20th-century music: Wikis


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A revolution occurred in 20th century music listening as the radio gained popularity worldwide, and new media and technologies were developed to record, capture, reproduce and distribute music. Because music was no longer limited to concerts, opera-houses, clubs, and domestic music-making, it became possible for music artists to quickly gain fame nationwide and sometimes worldwide. Conversely, audiences were able to be exposed to a wider range of music than ever before, giving rise to the phenomenon of world music. Music performances became increasingly visual with the broadcast and recording of music videos and concerts. Music of all kinds also became increasingly portable. Copyright laws were strengthened, but new technologies such as file sharing also made it easier to record and reproduce copyrighted music illegally.

Twentieth-century music brought new freedom and wide experimentation with new musical styles and forms that challenged the accepted rules of music of earlier periods. Faster modes of transportation allowed musicians and fans to travel more widely to perform or listen. Amplification permitted giant concerts to be heard by those with the least expensive tickets, and the inexpensive reproduction and transmission or broadcast of music gave rich and poor alike nearly equal access to high quality music performances.



Composer Igor Stravinsky as drawn by Picasso

In the early twentieth century many composers, including Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss, Giacomo Puccini, and Edward Elgar, continued to work in forms and in a musical language that derived from the nineteenth century. However, modernism in music became increasingly prominent and important; among the most important modernist precursors were Alexander Skryabin, Claude Debussy, and the post-Wagnerian composers such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, who experimented with form, tonality and orchestration.[1] Busoni, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Schreker were already recognized before 1914 as modernists, and Ives was retrospectively also included in this category for his challenges to the uses of tonality.[1] Others such as Francis Poulenc and the group of composers known as Les Six wrote music in opposition to the Impressionistic and Romantic ideas of the time.[citation needed] Composers such as Ravel, Milhaud, and Gershwin combined classical and jazz idioms. Others, such as Prokofiev, Hindemith, Shostakovich, and Villa-Lobos expanded the romantic palette to include more dissonant elements.[citation needed]

Late-Romantic nationalism was found also in British, American, and Latin-American music of the early twentieth century. Composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Aaron Copland, Carlos Chávez, and Heitor Villa-Lobos used folk themes collected by themselves or others in many of their major compositions.

Many composers sought to break from traditional performance rituals by incorporating theater and multimedia into their compositions, going beyond sound itself to achieve their artistic goals.

Some composers were quick to adopt developing electronic technology. As early as the 1930s, composers such as Olivier Messiaen incorporated electronic instruments into live performance. Recording technology was used to produce art music, as well. The musique concrète of the late 1940s and 1950s was produced by editing together natural and industrial sounds. Steve Reich created music by manipulating tape recordings of people speaking, and later went on to compose process music for traditional instruments based on such recordings.[citation needed] Other notable pioneers of electronic music include Edgard Varèse, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, and Milton Babbitt. As more electronic technology matured, so did the music. Late in the century, the personal computer began to be used to create art music. In one common technique, a microphone is used to record live music, and a program processes the music in real time and generates another layer of sound. Pieces have also been written algorithmically based on the analysis of large data sets.

Minimalism, involving a simplification of materials and intensive repetition of motives began in the late 1950s with the composers Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. Later, minimalism was adapted to a more traditional symphonic setting by composers including Reich, Glass, and John Adams. Minimalism was practiced heavily throughout the latter half of the century and has carried over into the 21st century, as well as composers like Arvo Pärt, Henryk Górecki and John Tavener working in the holy minimalism variant. For more examples see List of 20th century classical composers.

Contemporary classical music

In the broadest sense, contemporary music is any music being written in the present day. In the context of classical music the term is informally applied to music written in the last half century or so, particularly works post-1960, though standard reference works do not consistently follow this definition. Since it is a word that describes a movable time frame, rather than a particular style or unifying idea, there are no universally agreed on criteria for making these distinctions.

Many composers working the early 21st century were prominent figures in the 20th century. Some younger composers such as Oliver Knussen, Thomas Adès, and Michael Daugherty did not rise to prominence until late in the 20th century. For more examples see List of 21st century classical composers.

Folk music

Folk music(music for old people and slags), in the original sense of the term as coined in the eighteenth century by Johann Gottfried Herder, is music produced by communal composition and possessing dignity, though by the late nineteenth century the concept of ‘folk’ had become a synonym for ‘nation’, usually identified as peasants and rural artisans, as in the Merrie England movement and the Irish and Scottish Gaelic Revivals of the 1880s.[2] Folk music arose, and best survives, in societies not yet affected by mass communication and the commercialization of culture. It normally was shared and performed by the entire community (not by a special class of expert or professional performers, possibly excluding the idea of amateurs), and was transmitted by word of mouth (oral tradition).

During the second half of the twentieth century, the term folk music took on a third meaning: it describes a particular kind of popular music which is culturally descended from or otherwise influenced by traditional folk music, such as with The Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Neil Young, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Mamas & the Papas, The Brothers Four and other singers. This music, in relation to popular music, is marked by a greater musical simplicity, acknowledgment of tradition, frequent socially conscious lyrics, and is similar to country, bluegrass, and other genres in style.

In addition, folk was also borrowed by composers in other genres. The work of Aaron Copland clearly draws on American folk music. In addition, Paul Simon has drawn from both the folk music of Peru and South Africa, and was clearly instrumental in increasing the popularity of groups such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, although it is arguable that The Tokens' The Lion Sleeps Tonight is the first example of such a crossover. The Indian sitar clearly influenced George Harrison and others.

However, many native musical forms have also found themselves overwhelmed by the variety of new music. Western classical music from prior to the 20th century is arguably more popular now than it ever has been even as modern classical forms struggle to find an audience. Rock and Roll has also had an effect on native musical forms, although many countries such as Germany, Japan and Canada all have their own thriving native rock and roll scenes that have often found an audience outside their home market.

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Bluegrass Music

Bluegrass was started in the late 1930s by Bill Monroe. Performers such as Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt who were originally members of Monroe's Blue Grass Boys further developed this style of music.

Popular music

Popular music, sometimes abbreviated pop music (although the term "pop" is used in some contexts as a more specific musical genre), is music belonging to any of a number of musical styles that are broadly popular or intended for mass consumption and wide commercial distribution—in other words, music that forms part of popular culture.

Madonna, one of the most influential pop artists of the 20th century

Popular music dates at least as far back as the mid-19th century. In the United States, much of it evolved from folk music and black culture. It includes Broadway tunes, ballads and singers such as Frank Sinatra.

The relationship (particularly, the relative value) of classical music and popular music is a controversial question. Richard Middleton writes:

Neat divisions between "folk" and "popular", and "popular" and "art", are impossible to find... arbitrary criteria [are used] to define the complement of "popular". "Art" music, for example, is generally regarded as by nature complex, difficult, demanding; "popular" music then has to be defined as "simple", "accessible", "facile". But many pieces commonly thought of as "art" (Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus", many Schubert songs, many Verdi arias) have qualities of simplicity; conversely, it is by no means obvious that the Sex Pistols' records were "accessible", Frank Zappa's work "simple", or Billie Holiday's "facile".[3]

Moreover, composers such as Scott Joplin, George Gershwin and Andrew Lloyd Webber tried to cater to both popular and high brow tastes. Composers as varied as Mozart and Arthur Sullivan had no difficulty in catering to popular taste when it was required, although their credentials as serious composers are also unchallenged.[citation needed] Likewise, electronic instruments and styles were incorporated into some classical pieces.

Alternative rock

Originally coined as a catch all term for the various underground styles of rock music in the 1980s, independent of the mainstream pop music industry, alternative rock drew influence primarily from Punk rock, Post-punk and New Wave; though many of its subgenres drew from influences as wide as Psychedelic rock and Jazz, and notably The Velvet Underground were a formative influence. Other genres would use Alternative rock influences, such as Alternative metal.

Other subgenres of Alternative rock include: Shoegazing, Dream pop, Gothic rock, Post rock and the so-called "Indie rock".


Blues singer Bessie Smith

Blues is a vocal and instrumental musical form which evolved from African American spirituals, shouts, work songs and chants and has its earliest stylistic roots in West Africa. Blues has been a major influence on later American and Western popular music, finding expression in ragtime, jazz, big bands, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and country music, as well as conventional pop songs and even modern classical music.

Blues was often relegated to the status of race music in its early days due to caucasian Americans not wishing to listen to music which was thought to be linked to African Americans. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, W.C. Handy took blues across the tracks and made it respectable, even "high-toned."[citation needed]

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Country music

Country music, once known as Country and Western music, is a popular musical form developed in the southern United States, with roots in traditional folk music, spirituals, and the blues.

Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nation-wide hit (May 1924, with "The Wreck Of Old '97").

Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family were amongst the earler performers of country music, and their songs were first captured at an historic recording session in Bristol, Tennessee on August 1, 1927, where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist.[citation needed]

Country music also received an unexpected boost from new technologies. When ASCAP, which was dominated by Tin Pan Alley composers feared competition from broadcast music, they stopped licensing their copyrights to radio stations. Their replacement, BMI, was dominated by country artists and gave the genre a much wider audience.[citation needed]


Trumpeter, bandleader and singer Louis Armstrong, known internationally as the "Ambassador of Jazz," was a much-imitated innovator of early jazz.

Tap is a musical art form characterized by blue notes, syncopation, swing, call and response, polyrhythms, and improvisation. It has been called the first original art form to develop in the United States of America and partakes of both popular and classical musics.

It has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, in African American music traditions, including blues and ragtime, and European military band music. After originating in African-American communities around the beginning of the 20th century, jazz gained international popularity by the 1920s.

Jazz has also evolved into many sometimes contrasting subgenres including jazz and free jazz.

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Rock and roll

Main articles: Rock and roll, Rock music.

Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in America in the 1950s, though elements of rock and roll can be seen in rhythm and blues records as far back as the 1920s. Early rock and roll combined elements of blues, boogie woogie, jazz and rhythm and blues, and is also influenced by traditional Appalachian folk music, gospel and country and western.[citation needed]

Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley were notable performers in the 1950s. The Beatles were part of the "British invasion" of the USA in the 1960s.

In 1951 the words "rock, roll" were used in a song called "60 Minute Man", which was banned due to its implications.[citation needed] By 1953 such ballads as "Earth Angel" and "Gee" were played by notable disc jockeys in Cleveland and New York as Allen Freed and Murray the K.[citation needed] By 1956, Dick Clark had one of several popular Television programs "American Bandstand" to show teenagers dancing to the new kind of music aimed especially at teens and adolescents.[citation needed]

Rock music can be as carefully crafted as a song by Queen, or an album produced by Phil Spector, or as straightforward as a three-chord composition by The Ramones, or as poetic as a song written by Bob Dylan.[citation needed] See rock musical and rock opera.

Progressive rock

Progressive rock band Yes performing in Indianapolis in 1977.

Progressive rock was a movement to incorporate the more complex structures and instrumentation of jazz and classical music into the limitations of Rock and Roll. Mainly a European movement, it started in the UK in the 1960s with bands like King Crimson, Yes and Genesis and reached its peak popularity during the early 1970s, when albums like Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" and Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" dominated the charts. Progressive metal (a fusion of heavy metal and progressive rock) later became popular with bands such as Dream Theater.

Major characteristics were long compositions, complex lyrics, a wide range of instruments, unusual time signatures, and the inclusion of long solo passages for different instruments.

Punk rock

The Clash, performing in 1980

Punk rock was originally a style of hard rock played at fast speeds with simple lyrics and simple chord arrangements, which originated in the mid 1970s, with acts like Television, the Ramones, Patti Smith and the Sex Pistols. The main instruments used were electric guitar, electric bass, and drums.

By the 1980s, the genre had evolved into hardcore (even faster songs with shouted lyrics), New Wave (more pop influenced & used electronic keyboards) and post punk (a more experimental form of punk rock); these genres further evolved into psychobilly (a fusion of punk rock and rockabilly), ska punk (a fusion with ska), grunge (a mix of punk rock and alternative rock), pop punk (a development of punk rock with cleaner sounds), gothic rock (darker sounding with introverted lyrics) & many more genres. Punk Rock had a resounding effect on many genres of rock music.

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Originating in Jamaica in the late 1960s, reggae was brought into British mainstream throughout the 1970s, most notably with bob marley's cover of 'I Shot the Sheriff'.[citation needed] Through John Peel's efforts and Reggae's fusion with Punk Rock the genre became widely popular in the late 1970s.[citation needed]

Toots & the Maytals, UB40, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley provided Reggae with its greatest hits in the mainstream music charts.[citation needed]

Heavy metal

Heavy metal band Metallica in performance

Heavy metal's origins lie in hard rock bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, who between 1967 and 1974 took blues and rock and created a hybrid with a heavy, guitar and drums centered sound. They were soon followed by bands like Aerosmith, AC/DC, Queen, Kiss, Van Halen, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden who have heavily influenced the genre.[citation needed] Though not as commercially successful as it was, heavy metal still has a large worldwide following, especially in underground music.[citation needed]

Some subgenres brought about through either natural evolution or the convergence of metal with other genres include, but are not limited to Thrash metal, Power metal, Death metal, Symphonic metal, Nu metal, Black metal, Doom metal and Metalcore.


Soul music is fundamentally rhythm and blues, which grew out of the African-American gospel and blues traditions during the late 1950s and early 1960s in the United States. Over time, much of the broad range of R&B extensions in African-American popular music, generally, also has come to be considered soul music. Traditional soul music usually features individual singers backed by a traditional band consisting of rhythm section and horns, as exemplified by Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding.


Funk is a distinct style of music originated by African-Americans, e.g., James Brown and his band members (especially Maceo and Melvin Parker), George Clinton, and groups like The Meters, Sly & the Family Stone and Tower Of Power. Funk best can be recognized by its syncopated rhythms; thick bass line (often based on an "on the one" beat); razor-sharp rhythm guitars; chanted or hollered vocals (as that of Cameo or the Bar-Kays); strong, rhythm-oriented horn sections; prominent percussion; an upbeat attitude; African tones; danceability; and strong jazzy influences (e.g., as in the music of Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Eddie Harris, and others).


Salsa music is a diverse and predominantly Caribbean rhythm that is popular in many Latin countries. The word is the same as the salsa meaning sauce. However, the term has been used by Cuban immigrants in New York analogously to swing.[4]


Disco is an up-tempo style of dance music that originated in the early 1970's, mainly from funk, salsa, and soul music, popular originally with gay and black audiences in large U.S. cities, and derives its name from the French word discothèque (meaning nightclub).

Hip Hop and Rap

Hip hop music is traditionally composed of two main elements: rapping (also known as MC'ing, a vocal style involving rapid speech with alliteration, assonance and rhyming) and DJing, and arose when disc jockeys (DJs) began isolating and repeating the percussion break from funk or disco songs. Hip Hop was originally seen as a fad, but has become one of the most successful modern music genres.[citation needed]

Subgenres/periods of history in Hip Hop include: Old school hip hop, New school hip hop, the so called "Gangsta rap", Underground hip hop, Alternative hip hop and Crunk/Snap music. Hip hop has an associated culture which has become very prominent in western popular culture.[citation needed] See Hip Hop culture.

Electronic music

The 20th century brought the first truly innovative instrument in centuries—the theremin.[citation needed] For centuries before, music had either been created by singing, drawing a bow across or plucking taught gut or metal strings (string instruments), constricting vibrating air (woodwinds and brass) or hitting or stroking something (percussion). The theremin, which operated by interrupting a magnetic field around the instrument, did not even have to be touched to produce a tone. It found use both as an instrument for scoring movies (Forbidden Planet) and in rock and roll (The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations).

In the years following World War II, electronic music was embraced by progressive composers as a way to exceed the limits of traditional instruments. Although electronic music began in the world of classical composition, by the 1960s Wendy Carlos had popularized electronic music through the use of the synthesizer developed by Robert Moog with two notable albums The Well-Tempered Synthesizer and Switched-On Bach.[citation needed]

In the 1970s the film industry also began to make extensive use of electronic soundtracks. From the late 1970s onward, much popular music was developed on synthesizers by pioneering groups like Heaven 17, The Human League, Art of Noise, and New Order.

The development of the techno sound in Detroit, Michigan and house music in Chicago, Illinois in the early to late 1980s, and the later new beat and acid house movements of the late 1980s and early 1990s all fuelled the development and acceptance of electronic music into the mainstream and introduced electronic dance music to nightclubs.[citation needed]

Subgenres include, but are not limited to, a variety of dance oriented music (Techno, Trance, Goa, House, Drum and Bass, Jungle, Break Beats) as well as IDM, Trip Hop, Ambient, Dark Wave, and Experimental. The lines between electronic subgeneres can be fuzzy and some of these may be considered redundant or further subgenres themselves.

World music

To begin with, all the various musics listed in the 1980s under the broad category of world music were folk forms from all around the world, grouped together in order to make a greater impact in the commercial music market. Since then, however, world music has both influenced and been influenced by many different genres like hip hop, pop, and jazz. The term is usually used for all music made in a traditional way and outside of the Anglo-Saxon world, thus encompassing music from Africa, Latin America, and parts of Europe, and music by not native English speakers in Anglo-Saxon countries, like Native Americans or Indigenous Australians.

World-music radio programs these days will often be playing African or reggae artists, crossover Bhangra, Cretan Music and Latin American jazz groups, etc.

New Age music

Electronic and world music, together with progressive rock and religious music are the elements from which new age music has developed. Works within this genre tend to be predominantly peaceful in overall style but with an emphasis on energy and gentle vibrancy. Pieces are composed to aid meditation, to energise yoga, tai chi and exercise sessions or to encourage connections to the planet Earth (in the sense of a spiritual concept of Mother Earth or, perhaps Gaia). There are also new-age compositions which sit equally comfortably in the world music category.

Enthusiasts of new-age music generally share a set of core common understandings including a belief in the spirit and in the ability to change the world for the better in peaceful ways.

Popular new-age artists of the 20th century include Suzanne Ciani, Enya, Yanni, Kitaro, George Winston (solo piano), and many more. Labels include Private Music, Windham Hill, Narada, Higher Octave among others. Private Music and Windham Hill later merged into the BMG group and reorganized under RCA/Victor, while Narada joined with Higher Octave and EMI.

See also


  1. ^ a b Botstein 2001.
  2. ^ Pegg 2001.
  3. ^ Middleton 1990,.
  4. ^ Jones and Kantonen 1999,.


  • Botstein, Leon. 2001. "Modernism". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
  • Cook, Nicholas, and Anthony Pople. 2004. The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521662567
  • Jones, Alan, and Jussi Kantonen. 1999. Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco. Edinburgh and London: Mainstream. ISBN 184018177X (Revised and updated edition, Edinburgh and London: Mainstream, 2005. ISBN 184596067X.)
  • Kennedy, Michael, and Joyce Bourne (eds.). 2006. The Oxford Dictionary of Music, 2nd edition, revised. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198614594
  • Lee, Douglas A. 2002. Masterworks of Twentieth-Century Music: The Modern Repertory of the Symphony Orchestra. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415938465 ISBN 0415938473
  • Middleton, Richard. 1990. Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15276-7
  • Morgan, Robert P. 1991. Twentieth-Century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 039395272X
  • Pegg, Carole. 2001. "Folk Music". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
  • Rubin, Rachel, and Jeffrey Paul Melnick. 2001. American Popular Music: New Approaches to the Twentieth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 1558492674 ISBN 1558492682
  • Salzman, Eric. 2002. Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction, 4th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0130959413
  • Whitall, Arnold. 2003. Exploring Twentieth-Century Music: Tradition and Innovation. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521816424 ISBN 0521016681

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