influence by several major composers of the late 20th century. His use of new instruments and electronic resources led to his being known as the “Father of Electronic Music” while Henry Miller described him as “The stratospheric Colossus of Sound”.
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Another critic calls him “one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music”. He is known for his ground-breaking work in electronic music, aleatory (controlled chance) in serial composition, and musical spatialization.
Pierre Boulez
Pierre Boulez is a French composer of contemporary classical music and conductor. He has utilized such writing techniques as serialism, experimentation, and controlled chance.
Milton Babbitt
Milton Byron Babbitt is an American composer. He is particularly noted for his pioneering serial and electronic music.
John Cage
John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer, philosopher, poet, music theorist, artist, printmaker, and amateur mycologist and mushroom collector. A pioneer of chance music, electronic music and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage’s romantic partner for most of their lives.
George Crumb
George Crumb is an American composer of modern and avant-garde music. He is noted as an explorer of unusual timbres and extended technique. Examples include spoken flute (one speaks while blowing into the instrument) and glass marbles poured onto an open piano.
Gyorgy Ligeti
Gyorgy Sandor Ligeti was a composer, born in a Hungarian Jewish family in Transylvania, Romania. He briefly lived in Hungary before later becoming an Austrian citizen. Many of his works are well known in classical music circles, but to the general public, he is best known for the various pieces featured in the Stanley Kubrick films 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut.
Luciano Berio
Luciano Berio was an Italian composer. He is noted for his experimental work (in particular his 1968 composition Sinfonia for voices and orchestra and his series of numbered solo pieces titled Sequenza) and also for his pioneering work in electronic music.
Iannis Xenakis
Iannis Xenakis was a Greek composer, music theorist and architect. He is commonly recognized as one of the most important post-war avant-garde composers. Xenakis pioneered the use of mathematical models such as applications of set theory, varied use of stochastic processes, game theory, etc., in music, and was also an important influence on the development of electronic music.
Elliott Carter
Elliott Cook Carter, Jr. is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer born and living in New York City. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1930s, and then returned to the United States. After a neoclassical phase, he went on to write atonal, rhythmically complex music. His compositions, which have been performed all over the world, include orchestral and chamber music as well as solo instrumental and vocal works.
Henryk Gorecki
Henryk Mikołaj Gorecki is a composer of contemporary classical music. Gorecki studied at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice between 1955–60. In 1968, he joined the faculty and rose to provost before resigning in 1979. Gorecki became a leading figure of the Polish avant-garde during the post-Stalin cultural thaw. His Webernian-influenced serialist works of the 1950s and 1960s were characterized by an adherence to dissonant modernism, and drew influence from Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Krzysztof Penderecki and Kazimierz Serocki. He continued in this direction throughout the 1960s, but by the mid 1970s had changed to a less complex sacred minimalist sound, exemplified by the transitional Symphony No. 2 and the Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). This later style has since developed during several other distinct phases; from such works his 1979 Beatus Vir (Opus 38), to the choral 1981 hymn Miserere, the 1993 Kleines Requiem fur eine Polka and his recent requiem Good Night.
Neoclassicism in music was a 20th century development, particularly popular in the period between the two World Wars, in which composers drew inspiration from music of the 18th century, though some of the inspiring canon was drawn as much from the Baroque period as the Classical period – for this reason, music which draws influence specifically from the Baroque is sometimes termed neo-baroque.
Serialism began primarily with Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique, though his contemporaries were also working to establish serialism as one example of post-tonal thinking. Twelve-tone technique orders the 12 notes of the chromatic scale, forming a row or series and providing a unifying basis for a composition’s melody, harmony, structural progressions, and variations. Other types of serialism also work with sets, but not necessarily with fixed-order series, and extend the technique to other musical dimensions (often called “parameters”), such as duration, dynamics, and timbre.
Atonality in its broadest sense describes music that lacks a tonal center, or key. Atonality in this sense usually describes compositions written from about 1908 to the present day where a hierarchy of pitches focusing on a single, central tone is not used and the notes of the chromatic scale function independently of one another. More narrowly, the term describes music that does not conform to the system of tonal hierarchies that characterized classical European music between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.
The musical use of more than one key simultaneously is polytonality.
Twelve-tone technique (also dodecaphony, and in British usage, twelve-note composition) is a method of musical composition devised by Arnold Schoenberg. The technique is a means of ensuring that all 12 notes of the chromatic scale are sounded as often as one another in a piece of music while preventing the emphasis of any through the use of tone rows, an ordering of the 12 pitches. All 12 notes are thus given more or less equal importance, and the music avoids being in a key. The technique was tremendously influential on composers in the mid-twentieth century.
In music, pandiatonic chords and successions are those formed freely from all degrees of a diatonic scale without regard for their diatonic function, sometimes to the extent of no single pitch being felt as a tonic.
Primitivism is the opinion that life was better or more moral during the early stages of mankind or among primitive peoples (or among children) and has deteriorated with civilization – is a response to the perennial question of whether the development of complex civilization and technology has benefited or harmed mankind. From primitivism springs the romanticised ideal of the Noble savage, as being a more worthy, more noble being than civilized man.
Gebrauchsmusik is a German term, essentially meaning “utility music,” for music that exists not only for its own sake, but which was composed for some specific, identifiable purpose. This purpose can be a particular historical event, like a political rally or a military ceremony, or it can be more general, as with music written to accompany dance, or music written for amateurs or students to perform. While composer Paul Hindemith is probably the figure most identified with this expression, it seems to have been coined within the realm of musicology rather than composition.
Sprechgesang and Sprechstimme (German for spoken-song and spoken-voice) are musical terms used to refer to an expressionist vocal technique between singing and speaking. Though sometimes used interchangeably, sprechgesang is a term more directly related to the operatic recitative manner of singing (in which pitches are sung, but the articulation is rapid and loose like speech), whereas sprechstimme is closer to speech itself (not having emphasis on particular pitches).
Klangfarbenmelodie (German for tone-color-melody) is a musical technique that involves distributing a musical line or melody to several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument, thereby adding color (timbre) and texture to the melodic line.
Continuous variation
By contrast to sectional variation form, in which a self-contained theme (almost always in binary form) is repeatedly presented in varied form, continuous variation form is created by repeated variation of a pattern that is not self-contained. Often the pattern is a bass progression, with new melodic materials freely added over the bass. Continuous variation form was popular in the Baroque period, but it is still popular today — every Blues performance and Jazz improvisation over Blues changes is a kind of continuous variation form.
Contemporary ballet is a form of dance influenced by both classical ballet and modern dance. It takes its technique and use of pointe work from classical ballet, although it permits a greater range of movement that may not adhere to the strict body lines set forth by schools of ballet technique. Many of its concepts come from the ideas and innovations of 20th century modern dance, including floor work and turn-in of the legs.
As a very accessible frame that allows improvisation, the ostinato was heavily used in the Baroque epoch. For about a century and a half (starting around 1770), the technique was almost abandoned. It suddenly revived in the dawn of the 20th century with the development of jazz music and also became “perhaps the most typically twentieth-century accompanimental device” used in classical music, in part because of its neoclassical appeal.
Musique concrete
Musique concrete (French for “concrete music” or “real music”), is a form of electroacoustic music that utilises acousmatic sound as a compositional resource. The compositional material is not restricted to the inclusion of sonorities derived from musical instruments or voices, nor to elements traditionally thought of as “musical” (melody, harmony, rhythm, metre and so on). The theoretical underpinnings of the aesthetic were developed by Pierre Schaeffer, beginning in the late 1940s.
Electronic music
Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production. In general a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronic technology. Examples of electromechanical sound producing devices include the telharmonium, Hammond organ, and the electric guitar. Purely electronic sound production can be achieved using devices such as the Theremin, sound synthesizer, and computer.
Any part of a musical work is indetermintate if it is chosen by chance, or if its performance is not precisely specified. The former case is called “indeterminacy of composition”; the latter is called “indeterminacy of performance”.
Minimalist music is an originally American genre of experimental or Downtown music named in the 1960s based mostly in consonant harmony, steady pulse (if not immobile drones), stasis and slow transformation, and often reiteration of musical phrases or smaller units such as figures, motifs, and cells. Starting in the early 1960s as a scruffy underground scene in San Francisco alternative spaces and New York lofts, minimalism spread to become the most popular experimental music style of the late 20th century. The movement originally involved dozens of composers, although only four—Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and, less visibly if more seminally, La Monte Young—emerged to become publicly associated with it in America. In Europe, its chief exponents were Louis Andriessen, Karel Goeyvaerts, Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars, Steve Martland, Henryk Gorecki, Arvo Part, and John Tavener. The term “minimalist music” was derived around 1970 by Michael Nyman from the concept of minimalism, which was earlier applied to the visual arts. For some of the music, especially that which transforms itself according to strict rules, the term “process music” has also been used.
Darmstadt School
Darmstadt School refers to a loose group of compositional styles created by composers who attended the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music from the early 1950s to the early 1960s.
Expressionism was a cultural movement originating in Germany at the start of the 20th-century as a reaction to positivism and other artistic movements such as naturalism and impressionism. It sought to express the meaning of “being alive” and emotional experience rather than physical reality. It is the tendency of an artist to distort reality for an emotional effect; it is a subjective art form. Expressionism is exhibited in many art forms, including: painting, literature, theatre, film, architecture and music. The term often implies emotional angst. In a general sense, painters such as Matthias Grunewald and El Greco can be called expressionist, though in practice, the term is applied mainly to 20th century works.