Contemporary Composers Timeline

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    Richard Wagner

    • German composer, theatre director, and conductor who is chiefly known for his operas
    • Infamously known as Hitler’s famous composer; his works became synonymous with the Nazi party due to his outspoken antisemitic views and dramatic, emotion-evoking works
    • Known for his use of complex textures, rich harmonies and orchestration, and leitmotifs
    • Notable works are  The Ring of the Nibelung, Parsifal, and Tristan und Isolde
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    Modest Mussorgsky

    • One of The Five (or “Mighty Five/Handful”) Russian composers who developed Russia’s nationalistic style of classical music; strove to achieve a uniquely Russian musical identity against the established conventions of Western Music
    • Composed works inspired by Russian history, folklore, and national themes
    • Notable works include opera Boris Godunov, Night on Bald Mountain, and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition
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    Antonin Dvorak

    • Czech composer
    • Influenced by the folk music of Moravia and Bohemia, following the Romantic-era nationalist example of his predecessor Smetana
    • Came to America and became the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City
    • Wrote the New World Symphony inspired by Native American folk tunes and African American spirituals
    • Other notable works include Slavonic Dances, his Cello Concerto, and the American String Quartet
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    Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov

    • One of The Five (or “Mighty Five/Handful”) Russian composers who developed Russia’s nationalistic style of classical music
    • Used Russian folk song and lore along with exotic harmonic, melodic and rhythmic elements
    • Wrote Principles of Orchestration, which discusses the technique of writing for an orchestra and also the emotional and psychological effect of instrumentation
    • Notable works include Scheherazade, Capriccio Espagnol, and the Russian Easter Overture
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    Leoš Janáček

    • Czech composer, musical theorist, folkorist
    • Was inspired by Moravian and other Slavic music, including Eastern European folk music
    • Famous works include his opera Jenůfa, piano sonata “On an Overgrown Path”
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    Gustav Mahler

    • Last major composer of the Austro-German tradition
    • Was primarily a conductor during his life
    • Know for very large orchestration
    • Notable works include Symphony No.2 "Resurrection and Symphony No.8 “Symphony of a Thousand”
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    Claude Debussy

    • The first French Impressionist composer; pioneered the Impressionistic movement in music although he rejected the term
    • One of the first Europeans to use pentatonic and whole tone scales, experimenting with nontraditional harmonies and textures
    • Major works include La Mer, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Clair de Lune, Suite Bergamasque
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    Richard Strauss

    • German composer, conductor, pianist, and violinist; considered the successor of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt
    • The leading composer to end the Romantic era and start the early Modern era
    • Composed the music for the opera Salome; stacked Cm and GM scale, seen as a major breakthrough that allowed other composers to experiment with traditional tonality -Other notable works include Also Sprach Zarathustra, Der Rosenkavalier, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks
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    Carl Nielsen

    • Danish composer, conductor and violinist, widely recognized as Denmark's most prominent composer
    • His early music was inspired by Romantic composers like Brahms and Grieg, but he began experimenting with progressive tonality and later diverging even more radically from the standards of composition still common at the time
    • Notable works include Helios Overture and Maskarade (which became known as the "Danish National Opera")
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    Jean Sibelius

    • Finnish composer
    • Widely regarded as his country's greatest composer, and his music is often credited with having helped Finland develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia
    • Music was dismissed in Austria-German music centers but was popular in England and America
    • Notable works include Finlandia, Symphony No. 2, Lemminkäinen Suite
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    Erik Satie

    • French Impressionist composer
    • Drove French composers away from the Wagnerian style
    • Influenced Ravel and Poulenc during the Impressionist era and modern minimalist composers such as John Cage and John Adams
    • Most notable work is Gymnopédies
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    Scott Joplin

    • American composer and pianist and dubbed "the King of Ragtime"
    • Wrote over 40 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas
    • Notable works include "Maple Leaf Rag" and "The Entertainer"
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    Will Marion Cook

    • African American composer, violinist, and choral director
    • Studied composition with Dvorak
    • Best known for his popular songs and landmark Broadway musicals, featuring African-American creators, producers, and casts, such as Clorindy, or The Origin of the Cake Walk (1898) and In Dahomey (1903)
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    Arnold Schoenberg

    • Austrian-American composer, music theorist, teacher, "Father of 12 tone"
    • The leader of the Second Viennese School
    • His work Pierrot Lunaire pioneered the use of Sprechstimme in music
    • Other notable works include Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), his opera Moses und Aron, Pelleas und Melisande
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    Charles Ives

    • American modernist composer, organist, and insurance agent
    • Was one of the first American composers to gain international recognition
    • Was among the first composers to engage in a systematic program of experimental music, with musical techniques including polytonality, polyrhythm, tone clusters, aleatory elements, and quarter tones
    • Used hymn tunes, traditional songs, and patriotic songs
    • Notable works include “From the Steeples and the Mountains” and “The Unanswered Question”
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    Maurice Ravel

    • One of the major pioneers of French Impressionist music, pianist and conductor
    • Experimented with textures, musical form (Bolero), orchestration (Pictures at an Exhibition), and styles (jazzy chords in Piano Concerto)
    • Notable works include Boléro, Daphnis et Chloé 
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    Bruno Walter

    • Considered one of the best conductors of the 20th century
    • Escaped Nazi Germany and went to California
    • Worked closely with Mahler and bared a similar musical resemblance
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    Manuel De Falla

    • Spanish composer and pianist
    • Considered the most distinguished Spanish composer of the 20th century for composing works inspired by native Spanish church music, folk music, and native opera (“zarzuela”)
    • Notable works include The Three-Cornered Hat and Nights in the Gardens of Spain
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    Béla Bartók

    • Hungarian composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist
    • Collected and analyzed study of folk music and was one of the founders of comparative musicology, which later became ethnomusicology
    • Notable works include his Concerto for Orchestra, Mikrokosmos (for piano), his opera Bluebeard’s Castle, and his Viola Concerto
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    Igor Stravinsky

    • Russian composer, pianist and conductor, later of French and American citizenship
    • Composed in very different styles throughout his life and had 3 distinct compositional periods: Russian period, neoclassical period, and serial period
    • Revolutionized the way subsequent composers viewed rhythmic structure
    • Most notable works are The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring
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    Percy Grainger

    • Australian composer, arranger, and pianist
    • Played a prominent role in the revival of interest in British folk music
    • His most famous work is a piano arrangement of folk song Country Gardens
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    Anton Webern

    • Austrian composer and conductor; was the most radical composer of Second Viennese School in his use of atonal and 12 tone compositional techniques
    • Pushed forth a new sound that would later develop into serialism and avant-garde music in Europe
    • Notable works includes the Six Bagatelles for string quartet, Passacaglia for Orchestra
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    Edgard Varèse

    • French composer, later known as the "Father of Electronic Music"
    • Coined the term "organized sound" as he experimented with timbre and rhythm and posed the question, "what is music but organized noises?"
    • Founded the International Composers' Guild
    • His piece Ionisation is written for 13 percussionists and includes the use of a siren
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    Alban Berg

    • Austrian composer of the Second Viennese School
    • Combined Romantic lyricism with the 12 tone technique
    • Studied with Schoenberg
    • His opera Wozzeck is considerably one of the most important operas of the 20th century, using unconventional rhythmic and melodic fragments to portray Wozzeck's madness
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    Sergey Prokofiev

    • Russian Neoclassical composer, pianist, and conductor who later worked in the Soviet Union
    • Studied under Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov
    • Lived in Stalinist Russia, his works were denounced by the Russian government which was a massive blow to his career
    • Notable works include Romeo and Juliet, Peter and the Wolf, and Lieutenant Kijé
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    Darius Milhaud

    • French composer, conductor, teacher, and a member of the Les Six
    • Compositions are influenced by jazz and Brazilian music and make extensive use of polytonality
    • Considered one of the key modernist composers who taught many significant composers including Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis
    • Notable works include La création du monde
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    Paul Hindemith

    • German composer, music theorist, violist
    • Advocated for Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) in the 1920s as a reaction against expressionism
    • Wrote Gebrauchsmusik (Music for Use)—compositions intended to have a social or political purpose and sometimes written to be played by amateurs
    • Used forms from the Renaissance and Baroque Era and modernized them
    • Notable works include Symphony in B-flat for concert band and his opera Mathis der Maler
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    Erich Korngold

    • Austrian-born American composer and conductor
    • Dubbed the “Father of the Film Score” and was one of the originators of the genre of grand film music
    • Notable works include his reorchestration of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, music for The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and his Violin Concerto
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    George Gershwin

    • American composer and pianist
    • Blended the forms and techniques of classical music with elements of popular song and jazz
    • Notable works include An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue, and his opera Porgy and Bess
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    Francis Poulenc

    • French composer and pianist
    • One of the composers in Les Six, who reacted strongly against German Romanticism and French Impressionism
    • Notable works include his opera Dialogues des Carmélites and Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani
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    Duke Ellington

    • American jazz pianist, composer, and leader of his jazz orchestra
    • Was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance
    • Transcended the boundaries of pop music, jazz, and classical genres
    • Elevated jazz to be recognized as a legitimate form of music
    • Notable works include Take the "A" Train and the Black, Brown, and Beige suite
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    Kurt Weill

    • Jewish, German-born American composer
    • Like Hindemith, he held the ideal of writing music that served a socially useful purpose, Gebrauchsmusik
    • Wrote The Threepenny Opera, which included the ballad "Mack the Knife"
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    Aaron Copland

    • American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later a conductor of his own and other American music
    • Incorporated aspects of American folk music into his works, establishing a truly "American" sound and symphonic style
    • Won Pulitzer Prize for composition “Appalachian Spring” (1944)
    • Other notable works are Fanfare for the Common Man, Billy the Kid, and El Salón México
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    Harry Partch

    • American composer, music theorist
    • Composed using scales of unequal intervals in just intonation; invented a 43-note scale and made his own instruments
    • Was one of the first 20th-century composers in the West to work systematically with microtonal scales, alongside Lou Harrison
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    Dmitri Shostakovich

    • Soviet-era Russian composer and pianist
    • His music is characterized by sharp contrasts, elements of the grotesque, and ambivalent tonality; he was also heavily influenced by neoclassicism and by the late Romanticism of Mahler
    • Was subject to the pressures of Stalinist Russia, brought back to more traditional Western style
    • Used musical quotations often and his DSCH motif
    • Notable works include Symphony No. 5, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Festive Overture
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    Olivier Messiaen

    • French composer, organist, teacher, and ornithologist (an expert on birds)
    • Inspired by diverse influences, including Japanese music, the landscape of Bryce Canyon in Utah, Roman Catholic theology, Indonesian gamelan, and birdsong
    • His distinguished pupils included Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen,
    • Composed Quartet for the End of Time in 1953 in a German POW camp for the four instruments available in the prison: piano, violin, cello and clarinet
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    John Cage

    • American composer and music theorist, and one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde.
    • A major pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments
    • Advanced the conversation of the question, “what is music?”
    • Most notable work is “4’33””
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    Benjamin Britten

    • English composer, conductor, and pianist; was a central figure of 20th-century British music and best-known for his substantial operatic output
    • Influenced by Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven
    • Recurring themes in his operas include the struggle of an outsider against a hostile society and the corruption of innocence
    • Composed opera Peters Grimes and the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra for the short educational film "Instruments of the Orchestra"
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    Lou Harrison

    • American composer, music critic, music theorist, painter
    • A pioneer in the use of alternate tunings, world music influences, and new instruments
    • Inspired by Henry Cowell and Indonesian gamelan
    • Notable works include the opera Rapunzel and Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan
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    György Ligeti

    • Hungarian-Austrian avant-grade classical composer, "one of the most innovative and influential among progressive figures of his time"
    • Developed the term micropolyphony, a compositional technique he used in his composition Atmosphères
    • Influenced by his relationship with Stockhausen
    • Other notable works include Lux Aeterna and opera Le Grand Macabre
    • His music is often used in film soundtracks, including Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey
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    Pierre Boulez

    • French composer, conductor and writer, and the founder of several musical institutions; considered one of the dominant figures of post-war Western classical music
    • Influences include Messian, Leibowitz, and Schoenberg
    • He was a leading figure in avant-garde music, integral serialism (1950s), controlled chance music (1960s) and the electronic transformation of instrumental music in real time (1970s onwards)
    • Most notable work is his Piano Sonata No. 2
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    Morton Feldman

    • American composer
    • Experimented with non-traditional notation, improvisation, and timbre, and was a huge pioneer of indeterminate music
    • Worked with John Cage
    • Used stillness and silence in his music
    • Notable works include Piano Piece 1952 and For Bunita Marcus
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    Karlheinz Stockhausen

    • German Composer known for controversial electronic music and serial compositions
    • Known for his groundbreaking work in electronic music, for introducing controlled chance (aleatory techniques) into serial composition, and for musical spatialization -Composed series of nineteen Klavierstücke (Piano Pieces)
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    Tōru Takemitsu

    • Japanese composer and writer on aesthetics and music theory
    • Was first made conscious of Western classical music during his term of military service
    • Heavily inspired by Cage and used indeterminate procedures and graphic-score notation
    • Combined Eastern and Western music and philosophy
    • Scored more than 90 films
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    Bernard Herrmann

    • American composer, often referred to as a “music-dramatist” as he wrote mainly for opera and film
    • Was a passionate advocate for music being widely accessible, was heavily involved with both radio and television broadcasting of musical programs
    • Championed composer Charles Ives through his programs
    • Wrote the score for the American Horror film Psycho (1960)
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    La Monte Young

    • American composer, musician, and performance artist
    • Recognized as one of the first American minimalist composers and a central figure in Fluxus and post-war avant-garde music
    • Best known for his exploration of sustained tones, beginning with his 1958 composition Trio for Strings
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    Steve Reich

    • American composer who pioneered minimalism in the mid to late 1960s
    • His work is characterized by repetitive figures, slow harmonic rhythm, and canons
    • Influenced by Terry Riley’s “In C”
    • Composed “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Music for 18 Musicians”
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    Philip Glass

    • American minimalist composer and pianist known for bridging the gap between classical and everyday music
    • Influenced by everything from Classical music, relevant minimalist composers, and to David Bowie
    • His music is characterized by repetitive phrases and shifting layers
    • Notable works include Einstein on the Beach, Metamorphosis, and Music in 12 Parts
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    John Adams

    • American composer rooted in minimalism and contemporary classical music
    • Developed from the minimalist tradition of Steve Reich and Philip Glass but also is influenced by the immense orchestral textures and climaxes of late Romantic styles of Wagner and Mahler -Composed opera Nixon in China (1977) and Harmonielehre