Timeline

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In previous centuries there were prevailing styles and forms of music. The Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras have their own set of conventions that composers followed. But the 20th century saw fragmentation as composers reacted and counter-reacted to the artistic expressions around them. Neoclassism is an example of such a reaction.

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Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf is an excellent example of the Russian composer’s style; modernist harmonic expression with accessible melodies and familiar forms. His life though, was far from a fairytale and chronicles the volatile changes in Russia and the world in the first half of the 20th century.

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June 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist. This incident quickly escalated into one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. The Great War, or World War I, saw the rise of revolutions and the death of 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians. The philosophy, technology and geography of the world were forever altered. The world of music was also affected as composers served in battle and sought to express their patriotism and also the true human cost of the conflict.

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In music, there have been defining moments that change the world. A single piece, even a single performance, sends shock waves through the entire art form and suddenly things are never the same. The 1913 premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was one such moment.

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No other composer in recent history was able to adapt to the changing styles of his time like Igor Stravinsky. He was a composer of international acclaim with ties to Russia, Switzerland, Germany, France and even Hollywood. During his long life he saw war, revolution and dynamic shifts in artistic expression. Nevertheless, he was always in touch with his own compositional voice. His music of any style or genre sounds like Stravinsky.

Timeline: Bela Bartok

Nov 14, 2016
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Bela Bartok was a composer, pianist and musicologist. He was so devoted to his studies and artistic pursuits that he stated, “If I would cross myself I would say ‘in the name of Nature, Art and Science.’” His compositions had both a nationalistic fervor and an adventurous spirit, pushing the boundaries of music in the 20th century.

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Charles Ives was an organist, a baseball player, an insurance salesman and a part-time composer. He was ahead of his time, and his compositions inspired a growing modernist movement in American music during the 20th century.

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Throughout music history there have been schools of thought and practice. These schools were collections of composers around an institution or geographic location that worked together in the pursuit of new musical expression. 

Arnold Schoenberg was a composer, teacher, music theorist and painter. He developed techniques of composition that turned music upside down and backwards. He was called an expressionist and the founder of atonalism and serialism, but regardless of what Schoenberg is called he is one of the pivotal figures of 20th century music.

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French composer, Maurice Ravel was short in stature, slight of frame, impeccably dressed and careful about his manner. He lived a private life, but perhaps you could have found him walking in the woods outside of Paris at night pondering music in his head. “It’s lucky I’ve managed to write music,” Ravel wrote, “because I know perfectly well I should have never been able to do anything else.”

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Art influences art. The work of one discipline can inform and inspire the work of another. In France, at the close of the 19th century, a movement known as impressionism left its mark on the world of visual art, literature and music.

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Once in a great while an artist steps on to the scene that challenges the status quo and changes the way we look at art forever. At the dawning of the 20th century, France saw several of these individuals. Stephane Mallarme’s symbolic poetry and Claude Monet’s impressionistic paintings helped pave the way for new expression in their art forms. In the world of music, Claude Debussy stands as that pivotal figure whose works ushered in new sounds and ideas.

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Of all the advancements of the 20th century, the advent of recording technology has affected the world of music like no other. For centuries, classical music was the privilege of the rich and powerful. It was relegated to the church, concert hall, opera house or salon. But today, we can access the masterpieces of any era, anytime, anywhere played by the world’s most talented musicians.

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At the dawning of the 20th century the world stood on the edge of immense change. No one could have guessed what the next hundred years would bring. Previous centuries saw most composers following specific aesthetic ideals, but music fractured in the 20th century like never before. In reality, we’re still trying to figure out where music goes from here.

Timeline is a project from VPR Classical, a service of Vermont Public Radio. It is intended to be an informative, entertaining overview of music history. This work will hopefully stir the curious on to study the subject further. Here we have provided a list of suggested reading.  It contains references and suggestions of how to go deeper.

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What would you do if you spent your childhood being declared the next Brahms or Wagner? Well, if you were composer Richard Strauss, you would rise to the occasion.

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The Scandinavian composer, Jean Sibelius wrote 7 symphonies, many symphonic poems and over 100 vocal songs. He was the voice of his homeland, Finland, at a time of great political upheaval and change.

Timeline: Amy Beach

Aug 29, 2016
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In the 19th century, composition was a man’s world. The stigma of being a female composer made it difficult for a woman’s work to be read or heard.  One woman helped to break through this glass ceiling and pave the way for a generation of female composers, her name was Amy Beach.

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For centuries, the region of Austro/Germany produced remarkably talented composers. You can follow a chain of names from Haydn to Mozart, from Beethoven to Mendelssohn and Brahms. One of the last great composers of this line was Gustav Mahler.

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The music of composer Edvard Grieg has become synonymous with his homeland, Norway. Grieg brought the folk tunes and artistic sensibility of Scandinavia to the world through his evocative music and extensive tours.

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