Music in the 20th Century
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The 20th century music started around the time of 1900 – 1960. The simplest way to describe the 20th century is: the period of fundamental change. Different styles were popular in different areas. This type of music was very common in European countries, places like Germany and France were very involved in the creation of the era as well as composers in America. This era was a different era to any that had gone before, all music characteristics that were once part of the romantic era were completely contrasted to create the 20th century music which is emotionless yet evokes emotion. There were many famous composers during the 20th century such as Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918), a French composer; and Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937) – they were known as the two “great” impressionist. As well as them was Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971) he composed neoclassical pieces. George Gershwin (1898 - 1937) an American composer incorporated jazz blues into his pieces. These are just a few composers who tried to compose music which was out of the ordinary.
During the transformation from Romantic era to 20th Century a lot of things changes. Suddenly some elements were more important than others. Where in Romantic era tonality was not as important it became more important in the 20th Century. Form was once important, especially in baroque, but in the 20th century it became less important. Rhythms however became an important part of 20th century music they were very different to the rhythms of the previous periods. Harmonies became more complex and new. The texture was predominantly the same but in some 20th century styles the texture would change often. George Gershwin, an American composer, was one of the composers that used new scales and harmonies in his pieces. He implemented jazz blues into his piece “Rhapsody in Blue”.
The characteristics of the 20th Century music was new to everyone that lived in that time. Tone colour changed from having to blend to not blending at all and the use of percussion instruments increased. Melodies and harmonies too were no longer as they were. Chords were being used differently melodies were becoming unpredictable. There was less emphasis on the differentiation between consonant and dissonant harmonies. Composers started using the twelve-tone system a lot more often as well. In pieces such as Assez Lent by Maurice Ravel, you can clearly hear the change between the dissonant and consonant parts of the piece as well as the constant change in dynamic and the use of chromatic notes.
Impressionistic music was mainly composed in the European area. The aim of this music was not to express emotion or to tell a story but rather to create atmosphere and allow listeners to create their own interpretations. This music style included many dissonant chords and an extensive use of whole-tone scales. Other characteristics such as differences in dynamics, continuous change in texture and frequent modulation was also used in this style. Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel are the most well-known impressionist composers in the 20th century. A well-known composition composed by Ravel was The Pavane of the Dead Princess. The piece gained much interest through the image the title portrayed, it was suggestive “who is the dead princess?” the title is even more impressionistic as the piece is not about a dance for a dead princess but rather a young princess dancing to a pavane. Ravel’s opinion on the piece changed as he felt it was not original enough, that the ABACA form was too weak.
Expressionisms is a style that originated in Germany. Its main feature was to create emotional within the listener. Expressionists attempted to create emotion through creating music that was different to what had been composed in previously. The lack of tonality and sharp melodies definitely created emotions within the listeners as it was completely different to anything that had been written in the romantic era. A well-known composer of this style is Arnold Schoenberg, creator of the twelve-tone system. Pierrot Lunaire, is a common composition of Schoenberg’s. You can tell that it is an expressionism piece through the use of twelve-tone notes, irregular rhythms and constant time signature changes.
Neoclassicism is a music style that was predominant during the two world wars. It is a style in which the music contains characteristics and elements from musical styles of previous eras, most commonly classical. Some of these elements include balance form and lack of emotion. Although the music has imitations of the classical and baroque era, it still includes the new harmonisations and progressions found in the 20th century music. Neoclassicism was seen as a style going against the styles of the romantic period, it was not considered to be a protest or movement but rather it became popular for musicians to compose in this style. One of the most common composers of neoclassicism was Igor Stravinsky. He composed one of the first neoclassical pieces was The Rite of Spring. The public at the time rioted about the new style as it was completely different to everything they had heard before, the lack of harmonisation and dissonant sounds was displeasing and in that way evoked emotion although negative at that.
The 20th Century period was by far the most productive era. Everything that occurred in the 20th century changed to idea of music completely. What once was just strict harmonies and beautiful melodies could now be atonal and have no real structure. Even the sound of an audience could be considered music. This drastic change in music ideology has and will affect the way music is produced in today’s time.
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