Discovering Classical Music
Discovering Classical Music

Chapter 8

The 20th and 21st Centuries (1900-present)

Chapter Ancillaries Opera Synopsis: Bluebeard's Castle
Music Animation: The Rite of Spring
Composer Synopsis: Ken Ueno
The word that best describes the music of the 20th century is eclectic. So many styles have proliferated that it is difficult to identify a single musical language that is characteristic of the period. These styles, often referred to as "isms", are numerous and diverse. These "isms" include impressionism,InformationA style associated mainly with French composers, such as Debussy and Ravel, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century in Paris. It has a visual analogue in the paintings of Manet, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, etc. expressionism,InformationA primarily German musical movement in the early 20th century associated with the free atonality of Arnold Schoenberg. new-romanticism, serialism, primitivism, minimalism,InformationA movement reflected in the visual arts and architecture, minimalism utilizes spare harmonies, repetitive rhythms, and simple melodies to refine a natural progression from modernist aesthetics. exoticism,InformationA movement with origins in the 19th century, improved communication and travel led to interest in the art of other cultures. symbolism, futurism,InformationIn the early 20th Century, composers imagined the future and made art they thought would suit. Every tenet of music in the past was rejected, and new instruments, new timbres, and new aesthetics were promoted. Centered in Italy. and neo-classicism.InformationA movement in the 20th century where composers revisited the aesthetics of the Classic period. Many people have an image of 20th century concert music as highly dissonant,InformationA degree of harmonic instability within a context. even cacophonic, experimental, and avant-garde in style; but most of it is still based in traditional materials and techniques.

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Biographical Sketch
Possibly the most influential composer of the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky came to music rather late in life compared to most other composers in history. In 1902, at the age of 20, Stravinsky met the famous Russian composer, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who encouraged the young law student to study composition with him. Rimsky-Korsakov passed away in 1908, and Stravinsky never had another formal composition teacher.

Stravinsky's first success came in the form of a ballet, The Firebird, which was composed in 1910 for the famed Ballet Russes led by Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929). This ballet was followed by two more ballets for the Ballet Russes: Petrushka (1911) and the barbarously rhythmic work, The Rite of Spring (1913) which also sparked a famous riot in Paris. These three ballets constitute Stravinsky's first period known as primitivism.

After World War I, Stravinsky began to look back toward the cultural and artistic aesthetics of the Classical Period. Embracing concepts of the Classical Era, (i.e., ORB: objectivity, restraint, and balance) Stravinsky's neo-classicismInformationA movement in the 20th century where composers revisited the aesthetics of the Classic period. period resulted in numerous compositions over the course of 30 years. Famous works from this time period include his Octet for Winds (1923), Symphony of Psalms (1930), and Symphony in C (1940).

When World War II erupted in Europe, Stravinsky along with many other composers fled to the United States. In 1940, Stravinsky became an American citizen and lived in Hollywood, California, for the remainder of his life. In 1952, after the death of Arnold Schoenberg, Stravinsky entered his third compositional period when he began using serial techniques to compose; the technique that Schoenberg had developed many years earlier. Numerous masterpieces such as Canticum Sacrum (1955) and In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954) were written during this time.

Unlike many other composers, Stravinsky lived long enough to be honored through many significant awards and commissions. He spent the last few years of his life conducting and recording his works. Today, his influence on concert music composers is immeasurable.

Some of Stravinsky's best known compositions include:

The four major composers of the first half of the 20th century were Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartok, and Hindemith. They were all Europeans who came to the United States as adults, Europe being in a state of political turmoil during most of the period. The first two ended up on the West Coast and the second pair on the East Coast. Schoenberg and Hindemith became important composition teachers, the former at UCLA and the latter at Yale.

Many consider Stravinsky to be the greatest composer of the century. His ballet, The Rite of Spring, would probably win first prize for the greatest score of the century. Thousands of persons who have no interest in ballet or symphonic music came to know it through Disney's Fantasia, which supplied an animated plot based on the creation of the world and dinosaur warfare. While very amusing, it had nothing to do with the plot of the original ballet, a story of primitive rites, including human sacrifice, that might have given old Walt pause.

The ballet created a scandal and a riot when it opened in Paris in 1913. The music depicts the primitive rites of an ancient society. When you listen to it you may understand why it spawned the term "primitivism." Stravinsky sustained a high level of creativity during his long lifetime, going through several style changes, but nothing ever exceeded Rite of Spring in impact. This is a truly monumental work.

Bela Bartok was a Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist who collected folk material and used it in much of his composition. He composed fluently in every genre. His string quartets rival those of Beethoven in their importance to the repertoire. His Mikrokosmos is a six-volume graded piano series that explores in small pedagogical pieces the same techniques he used for his larger works. His most popular work is the Concerto for Orchestra, a work that might easily be mistaken for a symphony. The unusual title indicates his desire to link it with the concerto grosso of the Baroque, a precursor of the symphony.

Arnold Schoenberg is one of the most influential musicians in history. His method of composing with 12 tones created a paradigm that is studied by every composition student, just as he predicted. The technique assures that the composer avoids any combination of notes that would suggest tonality. A series of 12 chromatic notes is offered as prime material and then manipulated by inversion (upside down), retrogression (backwards), retrograde inversion (both), and transposition. As you listen to 12-tone music, often called serial music, the most important thing to remember is that it is a method of pitch selection, nothing more. It's a fairly simple paradigm to teach that provides almost endless possibility for thematic development.

Schoenberg is worshiped by musicologists and vilified by the public. Understanding what he was trying to do doesn't always help one to like the sound, but repeated listening and maturity does! Composers of film and TV scores have taken advantage of this musical language to communicate stress or fear to audiences. For that reason, young people much more accepting of this music than older people who haven't studied a lot of music. At any rate, Schoenberg had a great influence on younger composers, both as a professor at UCLA and through his music, which they imitated.

When he first started writing this music in Vienna, Schoenberg was ridiculed by critics and the public, but championed by no less than Gustav Mahler. His two most famous disciples also became major composers: Anton von Webern and Alban Berg. Because both studied with him in Vienna, where the movement began, it is sometimes called the Second Viennese School. [The first was Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.]

Paul Hindemith represents the aesthetic antipode to Schoenberg. He believed that tonality was as integral to music as gravity to our world—he considered it a force of nature. Indeed, tonality is based on the overtone series, which is a fact of acoustics, a branch of physics. While Hindemith was capable of writing some pretty dissonant music in his youth (the 1920s), his later works are much more accessible. His output is truly staggering in quantity and quality. His Symphonic Metamorphoses is an excellent introduction to his late style. The finale is a rousing march that sounds as if it might be the model for all the star wars music of the 70s.

As professor of composition at Yale, Hindemith trained a whole generation of fine young composers and established the Collegium Musicum for the performance of early music. Despite all his success as a composer, he continued to teach, conduct and perform all his life. He often appeared as a viola soloist with major symphony orchestras.

The Late 20th Century and American Music

The American musical scene since the Second World War has been dominated by popular styles. The introduction of radio, television, inexpensive recording and playback equipment, and new forms of electronic technology has changed the world of music in almost every way. You can now listen to music twenty-four hours a day without ever going to a concert.

The composition of art music has become largely an academic concern. Hundreds of aspiring composers of "serious" music enroll in conservatories as composition majors and then go on to earn doctorates in composition in university schools of music. Their goal is usually to obtain a position teaching music theory and composition in a college or university that will encourage them in their creative work. Academic composers write thousands of compositions every year and then work very hard to get them performed. If they are fortunate, they will have students and colleagues who will perform their music at the schools where they teach. The most fortunate ones—very few in number—will succeed in getting a professional symphony orchestra to program one of their works.

George Crumb

George Crumb (born 1929)

Biographical Sketch
Born in 1929, George Crumb is one of the most widely performed American composers today. Originally from West Virginia, Crumb studied at George Mason University, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and the University of Michigan. He retired from the University of Pennsylvania after 30 years of teaching and currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wife of over 50 years. He has won both the Grammy and Pulitzer Prizes for his music that many describe as profoundly humanistic.

Crumb's music is eclectically rich. He is often known for compositions that use graphic instead of traditional forms of notation, and for the extended instrumental and vocal techniques employed which result in unusual and interesting timbres. Examples of this can be found in An Idyll for the Misbegotten where the flute performer is asked to sound like a dove and align vibrato with a written rhythm. In another example, Ancient Voices of Children, a soprano is asked to sing into a piano that has its sustain pedal depressed. As the strings of the piano vibrate, overtones begin to sound and the result is a delicate ethereal sound. Also in Ancient Voices of Children, Crumb uses instruments not often heard in concert music. In the profoundly moving fourth movement, "Todas las tardes en Granada, todas las tardes se muere un niño" (Each Afternoon in Granada, a Child Dies Each Afternoon), percussionists play chromatic harmonicas and a performer plays Bach’s Bist du bei mir on a toy piano.

As noted in Ancient Voices of Children, much of Crumb’s music mixes different musical styles from traditional concert music to protestant hymns to folk music to music from eastern traditions. His works often includes theatrical elements such as staging, lighting, and costumes. George Crumb composes music that creates engaging dramatic experiences and challenges audiences to think about concert music in new ways.

Some of Crumb's best known compositions include:

Even this rarified atmosphere has been radically changed in the last decade by the introduction of electronics. Composition students are now expected to master music technology: for music notation; for generating and synthesizing sound; and for computer-assisted instruction. Graduates of theory/composition programs now bring to the classroom the ability to oversee an electronic music studio and to maximize its potential for instruction of students.

Popular styles have been invading the world of academic music for a while now. [We have already observed how popular and folk music influenced art music in every period of music from the Medieval Period to the 20th century.] Music that was once regarded as degenerate at worst and unworthy of scholarly recognition at best is now taught in major schools of music.

This is Crossover Music, and it is one of the most important phenomena in late 20th century music. Crossover is not just happening in academic settings. Distinguished music venues like the Ravinia Festival have been featuring pop music for a long time. Even the most traditional symphony orchestras now have a pops series. Of course, these programming changes have come about as much from economic pressures as from societal changes.

But, Crossover Music is not restricted only to combinations of pop and art music. An increasing number of composers incorporate music of non-western cultures into their western art compositions. For example, three well known composers from the second half of the Century – Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Lou Harrison and John Cage – all incorporated elements of far Eastern music and philosophy into their compositions. Significant composers today also utilize sounds from African music and Andean music (to cite just two musical cultures) into their music.

Jazz and art music also are used together in composition. In the first half of the Century George Gershwin wrote several beloved compositions in this style: the Opera, Porgy and Bess; the Rhapsody in Blue, the overture, An American In Paris. Darius Milhaud and Stravinsky also wrote significant compositions that blended the sound of jazz with art composition. In addition, some of the most successful composers of serious music have deep roots in popular styles. Leonard Bernstein is the best known example. Everyone knows his music for West Side Story though few are familiar with his symphonies. More recently, William Bolcom, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Music, has become a highly successful composer of symphonic and operatic music. His operas have been performed in recent seasons at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and his symphonic works are regularly featured on the programs of major symphony orchestra. One has only to hear a few bars of his music to be aware of the influence of American popular styles.

There are still many successful composers who operate outside this sphere and work in widely divergent styles. Pierre Boulez, a Frenchman who has held major conducting posts all over the world, is highly regarded both as an interpreter and a composer of serious music. Much of his music is written in a serial style in which all of the primary elements of the composition that are variable (melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics, tone color) are created in a row or matrix, similar to Schoenberg's 12-tone melodic row. This enables the composer to exert maximum control over the performance. A logical extension of this conception is that the music is taped or written and performed on a computer or synthesizer. This allows the composer to exert total control over the performance of his/her work. Electronics, indeed, play an important role in Boulez's creative work, as they do in the work of another serialist, the American Milton Babbitt, but not all of their compositions are electronic.

At the other extreme stand the composers who favor chance music. The American composer John Cage is the best-known representative of this style. Composers such as Cage believe that all sounds should be part of the musical spectrum and, thus, a composition should allow for free expression not only by the performers, but by the audience as well. Performers in some compositions by Cage are given instructions simply to make any sounds they wish within a defined spectrum for a given period of time. That, then, is the piece.

In the last twenty years the art music establishment has seen the erosion in interest in art music among general listeners due in part to its formal nature and elitist tendencies. Composers of art music have reacted to this trend by establishing new styles such as Minimalism that features small musical motives that are continuously repeated. Important composers working in this style are John Adams, Phillip Glass and Steve Reich.

Women composers are finally recognized for their compositional skills in the second half of the twentieth century. Ellen Taafe Zwillich, who is featured in your textbook, has won a Pulitzer Prize for her work as has Shulamit Ran, a Chicago composer who has taught at the University of Chicago and had residencies at the CSO and the Lyric Opera. Joan Tower, Pauline Oliveros, Chen Yi, and Augusta Read Thomas have also enjoyed a lot of success; their works are regularly included in the programming of major symphony orchestras.

Of course, the future of symphony orchestras and opera companies has been the subject of a lot of discussion. Critics charge that these venerable institutions of art music are obsolescent, calling them museums of ancient history. But critics don't buy tickets, and performances by the best orchestras and opera companies are usually sold out. It's hard to get a ticket to the most popular concerts, and not just pops concerts. The economic boom of the last two decades has provided the middle class with more money for entertainment and a taste for the finer things; and art music is still regarded as one of the finer things in life.

The experience of attending concerts of art music is not for everyone. Yet, there is a sufficient number of passionate admirers of it to fill concert halls and opera theatres, both here and in Europe. The Lyric Opera in Chicago has sold out its performances for many years, even those of contemporary operas. The Salzburg Festival in Austria routinely sells out all its performances at ticket prices that stagger the imagination.

People love music. They love theatre and literature and dance and painting and sculpture. Good times mean available money for the enjoyment of entertainment, and serious music is above all entertainment that stimulates the mind as well as the heart. More people attend professional wrestling than the opera, and more people watch MTV than listen to WFMT; the important thing to remember is that there are all types of music and art that can be enjoyed as long as a person is open to learning about and experiencing a diverse range of genres.

The same cultural needs that drive people to attend church or synagogue or go to the university also impel people to attend the symphony and the opera, and also keep books of fine literature and poetry in print and put new paintings on gallery walls. Fine art is part of the life of an educated person, and that's why music appreciation is part of your education at Lewis University.

The 21st Century


JacobTV (born 1951)

Biographical Sketch
Dutch ‘avant pop’ composer JacobTV (Jacob Ter Veldhuis, 1951) started as a rock musician and studied composition and electronic music. He was awarded the Composition Prize of the Netherlands in 1980 and became a full time composer who soon made a name for himself with melodious compositions, straight from the heart and with great effect. ‘I pepper my music with sugar,’ he says. The press called him the ‘Andy Warhol of new music’ and his ‘coming-out’ as a composer of ultra-tonal, mellifluous music reached its climax with the video oratorio Paradiso, based on Dante’s Divina Commedia. JacobTV’s so called boombox repertoire, works for live instruments with a grooving sound track based on speech melody, became internationally popular. With some 1000 performances worldwide per year, JacobTV is one of the most performed European composers. He is an outlaw in the established modern classical music scene, and was accused of ‘musical terrorism’. According to the Wall Street Journal some of his his work ‘makes many a hip-hop artist look sedate’. In 2007 a 3 day JacobTV festival took place at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. His never ending reality opera THE NEWS is constantly updated and various editions were performed in Chicago, Rome, Amsterdam, Hamburg, New York, and new editions are in preparation.

Some of JacobTV's best known compositions include:

Source (July 2015):

The musical eras assigned by musicologists are too often seen incorrectly as sudden and immediate shifts in musical practice and aesthetic--the result of artists suddenly rejecting conservative ideals of their age. There are examples of this, of course. The development of opera at the beginning of the 17th century greatly contributed to a new approach to music composition and performance. Later, the Viennese Secession movement, led by the artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), in the late 19th century was dedicated to overthrowing conservative Viennese taste. Additionally, the development of Schoenberg’s dodecaphonic technique in the early part of the 20th century is often viewed by many students as a sudden and complete rejection of traditional European musical aesthetics that came before it, or that this new technique represents a completely new direction in personal expression. In all of these examples, however, musical changes came through the continuation of established practices and development of ideas that preceded it. Schoenberg’s development was an extension of the work of Brahms and Wagner. Beethoven launched the European world into the Romantic era by continuing and developing the tradition of Viennese Classicism while combining it with a new level of personal expression. In all of these cases, as in the 21st century, a continuation of tradition consistently exceeds a sense of the iconoclastic.

The 20th century, a century of "isms", firmly placed composers into camps of practice and thought. Artists identified themselves, or were identified by others, as minimalist composers, serialist composers, neo-classical composers, spectral composers, electronic composers, cross-over composers, etc… These labels were attached to the composer and for the most part, composers infrequently diverted from their assigned “camp” except for significant points in their life. For example, Stravinsky came to fame during his primitivism period (“Rite of Spring”) but shifted to neo-classicism and finally to serialism toward the end of his life. Compositional technique was very much viewed synonymously with style.

The 21st century may very well become known as the century of pluralism. That is, all musical directions, styles, and techniques are embraced and allowed, or even expected, to coexist. Toward the end of the 20th century, composers by and large began to adopt a de-categorization in their approach to writing music. That is, works began to appear that weren’t simply minimalistic or serial, but instead they had a combination of many different techniques. The rules of the 20th century techniques began to be used more liberally. One could write a work with twelve-tone elements without being considered a serialist composer, for example. This de-categorization continues today and has dramatically expanded the composer’s vocabulary.

To be successful, the composer in the 21st century is expected to have a broad musical knowledge base. Composers today might work within a number of genres from writing acoustic chamber music to creating sound sculptures to composing music for film to programming interactive computer performance software. Today, composers today also tend to be very technically proficient and have at least rudimentary skills in audio engineering and production, graphic design, and marketing. These skills are vital since most composers are responsible for publishing, marketing, and distributing their music. To that end, composers spend a great deal of time, effort, and resources promoting and producing concerts. For their work to be heard, they must also help facilitate performances of their music as well as the music of others, which builds symbiotic relationships and contributes to the health of the new music world. Composers are expected to be active participants in the promotion of new music in general. This redefinition of “composer” as somewhat a “jack of all trades” has become necessary in our economic environment of dwindling resources for the arts.

Acoustic Ecology

Spend time every day listening to what your muse is trying to tell you
-Saint Bartholomew

Soundscape microphones

Microphones and other equipment used in the government's research of changing soundscapes in the wild.

The World Forum for Acoustic Ecology defines acoustic ecology as: "the study of the relationship between living organisms and their sound environment."

An examination of acoustic ecology could take place with many goals, and not all of them may be obvious.  The obvious example is an unwanted or even harmful noise, "Those jet engines set my teeth on edge" or "The neighbors' music makes it impossible to sleep"  But ecology of sound goes hand-in-hand with many other types of ecology.  To make a recording of an overgrown plot of land on Veteran's Parkway today will result in a much different (and observable) result six months from now when the plot has been built on as an industrial complex.  The acoustic change in this location is just as apparent as the visual, olfactory, and pollutant change, and no less valid. 

Humans can be very good listeners. It was an important skill that allowed our species to survive dangerous environments.  But in an urban world that is choked with noise of all kinds, the constant din raises the noise floor to the point where our ability to listen goes unused and suffers from the neglect. Why is this such a bad thing? Because in its place, out of necessity, rises the ability to deafen.  I would use the term 'ignore', but often the brain does not even register a sound when the ability to deafen is in place.  It has often been surmised that if we could bring a good listener such as J.S. Bach to our present time, what would they think of the music, wouldn't they be amazed by cars, and so on, but one suspects that the most likely reaction would be an overwhelmed panic at the sheer influx of sensory data.  In my own personal experience, I find a bustling urban city to be exciting and enjoyable, but there have been times traveling abroad when the newness of the sights, sounds, smells, and people create fatigue.  Perhaps you have experienced an information overload like this before, or will in the future.  The remedy is silence, and reconnecting with the ability to listen.  The band Phish once sang,

Are you having trouble connecting with the pieces of music in Music For The Listener? Eliminate those distractions. Confront your tendency to push the music into the background.  And you might want to get ecological about your acoustics.


Read Scape 9, page 23-25 Milena Droumeva "The Music Must Always Play". Then, choose a location and journal the sounds in it with active listening.  Don't pretend that a composer has written this soundscape, or that the voice of a composer is speaking to you with it.  Instead as you move through, let the sounds be themselves, and observe their interactions and audibility.  If you could see the sounds, what would their visualization look like? Are there any sounds that disappear as you move away? As you listen, were there any sounds present for a long time before you noticed them?  What characteristics made them 'sneak up' on your perception like that? As you move around obstacles, how do the sounds change? Can you hear the difference between inside and outside soundscapes? Listen with intention.  You can walk, but remain silent as possible for the entire journal. You might want to record the walk or take notes so that you can type it up later.  If you want to group up to go on a soundwalk together, that would add another dimension as you learned how your perception differed from one another. 

More Information

Hildegard Westerkamp's homepage

"On the Fetish-Music Character and the Regression of Listening" by Theodor Adorno (PDF)

Soundscape: The Journal for Acoustic Ecology

A blog about Soundwalking from Andra McCartney

Soundwalk Video
A recorded soundwalk is of course a pale imitation of the real thing, but the artist mentions what she listens to and why she does soundwalks. 

Ear To The Earth

Chapter 8 Music for Listening