Unit 6: 20th Century (I)

1. Introduction

The century had the first global-scale wars between several world powers across multiple continents in World War I and World War II. Nationalism became a major political issue in the world in the 20th century that was acknowledged in international law with the acknowledgement of the right of nations to self-determination, official decolonization in the mid-century, and many nationalist-influenced armed conflicts - including both World Wars. The century saw a major shift in the way that vast numbers of people lived, as a result of changes in politics, ideology, economics, society, culture, science, technology, and medicine. Terms like ideology, world war, genocide and nuclear war entered common usage. Scientific discoveries, such as the theory of relativity and quantum physics, drastically changed the worldview of scientists, causing them to realize that the universe was fantastically more complex than previously believed, and dashing the strong hopes at the end of the 19th century that the last few details of scientific knowledge were about to be filled in. Accelerating scientific understanding, more efficient communications, and faster transportation transformed the world in those hundred years more rapidly and widely than in any previous century. It was a century that started with horses, simple automobiles, and freighters but ended with high-speed rail, cruise ships, global commercial air travel and the space shuttle. Horses, Western society's basic form of personal transportation for thousands of years, were replaced by automobiles and buses within the span of a few decades. These developments were made possible by the large-scale exploitation of fossil fuel resources (especially petroleum), which offered large amounts of energy in an easily portable form, but also caused widespread concerns about pollution and long-term impact on the environment. Humans explored outer space for the first time, taking their first footsteps on the Moon.


Mass media, telecommunications, and information technology (especially computers, paperback books, public education, and the Internet) made the world's knowledge more widely available. Many people's view of the world changed significantly as they became much more aware of the struggles of others and, as such, became increasingly concerned with human rights. Advancements in medical technology also improved the welfare of many people: the global life expectancy increased from 35 years to 65 years. Rapid technological advancements, however, also allowed warfare to reach unprecedented levels of destruction. World War II alone killed over 60 million people, while nuclear weapons gave humankind the means to annihilate or significantly harm itself in a very short period of time. The world also became more culturally homogenized than ever with developments in transportation and communications technology, popular music and other influences of Western culture, international corporations, and what was arguably a true global economy by the end of the 20th century. In literature, there was a social transformation, writing for people, and based on people’s life: Swann's Way by Marcel Proust (1913), The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka (1915), The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920), Romancero Gitano by Federico García Lorca.


20th-century Western painting begins with the heritage of painters like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec all of whom were essential for the development of modern art. Initially influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and
other late-19th-century innovators Pablo Picasso made his first cubist paintings based on Cézanne's idea that all depiction of nature can be reduced to three solids: cube, sphere and cone. With the painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon 1907, Picasso dramatically created a new and radical picture depicting a raw and primitive brothel scene with five prostitutes, violently painted women, reminiscent of African tribal masks and his own new Cubist inventions. In the first two decades of the 20th century and after cubism, several other important movements emerged;
Futurism and abstract art. Modern painting influenced all the visual arts, from Modernist architecture and design, to avant-garde film, theatre and modern dance and became an experimental laboratory for the expression of visual experience, from photography and concrete poetry to advertising art and fashion.

2. Characteristics

At the turn of the century, music was characteristically late Romantic in style. At the same time, the Impressionist movement, spearheaded by Claude Debussy, was being developed in France. Many composers reacted to the Post-Romantic and Impressionist styles and moved in quite different directions. The single most important moment in defining the course of music throughout the century was the widespread break with traditional tonality, effected in diverse ways by different composers in the first decade of the century. From this sprang an unprecedented "linguistic plurality" of styles, techniques, and expression. In Vienna, Arnold Schoenberg developed atonality, out of the expressionism that arose in the early part of the 20th century. He later developed the twelve-tone technique which was developed further by his disciples Alban Berg and Anton Webern; later composers (including Pierre Boulez) developed it further still. Stravinsky (in his last works) explored twelve-tone technique, too, as did many other composers; indeed, even Scott Bradley used the technique in his scores for the Tom and Jerry cartoons.
After the First World War, many composers started returning to the past for inspiration and wrote works that draw elements (form, harmony, melody, structure) from it. This type of music thus became labelled neoclassicism. Igor Stravinsky (Pulcinella and Symphony of Psalms), Sergei Prokofiev (Classical Symphony), Ravel (Le tombeau de Couperin) and Paul Hindemith (Symphony: Mathis der Maler) all produced neoclassical works. Italian composers such as Francesco Balilla Pratella and Luigi Russolo developed musical Futurism. This style often tried to recreate everyday sounds and place them in a "Futurist" context. The "Machine Music" of George Antheil (starting with his Second Sonata, "The Airplane") and Alexander Mosolov (most notoriously his Iron Foundry) developed out of this. The process of extending musical vocabulary by exploring all available tones was pushed further by the use of Microtones in works by Charles Ives, Julián Carrillo and Mildred Couper among many others. Microtones are those intervals that are smaller than a semitone; human voices and unfretted strings can easily produce them by going in between the "normal" notes, but other instruments will have more difficulty—the piano and organ have no way of producing them at all, aside from retuning and/or major reconstruction.

3. Bitonal music

Impressionism in music is a vague term that is sometimes applied to various composers in European classical music, mainly during the late 19th century and continuing into the beginning of the 20th century, whose music focuses on suggestion and atmosphere. French critic Stéphane Mallarmé states that naming an object takes away three fourths of its power, "to suggest is to dream". Claude Debussy found inspiration in Javanese music (especially gamelan). Debussy later wrote to a friend, "Do you not remember the Javanese music, able to express every shade of meaning, … which makes our tonic and dominant seem like ghosts?". He and Maurice Ravel were generally considered to be the two "great" impressionists. However, these days composers are generally not as accurately described by the term "Impressionism" as painters in the genre were. Debussy renounced it, saying: "I am trying to do 'something different' – in a way realities – what the imbeciles call 'impressionism' is a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by art critics." Other composers said to have been influenced by Impressionism include Isaac Albéniz, Frederick Delius, Paul Dukas, Manuel de Falla, and Ottorino Respighi.

Bitonal music includes:

  • Use of two or more different keys at the same time.

  • Tendency to break beats or use of different rhythmical patterns.

  • Melody is the most important part of this music, and harmony blurs its tonality effect.

  • Piano is the most extended use instrument.


Charles Ives - Central Park in the dark

4. Atonal music

Atonality in its broadest sense is music that lacks a tonal center, or key. Atonality, in this sense, usually describes compositions written from about 1908 to the present day where a hierarchy of pitches focusing on a single, central tone is not used, and the notes of the chromatic scale function independently of one another (Kennedy 1994). More narrowly, the term atonality describes music that does not conform to the system of tonal hierarchies that characterized classical European music between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. "The repertory of atonal music is characterized by the occurrence of pitches in novel combinations, as well as by the occurrence of familiar pitch combinations in unfamiliar environments".

More narrowly still, the term is sometimes used to describe music that is neither tonal nor serial, especially the pre-twelve-tone music of the Second Viennese School, principally Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Anton Webern (Lansky, Perle, and Headlam 2001). However, "[a]s a categorical label, 'atonal' generally means only that the piece is in the Western tradition and is not 'tonal', although there are longer periods, e.g., medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics to which this definition does not apply. "[S]erialism arose partly as a means of organizing more coherently the relations used in the preserial 'free atonal' music. ... Thus many useful and crucial insights about even strictly serial music depend only on such basic atonal theory".

Some characteristics are:

  • Never use tonality patterns, but can use music theories from the past (Specially medieval and Renaissance).

  • There's not a central note or chord.

  • Use of twelve notes system (Tonality only use seven).

  • Normally, atonal music uses form from the past (sonata).

  • Strange ensembles.

  • New instruments (Ondes martenot and Theremin).

  • Sometimes, new division of the note range: Quarter-tones

Carl Orff - Camina Burana (O Fortuna)

5. Dodecaphony

Twelve-tone technique—also known as dodecaphony, twelve-tone serialism, and (in British usage) twelve-note composition—is a method of
musical composition devised by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951). The technique is a means of ensuring that all 12 notes of the chromatic scale are sounded as often as one another in a piece of music while preventing the emphasis of any one note through the use of tone rows, an ordering of the 12 pitches. All 12 notes are thus given more or less equal importance, and the music avoids being in a key. The technique was influential on composers in the mid-20th century.

Schoenberg himself described the system as a "Method of Composing with Twelve Tones Which are Related Only with One Another". However, the common English usage is to describe the method as a form of serialism.

The basis of the twelve-tone technique is the tone row, an ordered arrangement of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale (the twelve equal tempered pitch classes). There are four postulates or preconditions to the technique which apply to the row (also called a set or series), on which a work or section is based:

  • The row is a specific ordering of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale (without regard to octave placement).

  • No note is repeated within the row.

  • The row may be subjected to interval-preserving transformations -- that is, it may appear in inversion (denoted I), retrograde (R), or retrograde-inversion (RI), in addition to its "original" or prime form (P).

  • The row in any of its four transformations may begin on any degree of the chromatic scale; in other words it may be freely transposed. (Transposition being an interval-preserving transformation, this is technically covered already by 3.) Transpositions are indicated by an integer between 0 and 11 denoting the number of semitones: thus, if the original form of the row is denoted P0, then P1 denotes its transposition upward by one semitone (similarly I1 is an upward transposition of the inverted form, R1 of the retrograde form, and RI1 of the retrograde-inverted form).

Schonberg - Three Piano pieces, nº1

6. Neoclassicism

Neoclassicism was a twentieth-century trend, particularly current in the period between the two World Wars, in which composers sought to return to aesthetic precepts associated with the broadly defined concept of "classicism", namely order, balance, clarity, economy, and emotional restraint. As such, neoclassicism was a reaction against the unrestrained emotionalism and perceived formlessness of late Romanticism, as well as a "call to order" after the experimental ferment of the first two decades of the twentieth century. The neoclassical impulse found its expression in such features as the use of pareddown performing forces, an emphasis on rhythm and on contrapuntal texture, an updated or expanded tonal harmony, and a concentration on absolute music as opposed to Romantic program music. In form and thematic technique,
neoclassical music often drew inspiration from music of the 18th century, though the inspiring canon belonged as frequently to the Baroque and even earlier periods as to the Classical period—for this reason, music which draws inspiration specifically from the Baroque is sometimes termed Neo-Baroque music. Neoclassicism had two distinct national lines of development, French (proceeding partly from the influence of Erik Satie and represented by Igor Stravinsky), and German (proceeding from the "New Objectivity" of Ferruccio Busoni and represented by Paul Hindemith.) Neoclassicism was an aesthetic trend rather than an organized movement; even many composers not usually thought of as "neoclassicists" absorbed elements of the style.

Samuel barber - Adagio for Strings

Walter Piston - Passacaglia for piano

Robert Gerhard - Soirees de Barcelone

7. Post-Nationalism

Post-Nationalism was a music style in the 20th century, that followed 19th century last decade's aesthetics. That means composers try to power up musical instruments with a national meaning (for example, the guitar in Spain) and use music forms and theories related with the developement of national styles. Perhaps one of the most important styles developed during the 20th century was the american nationalism music. There was a huge influence from new music genres, specially jazz music.

Normally, works written in this styles are considered tonal music, so it's like a subgenre inside the neoclassical style. Some composers were: George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Manuel de Falla or Astor Piazzolla.

Joaquin Rodrigo - Concierto de Aranjuez

Sousa - Stars and stripes forever

8. Women Composers in the 20th Century

With the arrival of the 20th century, the female collective will begin to be recognized in their work as a composer. Historically women were only recognized as opera singers, although there were many women who broke through to be recognized as performers or composers, especially in the nineteenth century.

It is a historiographical problem, when studying history the figure of women has been omitted, but in their time they were recognized for their talent. Some of these women were:

Amy Beach (1867-1944)


She was an American composer and pianist. She was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music. Her "Gaelic" Symphony, premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896, was the first symphony composed and published by an American woman.

She was one of the first American composers to succeed without the benefit of European training, and one of the most respected and acclaimed American composers of her era. As a pianist, she was acclaimed for concerts she gave featuring her own music in the United States and in Germany. Her Piano Concerto has been praised as an overlooked masterwork by modern critics. 

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979)


She a French composer, conductor, and teacher. She is notable for having taught many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century. She also performed occasionally as a pianist and organist.

From a musical family, she achieved early honours as a student at the Paris Conservatoire but, believing that she had no particular talent as a composer, she gave up writing music and became a teacher. In that capacity, she influenced generations of young composers, especially those from the United States and other English-speaking countries. 

Boulanger taught in the US and England, working with music academies including the Juilliard School, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, but her principal base for most of her life was her family's flat in Paris, where she taught for most of the seven decades from the start of her career until her death at the age of 92.


Boulanger was the first woman to conduct many major orchestras in America and Europe, including the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, Hallé, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia orchestras. She conducted several world premieres, including works by Copland and Stravinsky.

Florence Price (1887-1953)


She was an American classical composer. She was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra.

Even though her training was steeped in European tradition, Price's music consists of mostly the American idiom and reveals her Southern roots. She wrote in a vernacular style, using sounds and ideas that fit the reality of urban society. Being deeply religious, she frequently used the music of the African-American church as material for her arrangements.

Her melodies were blues-inspired and mixed with more traditional, European Romantic techniques. The weaving of tradition and modernism reflected the way life was for African Americans in large cities at the time. Some of her works are: Symphony Nº1 in Em, Piano Concerto and two violin concerti

Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983)


She was a French composer and the only female member of the group of composers known as Les Six. She studied piano with her mother at home, composing short works of her own, after which she began studying at the Paris Conservatory where she met Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, and Arthur Honegger.

At the Paris Conservatory, her skills were rewarded with prizes in several categories. Tailleferre wrote many of her most important works during the 1920s, including her 1st Piano Concerto, the Harp Concertino, the ballet Le Marchand d'oiseaux, as well as several pioneering film scores, including B'anda, in which she used African themes.

The 1930s were even more fruitful, with the Concerto for Two Pianos, Chorus, Saxophones, and Orchestra, the Violin Concerto, the opera cycle "Du style galant au style méchant", the operas "Zoulaïna" and "Le Marin de Bolivar", and her masterwork, La cantate de Narcisse, in collaboration with Paul Valéry. Her work in film music included Le petit chose by Maurice Cloche and a series of documentaries.

9. Instruments

The evolution of traditional musical instruments slowed beginning in the twentieth century. Instruments like the violin, flute, french horn, harp, and so on are largely the same as those manufactured throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Gradual iterations do emerge; for example, the "New Violin Family" began in 1964 to provide differently sized violins to expand the range of available sounds. The slowdown in development was practical response to the concurrent slowdown in orchestra and venue size. Despite this trend in traditional instruments, the development of new musical instruments exploded in the twentieth century. The sheer variety of instruments developed overshadows any prior period.

The proliferation of electricity in the twentieth century lead to the creation of an entirely new category of musical instruments: electronic instruments, or electrophones. The vast majority of electrophones produced in the first half of the twentieth century were what Sachs called "electromechanical instruments". In other words, they have mechanical parts that produce sound vibrations, and those vibrations are picked up and amplified by electrical components. Examples of electromechanical instruments include organs and electric guitars. Sachs also defined a subcategory of "radioelectric instruments" such as the theremin, which produces music through the player's hand movements around two antennas.

The latter half of the twentieth century saw the gradual evolution of synthesizers—instruments that artificially produce sound using analog or digital circuits and microchips. In the late 1960s, Bob Moog and other inventors began an era of development of commercial synthesizers. One of the first of these instruments was the Moog synthesizer. The modern proliferation of computers and microchips has spawned an entire industry around electronic musical instruments. Since electronic musical instruments may produce sound without human interaction, there is debate in the modern music community as to whether or not computer musicians may be considered instrumentalists.

Ondes Martenot

The ondes Martenot also known as the ondium Martenot, Martenot and ondes musicales, is an early electronic musical instrument invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot. The original design was similar in sound to the theremin. The sonic capabilities of the instrument were later expanded by the addition of timbral controls and switchable loudspeakers.

The instrument's eerie wavering notes are produced by varying the frequency of oscillation in vacuum tubes. The production of the instrument stopped in 1988, but several conservatories in France still teach it.

In 1997, the Ondéa project began designing an instrument based on the ondes Martenot. Since the Martenot name is still protected, the new instrument is called Ondéa, but has the playing and operational characteristics of the original ondes Martenot. In 2001, a completed prototype was first used in concerts. These instruments have been in regular use since 2005.

Since 2008, Jean-Loup Dierstein, with the support of Maurice Martenot's son, has been developing a new, officially named ondes Musicales instrument based on the model used when production stopped in 1988.

The ondes Martenot is unique among electronic musical instruments in its methods of control. Maurice Martenot was a cellist, and it was his vision to bring the degree of musical expressivity associated with the cello to his new instrument. The ondes, in its later forms, can be controlled either by depressing keys on the six-octave keyboard (au clavier), or by sliding a metal ring worn on the right-hand index finger in front of the keyboard (au ruban). The position of the ring corresponds in pitch to the horizontal location along the keyboard. The latter playing method allows for unbroken, sweeping glissandi to be produced in much the same manner as a Theremin. The keyboard itself has a lateral range of movement of several millimeters, permitting vibrato of nearly a semitone below or above the pitch of the depressed key to be produced.



Thomas Bloch playing the Ondes Martenot

Leon Theremin playing his own creation

Martinu . Fantasie

The theremin is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the thereminist (performer). It is named after the Westernized name of its Russian inventor, Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928.

The instrument's controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas that sense the relative position of the thereminist's hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.

The theremin was used in movie soundtracks such as Miklós Rózsa's for Spellbound and The Lost Weekend and Bernard Herrmann's for The Day the Earth Stood Still and as the theme tune for the ITV drama Midsomer Murders. This has led to its association with a very eerie sound. Theremins are also used in concert music (especially avant-garde and 20th- and 21st-century new music) and in popular music genres such as rock. Psychedelic rock bands in particular, such as Hawkwind, have often used the theremin in their work.

Important in theremin articulation is the use of the volume control antenna. Unlike touched instruments, where simply halting play or damping a resonator silences the instrument, the thereminist must "play the rests, as well as the notes", as Clara Rockmore observed. Although volume technique is less developed than pitch technique, some thereminists have worked to extend it, especially Pamelia Kurstin with her "walking bass" technique and Rupert Chappelle.

Recent versions of the theremin have been functionally updated: the Moog Ethervox, while functionally still a theremin, can also be used as a MIDI controller, and as such allows the artist to control any MIDI-compatible synthesizer with it, using the theremin's continuous pitch to drive modern synths. The Harrison Instruments Model 302 Theremin uses symmetrical horizontal plates instead of a vertical rod and horizontal loop to control pitch and volume, with the volume increasing as the hand approaches the plate.

Copyright 2018, All right reserved.