MUS 212 Study Guide N (Chapter 15)
Twentieth-Century Music ...
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- Contemporary Period:
Concurrent with the surge of Post-Romantic and Impressionistic
music, several newer and quite different styles began to surface,
which are generally grouped together as contemporary music.
Composers at the forefront of this movement were: Arnold
Schoenberg (1874-1951), Charles Ives (1874-1954), Bela Bartok
(1881-1945) and Igor Stravinsky (1882- 1971).
- Some composers maintained tertian structures, but abandoned
functional harmony. Others experimented with chords constructed
in 4ths or 5ths, or combinations of several intervals.
Some preserved tonality while others favored atonality.
Some experimented with dividing the octave into more than 12
different pitches per octave, resulting in the development of microtonal
- Primitivism: Provided a contrast to the refined music of
composers such as Debussy and Ravel. Rhythm was the primary
structural element of this music. Driving rhythms were
combined with simple and clearly defined melodies that operated
within a narrow pitch range. Sharp percussive effects with
thick chords and much parallel movement typified the style.
- Neoclassicism: The music sought to return to the classical
values of symmetry and balance while maintaining the newer tonal
materials of the 20th century. (Hindemith, Stravinsky).
Characteristics of 20th-Century Music
- Modal derivations are common. Usually a mode is merely
suggested, rather than featured. Fragments of more than one
mode may be used.
- The example on p. 386 indicates the use of G Dorian (G A Bb
C D E F G) as well as Bb Lydian (Bb C D E F G A Bb).
Note that these "relative modes" use the same scale
tones, just as Bb major and G minor are relative.
- Simultaneous use of two modes is referred to as bimodality
or dual modality.
- Nontonal Melodic Lines:
- 20th-century melodic writing often is not based on any
traditional scale constructions or any system of keys and their
traditional relationships. Often melodies are chromatic
with only slight implications of tonal construction.
- 20th-century practice allows melodic doubling at any
interval. In that the secondary melodic line does not have
to conform to the "key" of the primary line, a line
may be doubled at a fixed interval which allows cross
relations. E.g., an F# in the primary line may
occur as an F-natural in the secondary line.
Meter and Rhythm
- The regularly recurring accents and measure lengths typical of
the common practice period are still found in much of the music
written since 1900. A number of new trends may be noted,
- The degree to which syncopation or displaced accents is
exploited in some compositions may create a feeling of mixed
- In some compositions, composers have returned to principles of
rhythmic and metric structures found in 16th-century
compositions by avoiding a meter signature and bar lines
- 20th-century music makes extensive use of irregular metric
structures, which is usually noted in one of two ways:
A single time signature precedes regularly recurring bar
lines, with the actual metrical accents to be determined by the
performer. See p. 392 for illustration.
Or, the meter changes are shown as successive changes in
actual time signatures.
- New meter signatures are common in 20th-century music.
Besides the numerators 5 and 7 appearing in time signatures,
almost any number may appear.
- Also, various designations for alternating meters or irregular
groupings within the measure are common:
- Fractional meters are even possible:
- Polymeter: The use of two or more meters simultaneously
has been used by many composers.
- Jazz rhythmic patterns have been incorporated into 20th-century
art music by some composers. See pp. 396-397.
- A multitude of new chordal combinations have been utilized in
the 20th century.
- Modal melodies may be harmonized with chords of traditional
- Superimposed triads (Polychords), consisting of two or
more triads, 7th chords or other structures are sounded
simultaneously and spaced far enough apart to make each
recognizable as a separate entity.
- Polytonality: Use of two or more tonalities at
the same time. Use of two tonalities simultaneously is
often called bitonality.
- Other chord types:
- Both 7th chords and chords built
in 7ths occur.
- Secundal harmonies (chords built
in 2nds) occur.
- Pandiatonicism: Use of the
tones of a diatonic scale in such a way that each tone is stripped
of its traditional function in the key. Tonal basis:
- Absence of functional harmony,
- Use of all seven tones,
- Thick harmonies,
- No chromaticism.
- Shifted Tonality: Sudden
change of tonality without preparation.
- Free Tonality:
- No conventional mode or key is
- A clear tonal center is
- Any combination of the 12 tones
may be used,
- Traditional functioning of the
diatonic tones of a key based on that same tonal center is
minimized or avoided entirely,
- Dominant-tonic relationship of key-centered tonality is
- Quartal/quintal Chords: Common in 20th-century music.
Analysis of 20th-century music: The diversity of styles of
music of this period resists analysis using any single system.
Several systems have been devised, but none appear to be perfectly
suited to all styles of music. Some of these systems will
be discussed in 3rd-year Form and Analysis, along with 12-tone music.
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