20th Century Music:





Impressionism was a French movement developed by painters:

Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir

“First Impression” of a subject captured by use of light and color

Abandoned grandiose subjects of Romanticism.


Impressionism in Music

Impressionists turned away from large forms and preferred short lyric forms (Preludes, Nocturnes, arabesques)

Impressionistic music is Characterized by

Ancient scales (church modes of the middle ages)

Exotic scales (chromatic and whole tone)

Unresolved dissonances

Parallel chords, 9th chords

Orchestral color

Free rhythm


Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

French Composer

The most important French Impressionist composer

Rebelled against compositional traditions at Paris Conservatory

Won the Prix de Rome with Cantata: The Prodigal Son

Fame came after the premiere of his opera Pelleas and Melisande (1902)

World War I robbed him of his interest in music

Died in 1918 during German bombardment of Paris.


He composed slowly, relatively small output

Most recognized works:

Orchestral: La Mer, Three Nocturnes, A prelude to “The afternoon of a faun”

Piano: Claire de Lune, Evening in Granada, Reflections in the Water, The sunken Cathedral.

French Song: Independent of the German Lied

Chamber Music: String Quartet in G minor, sonatas for cello and piano; violin and piano; flute, viola, and harp



Debussy:  Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun” (Listening Guide)

Based on Mallarme pastoral poem

Mythological Faun

Free Ternary form

Chromatic Melody


Ravel and Post-Impressionism

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

French Composer, conductor

Group of friends nicknamed the apaches (French for “ruffians”)  avant-garde poets, painters and musicians

Music reflects “exotic interests

After WWI, in demand as composer and conductor

Visited the US in 1928

Influenced by American Jazz

Died after surgery meant to repair a rare brain disease


His Music:

National Artist

Drawn to Impressionist images

Exploited “exotic” and ancient musical styles

Often compared to Debussy in terms of style

Drawn to Classical forms

Master of the French art song

Orchestral works won him international admiration



Ravel: Feria, From Spanish Rhapsody (listening guide)

 Orchestral Suite

Reflects Spanish influence through dance rhythms and instrumentation

(Castanets, Tambourine, triangle)

Last movement is a jota (Vigorous Spanish Dance song in triple meter)

Cyclical structure, recurrence of haunting four-note motive.



The early 20th century is characterized by a reaction against romanticism and an interest in non-Western music, especially in new rhythms.  Other artistic trends that influenced music were Expressionism (German answer to impressionism) and New Classicism. 


New elements of early 20th century musical style


-complex rhythms

            polyrhythms, polymeter, changing meters, irregular meters

-non-vocal melody       

             instrumental characterization, wide leaps and dissonant intervals

-new harmony

            polychords, polyharmony

-new tonality

            Major-minor system not dominant, drive towards the tonic weakened, Churhc modes and non-western music

12 tone method (serialism)

also known as dodecaphonic

atonal method devised by Schoenberg

strict system based on and unified by tone row

Tone Row: arrangement of all 12 chromatic tones

Forms of the row: transposed, inverted, retrograde, retrograde inversion.

-increased interest in form

            Organization, older forms: fugue, passacaglia, chaccone, concerto grosso, use of popular style forms (from Jazz, ragtime.)

 Formalists-  valued form over expressiveness


-highly expanded harmonic language (eventual abandonment of tonality)

-emancipation of dissonance


            extreme dissonances, no obligation to resolve


-new textural conception of linear dissonance


            smaller orchestra, darker instruments, percussion to the foreground, piano as orchestral instrument


Main currents in early 20th century music

Reaction against romanticism:

Early 20th century music was the product of this reaction

Sought to escape refinement, adopt primitive, uninhibited, spontaneous style

Turned towards non-western sources (Africa, Asia, eastern Europe) for primal, powerful rhythms and fresh concepts



New Trends in the Arts:

Futurism, Dadaism, Cubism



German response to Impressionism

Subconscious; hallucinations; dreams

Artists; Kandinsky, Klee, Kokoschka. Munch

Composers: Schoenberg, Berg, Webern


Musical Characteristics:

Expressive harmony

Extreme ranges

Disjunct melodies



Revival of balance and objectivity in the arts

A return to formal structures of the past

Known as “Back to Bach” movement

Began in 1920s

Composers preferred absolute to program music


 New Concepts of Tonality

The major-minor system was no longer dominant

         It was expanded, combined and avoided

Percieved drive toward the tonic is weakened

Expansion of tonality was increased by interest in church modes and non-western music

Polytonality- presentation of two or more simultaneous keys

Atonality: abandonment of tonality, all 12 tones are equal in importance

The 12-tone Method

Also known as serialism or dodecaphonic

Atonal method devised by Schoenberg

Strict system based on and unified by tone row

Tone row: arrangement of all 12 chromatic tones

Forms of the row: transposed, inverted, retrograde, retrograde in version

Emancipation of Dissonance

Extreme dissonances become a normal part of the sound

No obligation to resolve to consonance



Leaner, smaller orchestra

String section no longer the “heart” of the orchestra

Composers favored the darker instruments (viola, bassoon, trombone)

Emphasis on rhythm brings percussion to the foreground

Piano becomes and orchestral instrument


New conceptions of form

Composers revisit Classical ideals of tight organization and succinctness

Revival of older forms (fugue, passacaglia, chaccone, concerto grosso, etc.)

Formalists valued form over expressiveness

Composers absorbed popular styles (ragtime, jazz)


Igor Stravinksy  (1882-1971)

Russian Composer

Left law studies for career in music

Diaghilev commissioned 3 ballets from stravinksy



         The Rite of Spring

The Rite of spring incited a near riot on opening night


Stravinsky’s music:

Reflects changing trends (post-Impressionism, classicism, serialism)

Leader in the revitalization of rhythm

Considered one of the great orchestrators

His music reflects nationalism


Stravinksky: The Rite of Spring

Subtitled Scenes of Pagan Russia

Expanded ensemble (8 french horns, 5 trumpets, 5 of each woodwind, a battery of percussion)

Melodies modeled after Russian folk songs

Primitivisic theme, matched by primitivistic rhythm

Music is liberated from constraints of metric  regularity




Schoenberg and the second Viennese school:

German expressionist movement was manifested in the music of Arnold Schoenberg and his followers (Alban Berg and Anton Webern)



Schoenberg (1874-1951)

Austrian composer, conductor, teacher, artist

Largely self-taught composer

Proponent of atonality and serial composition

Emigrated to the US


On faculty of USC and UCLA


Three style periods:

Early works reflect post-wagnerian romanticism

Second period reflect atonal-expressionism (ex.  Pierrot Lunaire)

Third Period reflects the creation of the 12-tone method and time in America


Schoenberg:  Pierrot Lunaire (Listening Guide)

Song cycle from 1912

Texts by Albert Giraud (in german translation)

Tale of a sad clown obsessed with the moon

All in Rondeau form

For voice and varied chamber ensemble

Atonal work: no home key

No distinction between consonance and dissonance

Use of Sprechstimme (Spoken voice)

Klanfarbenmelodie *tone-color-melody*

“The moonfleck”

For voice and five instruments

Melancholic and serence

At peace

Consonance expresses innocent past


Alban Berg (1885-1935)

Austrian composer and teacher

Student of Schoenberg

Humanized the abstract methods of atonality and serialism

Infused them with feeling

Served in the military during WWI

Supporter of 12 tone serialism

Hitler banned the works of 12-tone composers

Died and unfortunate death at the age of 50; blood poisoning resulting from an insect bite


Anton Webern (1883-1945)

Austrian composer and musicologist

Followed 12 tone serialism

Career suffered under the 3rd Reich

During WWII sought refuge with family near Salzburg

Broke curfew to smoke a cigar

Shot to death by an American Soldier at the age of 62



His music:

Removed himself almost completely from the tonal past

Favored short forms, like others of the second Viennese school

Unusual orchestration

Extreme ranges

Sparse textures in very brief works

Strict use of 12 tone technique

Extended 12-tone concept to include other musical elements

New application called total serialism


The European Tradition

Composers approached traditional music with scientific spirit

New students of folklore took recording equipment into the field for authenticity


Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

Hungarian composer

Sought to end domination of German musical culture

Separated true Hungarian music from music of Romany (Gypsies)

Studied folklore

Emigrated to the US in 1940

Suffered from Leukemia/died at the age of 64


Bartok’s Music:

Adhered to the logic and beauty of classical form

New musical language based on Eastern European traditional music

New scales, polytonal harmonic language

Freed his compositions of the “tyrannical rule of the major and minor keys”

Rhythmic innovator, changing meters, syncopations


Examples of Hungarian folk music.