The Contemporary Period (1900- ?)
The bridge to the Contemporary period was formed during the last quarter of the nineteenth century through a new painting movement called Impressionism. About 1870 a group of French painters ( Monet, Renoir, Degas etc.) rejected the accepted Romanticism in favour of a new style that sought to portray art as the artist’s impression of a subject.
Composers like Debussy (1862-1918) and Ravel (1875-1937) portrayed musically these innovations in art and poetry being made by the likes of Mallarme and Verlaine. The bridge to the Contemporary period was formed during the last quarter of the nineteenth century through the new painting movement known as ‘others’. New sonorities in orchestration and piano music developed which often incorporated extra musical material from art and literature, sometimes containing non-Western melodies and rhythms, introduced new scales (whole- tone, modes) and chord uses. They used unresolved dissonances to portray a veiled illusionary effect.
Twentieth century music reflects the influences of art and literature in a mechanistic, atomic age. The emergence of pleasant sounding, pastel-coloured Impressionistic music led to experiments with twelve-tone music. (Schoenberg) This produced cerebral, atonal, often angular and disjointed musical effects. Other twentieth century musical experiments are with electronic music. Influences such as electronically amplified instruments and jazz, rock, and popular elements are associated with this period.
Within this “modern” era, there are great style variations from Post-Romanticism (Mahler, Rachmaninoff) to Impressionism, to new concepts of melodic tonality-rhythm expressed in the music of Bartok, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Copland, Shostakovich, Barber and Gorecki.
Some general characteristics of Contemporary Music are:
(Contemporary compositions vary widely, so this is not a complete list; and not all these characteristics are present in every composition.)
1. Fewer lyrical melodies than the music of former periods.
2. Dissonant harmonies.
3. Complex rhythms.
5. Greater use of woodwind, brass and percussion instruments than in music of earlier periods.
6. The use of synthetic and electronic sounds.
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