Contemporary classical music can be understood as belonging to the period that started in the mid-1970s with the retreat of modernism. However, the term may also be employed in a broader sense to refer to all post-1945 modern musical forms.
Generally "contemporary classical music" amounts to:
- The modern forms of art music
- The post-1945 modern forms of post-tonal music after the death of Anton Webern
(including serial music, electroacoustic music, musique concr te, experimental music, atonal music, minimalist music, etc.)
- the post-1975 forms of this music
(including post-modern music, Spectral music, post-minimalism, sound art, etc.)
At the beginning of the 20th century, composers of classical music were experimenting with an increasingly dissonant pitch language, which sometimes yielded atonal pieces. Following World War I, as a backlash against what they saw as the increasingly exaggerated gestures and formlessness of late Romanticism, certain composers adopted a neoclassic style, which sought to recapture the balanced forms and clearly perceptible thematic processes of earlier styles; see also New Objectivity and Social Realism). After World War II, modernist composers sought to achieve greater levels of control in their composition process (e.g., through the use of the twelve tone technique and later total serialism). At the same time, conversely, composers also experimented with means of abdicating control, exploring indeterminacy or aleatoric processes in smaller or larger degrees. Technological advances led to the birth of electronic music. Experimentation with tape loops and repetitive textures contributed to the advent of minimalism. Still other composers started exploring the theatrical potential of the musical performance (performance art, mixed media, fluxus).
To some extent, European and the US traditions diverged after World War II. Among the most influential composers in Europe were Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. The first and last were both pupils of Olivier Messiaen. An important aesthetic philosophy as well as a group of compositional techniques at this time was serialism (also called "through-ordered music", "'total' music" or "total tone ordering"), which took as its starting point the compositions of Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern (but was opposed to traditional twelve-tone music), and was also closely related to Le Corbusier's idea of the modulor. However, some more traditionally based composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten maintained a tonal style of composition despite the prominent serialist movement.
In America, composers like Milton Babbitt, John Cage, Elliott Carter, Henry Cowell, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, George Rochberg, and Roger Sessions, formed their own ideas. Some of these composers (Cage, Cowell, Glass, Reich) represented a new methodology of experimental music, which began to question fundamental notions of music such as notation, performance, duration, and repetition, while others (Babbitt, Rochberg, Sessions) fashioned their own extensions of the twelve-tone serialism of Schoenberg.
Many of the key figures of the high modern movement are alive, or only recently deceased, and there is also still an extremely active core of composers (e.g., Elliott Carter), performers, and listeners who continue to advance the ideas and forms of modernism.
Serialism is one of the most important post-war movements among the high modernist schools. Serialism, more specifically named "integral" or "compound" serialism, was led by composers such as Pierre Boulez, Bruno Maderna, Luigi Nono, and Karlheinz Stockhausen in Europe, and by Milton Babbitt, Donald Martino, and Charles Wuorinen in the United States. Some of their compositions use an ordered set or several such sets, which may be the basis for the whole composition, while others use "unordered" sets for the same purpose. The term is also often used for dodecaphony, or twelve-tone technique, which is alternatively regarded as the model for integral serialism.
Modernist composers active during this period include Scottish composer James MacMillan (who draws on sources as diverse as plainchant, South American 'liberation theology', Scottish folksongs, and Polish avant-garde techniques of the 1960s), Finnish composers Erkki Salmenhaara, Henrik Otto Donner, and Magnus Lindberg,, Italian composer Franco Donatoni and English composer Jonathan Harvey,
Between 1975 and 1990, a shift in the paradigm of computer technology had taken place, making electronic music systems affordable and widely accessible. The personal computer had become an essential component of the electronic musician s equipment, entirely superseding analog synthesizers and fulfilling the traditional functions of the computer in music for composition and scoring, synthesis and sound processing, control over external synthesizers and other performance equipment, and the sampling of audio input.
Epitomized by the works of such composers as Hugues Dufourt, G rard Grisey, Tristan Murail, and Hora iu R dulescu, "spectral music" implies the use of the spectrum of a sound as a basis of composition.
A number of spectral composers are from Romania; these include Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram. Other spectral composers include Joshua Fineberg and Julian Anderson.
The definition of what constitutes "postmodern music" is open to interpretation.
Some authors equate polystylism with eclecticism, while others make a sharp distinction.
Musical historicism the use of historical materials, structures, styles, techniques, media, conceptual content, etc., whether by a single composer or those associated with a particular school, movement, or period is evident to varying degrees in minimalism, post-minimalism, world-music, and other genres in which tonal traditions have been sustained or have undergone a significant revival in recent decades. Some post-minimalist works employ medieval and other genres associated with early music, such as the "Oi me lasso" and other laude of Gavin Bryars.
The historicist movement is closely related to the emergence of musicology and the Early Music Revival. A number of historicist composers have been influenced by their intimate familiarity with the instrumental practices of earlier periods (Hendrik Bouman, Grant Colburn, Michael Talbot, Alexandre Danilevsky, Paulo Galv o, Roman Turovsky-Savchuk). The musical historicism movement has also been stimulated by the formation of such international organizations as the Delian Society and Vox Saeculorum.
The vocabulary of extended tonality, which flourished in the late 19th and very early 20th centuries, continues to be used throughout the contemporary period. It never has been considered shocking or controversial in the larger musical world as has been demonstrated statistically for the United States, at least.
Art rock influence
Similarly, some composers have emerged since the 1980s who are influenced by art rock, for example, Rhys Chatham.
"World music" influence
Some composers mix western and non-western instruments, including gamelan from Indonesia, Chinese traditional instruments, ragas from Indian Classical music. There is also an exploration of eastern-European and non-Western tonalities, even in relatively traditionally structured works. This trend was present already in the 1920s and 1930s, for example in the music of B la Bart k, Henry Cowell, Colin McPhee, Alan Hovhaness, and Lou Harrison, and slightly later in the work of Olivier Messiaen, Chou Wen-chung, Halim El-Dabh, and Peggy Glanville-Hicks. The trend can be found also in the context of post-minimalist works, such as Janice Giteck's and Evan Ziporyn's Balinese-influenced works. Some composers have used traditional instruments from their own cultures, such as T ru Takemitsu, Minoru Miki, Chen Yi, Zhou Long, or Julian Kytasty. World music influence may also be found in the context of post-classic tonality, such as in the music of Bright Sheng, or in the context of thoroughly modernist works by composers such as Claude Vivier.
A movement in Denmark (Den Nye Enkelhed) in the late nineteen-sixties and another in Germany in the late seventies and early eighties, the former attempting to create more objective, impersonal music, and the latter reacting with a variety of strategies to restore the subjective to composing, both sought to create music using simple textures. The German New Simplicity's best-known composer is Wolfgang Rihm, who strives for the emotional volatility of late 19th-century Romanticism and early 20th-century Expressionism. Called Die neue Einfachheit in German, it has also been termed "New Romanticism", "New Subjectivity", "New Inwardness", "New Sensuality", "New Expressivity", and "New Tonality".
Styles found in other countries sometimes associated with the German New Simplicity movement include the so-called "Holy Minimalism" of the Pole Henryk G recki and the Estonian Arvo P rt (in their works after 1970), as well as Englishman John Tavener, who unlike the New Simplicity composers have turned back to Medieval and Renaissance models, however, rather than to 19th-century romanticism for inspiration. Important representative works include Symphony No. 3 "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" (1976) by G recki, Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977) by P rt, and The Veil of the Temple (2002) by Tavener, "Silent Songs" (1977) by Valentin Silvestrov.
New Complexity is a current within today's European contemporary avant-garde music scene, named in reaction to the New Simplicity. Amongst the candidates suggested for having coined the term are the composer Nigel Osborne, the Belgian musicologist Harry Halbreich, and the British/Australian musicologist Richard Toop, who gave currency to the concept of a movement with his article "Four Facets of the New Complexity".
Though often atonal, highly abstract, and dissonant in sound, the "New Complexity" is most readily characterized by the use of techniques which require complex musical notation. This includes extended techniques, microtonality, odd tunings, highly disjunct melodic contour, innovative timbres, complex polyrhythms, unconventional instrumentations, abrupt changes in loudness and intensity, and so on. The diverse group of composers writing in this style includes Richard Barrett, Brian Ferneyhough, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, James Dillon, Michael Finnissy, James Erber, and Roger Redgate.
Minimalism and post-minimalism
The minimalist generation still has a prominent role in new composition. Philip Glass has been expanding his symphony cycle, while John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls, a choral work commemorating the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, won a Pulitzer Prize. Steve Reich has explored electronic opera (most notably in Three Tales) and Terry Riley has been active in composing instrumental music and music theatre.
Many composers are expanding the resources of minimalist music to include rock and world instrumentation and rhythms, serialism, and many other techniques. Another notable characteristic is storytelling and emotional expression taking precedence over technique. Post-minimalism is a movement in painting and sculpture that began in the late 1960s. (See lumpers/splitters)
Developments by medium
Notable composers of operas since 1975 include:
- John Adams
- Thomas Ad s
- Bruce Adolphe
- Robert Ashley
- Luciano Berio
- Harrison Birtwistle
- John Cage
- Roberto Carnevale
- Elliott Carter
- Daniel Cat n
- Michael Daugherty
- Peter Maxwell Davies
- John Eaton
- Mohammed Fairouz
- Brian Ferneyhough
- Lorenzo Ferrero
- Philip Glass
- Elliot Goldenthal
- Ricky Ian Gordon
- Hans Werner Henze
- York H ller
- Andr Laporte
- Gy rgy Ligeti
- Liza Lim
- Richard Meale
- Olivier Messiaen
- Nico Muhly
- Olga Neuwirth
- Luigi Nono
- Per N rg rd
- Michael Nyman
- Einojuhani Rautavaara
- Kaija Saariaho
- Aulis Sallinen
- Howard Shore
- Karlheinz Stockhausen
- Somtow Sucharitkul
- Josef Tal
- Judith Weir
- See also List of contemporary classical ensembles
Notable choral composers include Karl Jenkins, Morten Lauridsen, Nico Muhly, Arvo P rt, John Rutter, Veljo Tormis, Gabriel Jackson, Paul Mealor and Eric Whitacre.
Composers such as Daniel Bukvich, Mark Camphouse, Michael Colgrass, Michael Daugherty, David Del Tredici, Karel Husa, David Maslanka, Olivier Messiaen, Alfred Reed, Joseph Schwantner, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Frank Ticheli, and Eric Whitacre have composed notable works for concert band in recent years.
Contemporary classical music can be heard in film scores such as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), both of which used concert music by Gy rgy Ligeti, and also in Kubrick's The Shining (1980) which used music by both Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki. Jean-Luc Godard, in La Chinoise (1967), Nicolas Roeg in Walkabout (1971), and the Brothers Quay in In Absentia (2000) used music by Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Contemporary music festivals
- Ars musica, Brussels, Belgium
- Bang on a Can Marathon
- Darmst dter Ferienkurse
- Donaueschingen Festival
- Gaudeamus Foundation Music Week in Amsterdam
- Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
- Lucerne Festival
- Other Minds
- Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival
- Warsaw Autumn in Poland
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