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Western Art Music after 1900
Historical Context
--many scientific discoveries and explorations
--age of Einstein and Freud
--abstract artwork (Picasso)
--wars, especially WWI, led to feelings of
disillusionment with society
New Avenues to Music
Recording capabilities allow composers and musicians to study music
from around the world
Composers recorded their own music so that musicians can hear their
Music scholars travelled into rural areas, recording folk songs
(Hungarian composer Béla Bartók and Australian/British Percy
Grainger were famous for this)
Jazz influence can be seen in “classical” works, especially after
WWI American soldiers introduced this genre to Europe
The invention of the radio helped millions hear music weekly
(Saturday opera performances at the Met, NBC’s Symphony
Orchestra, etc)
Musical Society
Concerts in the 20th century began to feature “old”
music of the masters (Bach, Beethoven, etc.) rather
than much contemporary music; in earlier eras, only
the current music of the time was played frequently
Women and minority composers began to be
accepted somewhat
Musical Characteristics
**There is no set way 20th century music was
composed--no universal or uniform sound. The
music is as diverse as the many composers. The
following characteristics are general aspects but
were not always the case.
Tone Color/Orchestration
The choice of instruments was of utmost importance to
20th century composers; the music relies on the
particular timbres (tone colors) of the instruments
selected by composers.
Percussion instruments now integral to the orchestra
Composers often called for extreme high or low pitches,
unusual combinations of instruments, and non-standard
instrumental techniques (such as striking the strings
inside a piano, glissandos, and flutter tongue
[essentially rolling your tongue while blowing into an
Melodies in 20th century pieces often contain very
wide leaps.
They are often very irregular in length.
They are frequently unsingable.
The point of the music is not necessarily to sound
good or pretty; this is particularly true in the middle
of the century.
There is increased use of dissonance (unstable chords
where the notes usually do not sound good together).
Chords are not always built on the interval of a third as
they had been for several centuries.
Tone clusters are common; imagine playing the piano
with your arm, hitting several keys at once.
There are frequent key shifts (modulations), no key
center at all (atonal music), or music in multiple keys at
the same time (polytonal).
New rhythm patterns
More complex patterns (especially those based on
folk music and Latin American dance music)
The meter changes frequently (arrangement of the
beats)—perhaps one measure is in 4 and the next is
in 7.
Style Movements of the Age
--Aleatory Music
Inspired by French painters such as Monet and
Renoir (note painting in book—Sec. 19.1)
The artwork featured a formless collection of tiny
color patches that took form when viewed from a
distance. The mood or atmosphere is more
important than an actual object. It often looks
blurry and misty. The music sounds similar, very
vague and shimmering.
Notable composers: Claude Debussy and Maurice
Claude Debussy
1862-1918; French
Composer who most linked the Romantic period to
the 20th century
Music evokes fleeting mood and misty/hazy
Improvisational feel, subtle changes in tone color,
new pedal effects on piano
Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Clair de Lune
(Moonlight), Sunken Cathedral
Maurice Ravel
1875-1937; French
Influenced by Debussy; some Impressionistic works
(Jeux d’eau)
Many works are more classically strucutred
Obsessive rhythmic repetition (Bolero)
Ambulance driver in World War I
Composers in Romantic Tradition (“Regular”)
Most were Russian
Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Shostakovich (1906-1985)
relationship with Soviet government
 Symphonies,
piano concerti, Rhapsody on a Theme of
Paganini, Vocalise
Call for a return to the balance, clarity, and
restraint principles from the Classical Era
Less program music
Music written for smaller ensembles; this was partly
due to a shortage of musicians during wartimes
This music normally is in standard keys.
Igor Stravinsky
1882-1971; Russian
Music for Paris ballets commissioned by Diaghilev
(Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring)
Good businessman
Moved to California
Very intense and based on subjective inner emotions
Used distortion (in visual art and in music) to shock
Often involved elements of social protest—
revealed the unpleasant truths of humanity
Note the painting in the book—Edvard Munch’s The
Scream (page 482)
Serial (12-tone) Music
Music that uses all 12 notes of the chromatic scale
equally—not in a particular key
This is unlike most music where certain notes are
more important than others.
Tone Row
The row can be changed by inversion, retrograde,
retrograde inversion (just like fugues).
Suite for Piano
Arnold Schoenberg
Almost entirely self-taught
Abandoned traditional tonal system
Alban Berg
Student of Schoenberg
Died of blood poisoning from a bee sting infection
Opera Wozzeck
Aleatoric Music
Also known as “chance music”
Involved random methods of picking notes, rhythms, and
instruments for a composition; similar to rolling a die to
determine the piece
Also could refer to music that gave performers the
ability to decide on aspects of the piece (how many
times to repeat a phrase, play whatever order of notes
they wish during a part)
Could involve natural sounds; recall John Cage’s piece
4’33’’ where the pianist sits at the piano for that
Reaction against the complexity of 12-tone music
and chance music
Very steady pulse/beat, clear tonal center
Incessant repetition of short patterns
Often hypnotic; in fact, an inspiration for this style
was Indian culture (meditation, etc.)
Philip Glass--Islands
Latin American Composers
Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasilerias
Chavez: Mexico
Ginastera: Argentina
Béla Bartók
1881-1945; Hungarian
Collected/recorded folk music/peasant songs
During WWII, he came to America because of his
immense dislike of the Nazis but unfortunately was
poor and isolated here.
Health deteriorated; received an unexpected
commission for his Concerto for Orchestra while
American Composers
George Gershwin—Rhapsody in Blue
Aaron Copland
Charles Ives (1874-1954)
Studied young; composition major at Yale but experimentation not
Became successful insurance salesman to support family and composed
on the side (until 2 or 3 in morning)
Incorporated folk hymns and patriotic songs into his works; polytonality
(multiple keys at once)
Pulitzer Prize
John Corigliano—Pied Piper Fantasy