Modernism in Music

Four Characteristics


1.                  The desire to “make it new.”  No less than artists and writers, composers and musicians were fascinated by the possibilities of new, previously unheard of modes of expression, new techniques, and new aesthetic as well as cultural effects.  The twelve tone system (or serialism) as an attempt to get beyond the earlier experiments with “atonality” is worth exploring.  See the Arnold Schoenberg site for an impressive web presence.


2.                  The infiltration of the popular.  We don’t have time in the lecture to listen to the music of Gustav Mahler but any understanding of modernism in music requires a knowledge of his role in establishing a modern musical idiom.  Jazz, kitsch, music hall, operetta, folk songs, nursery rhymes each played a part in helping modernism reconstruct the traditional esoteric “High Culture” musical genres on new modern terms.  And Mahler, along with Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), Igor Stravinsky and others, played a crucial role.  But the music of Duke Ellington should be your first stop in this regard.  You should also know a little bit about Louis Armstrong.  But if the Jazz of the twenties and thirties is inextricably associated with modernism we must remember too that Jazz has its own modernism.  The greatest music of the twentieth century comes out of the horn (the alto saxophone) of Charlie Yardbird Parker.  More links to Charlie Parker websites can be found here: Charlie Parker Links and HERE



3.                  The use of recording technology for production: Conlon Nancarrow and György Ligeti both have produced extraordinary music by composing directly with the means of keeping time and recording or archiving composition.



4.                  The performance as event.  Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique uses 100 pyramid metronomes to produce one of the outstanding modernist works in twentieth century music.














John Cage