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Index by Period

Contemporary Music
(1945 - 2000)

During the mid 20th century, music evolved in many different directions. Some composers took Schoenberg's "serial" system to new limits. The rise of jazz, as well as an increasing awareness of non-Western music, provided additional inspiration for many, while others ventured into electronic music by manipulating sounds and noises recorded on tape - a style known as musique concrète. Yet another route was that of "chance" music, notably in the work of John Cage, in which the elements of a composition or performance could be determined by, say, "the throw of the dice".

In the 1930s and 1940s, many composers returned to forms and techniques of the Baroque and Classical eras. This "Neoclassical" style was a reaction to the emotional, dramatic character of Romanticism. The Neoclassicists turned to past models as a vehicle for expressing their ideas. The Neoclassicists wrote for small chamber ensembles and preferred a tightly knit treatment of thematic material. They did not copy 17th and 18th century forms, but took elements, such as the fugue, and added their own modern harmonies and rhythms. An example of this is Stravinsky's opera The Rake's Progress (1951).

The rapid advances in technology during the late 20th century are partly responsible for the emergence of a wide variety of musical forms. Electronics played an important role in the development of music, both classical and popular, from the 1960s onward. The ability of the synthesizer to generate artificial tones and sounds attracted composers such as John Cage, Edgard Varèse, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Beginning in the 1970s, the use of computers, with their ability to memorize and play back whole compositions, discouraged live performances. Many composers turned to writing film scores, for which the precision of computerized music is ideally suited.

Minimalism, which emerged in the 1960s, focuses on the development of a single aspect of music, such as pitch or rhythm, while keeping other elements constant. This approach owes much to Indian raga music, in which the pattern of music changes very little. Computers play a large part in minimalist music because they can make fine, precise alterations. Steve Reich, for instance, made tiny changes in pulse by playing two identical patterns at the same time and slightly altering the speed of one of the patterns.

contributed by Gifford, Katya

Harrison Birtwistle
Pierre Boulez
Benjamin Britten
John Cage
Lukas Foss
Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Andre Previn
Steve Reich
Dmitry Shostakovich
Stephen Sondheim
Karlheinz Stockhausen


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