20th Century Music – Radical, Reactionary, Experimental

20th Century Music - Radical, Reactionary, Experimental

Classical music changed a lot in the 20th century. The main idea was to be radical and different. Composers wanted to react against all the normal rules and ideas of classical music. The music of the 20th century was often unpredictable.

Composers experimented with all sort of sounds. They tried new ways of expressing sound. One composer even wrote a piece that had no sound. It was all about silence! Another composer changed the whole idea of a scale. They experimented with sounds between notes. It was all about being different.

Many ideas influenced the composers of the 20th century.

  • Jazz
  • Folk Music
  • Technology
  • Communism
  • Nationalism
  • Moral and Cultural Relativism (the idea that there are no absolute values of right and wrong)

How did all this affect the sound of the music?

  • Dissonance
  • No main style – each composer did his own thing
  • Experimentation with sound
  • Atonality – departure from the standard scale
  • Prominence of percussion instruments

20th Century music can be divided into several categories:

Impressionism – This was a reaction against the excesses of the Romantic Era. One of the leading composers of the Impressionistic music was Claude Debussy.  Listen Here

Futurism – Futurism was a movement that included all sorts of sound into its music. These sounds were not expected in music. Filippo Tommasso Marinetti was a leader in this movement.  “Music” of Marinetti

Modernism – Modernism wanted to keep all the technique and difficulty of the Romantic Era, but not the normal structures of Romantic music. Arnold Schoenberg was one of the key players in the modernist movement.  Listen Here

Post-modernism – The main idea here changed the definition of music. All sounds were included in the idea of music. Any sound is music. The main composer of post-modern music is John Cage.  Listen Here

Minimalism – Minimalism was all about the process of music. Composers took small fragments of music, layer them, and repeat them.  The composer to remember from Minimalism is Philip Glass.   Listen Here

Neoclassicism – Some composers returned to more conventional ways of writing music. But it wasn’t exactly the same. They used more dissonance in their music. Key composers here were Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith.   Listen Here – Stravinsky   Listen Here – Hindemith

Electroacoustic – This music used advances in technology to make music. Composers would sometimes make a recording of some music and use it in their compositions. One of the early composers of electroacoustic music was Helim El-Dabh.   Listen Here

Not all composers of the 20th Century were extreme in their writing, but the difference in the music is there. Here are some other composers you should know:

Obviously, this is not a complete list! Listen to the music. What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!

Did you miss our earlier music history posts? Check them out here:  Romantic Era  Classical Era  Baroque Music  Renaissance Music  Middle Ages Music  Ancient Music

20th Century Music
20th Century Music



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