20th Century Music (1900 - 2000)

During the 19th century composers wanted greater emotional expression, so they upped their game with increasingly dense harmonies, moving towards chromaticism. Something had to give: music was getting bigger and bigger and more and more complex. At the beginning of the 20th century music sort of exploded into lots of sub-genres, all fighting for the oxygen of publicity. We had Impressionism, Expressionism, Modernism and Postmodernism.

Composers like Schoenberg experimented with breaking down traditional harmonic structures, creating first atonality (music without a clear key, or tonal centre) and then serialism, a system of composition in which all notes were seen as equal and the concept of any key centre was completely abandoned in favour of mathematical ordering of pitches to create musical sentences and paragraphs. On the other hand, composers like Stravinsky experimented with the breaking down of a clear rhythmic hierarchy in works like The Rite of Spring. 

Meanwhile Bartok was drawing inspiration from the folk music his homeland of Hungary, which he translated — through a very sophisticated compositional process — into a number of masterpieces as he established himself as one of the century’s leading composers. Elsewhere British composer was re-defining opera as he transitioned from the traditional-style 'Peter Grimes’ — with large orchestra and chorus — to the more intimate, scaled down chamber-operatic style of 'The Turn of the Screw'.

Key Composers

Arnold Schoenberg

Igor Stravinsky

Dmitri Shostakovich

Béla Bartók

Benjamin Britten