Desprez, Josquin (c. 1445–1521) Flemish Renaissance. Desprez wrote numerous Masses, motets, songs, and other sacred vocal works. His use of polyphony profoundly influenced other composers in the 16th century.

Dufay, Guillaume (c. 1400–1474) Flemish-French Renaissance. Dufay was a primary founder of early Flemish polyphony and also an important music teacher. He wrote many sacred works, including theMissa L’Homme Armé, and secular songs as well.

Machaut, Guillaume de (c. 1300–1377) French Medieval. Machaut, a pioneer in the musical revolution of Ars Nova, explored new approaches to polyphony, new forms, and secular music. He was one of the first composers to write a complete mass, including his Missa Notre Dame.

Monteverdi, Claudio (1567–1643) Italian Renaissance. Monteverdi helped secure a place for the newly invented form of opera. His music incorporated Renaissance polyphony and church idioms with the more dramatic expressive style of early opera. Works include the operas L’Incoronazione di Poppea and Orfeo, and many books of madrigals.

Palestrina, Giovanni (c. 1525–1594) Italian Renaissance. Palestrina’s music set a standard for 16th-century counterpoint, and his works for voice showed the highest level of craftsmanship and refinement for his era. Major works include the Masses Missa Papae Marcelli andMissa L’Homme Armé.

Pérotin (c. 1160–1240) French Medieval. Pérotin, one of the first composers to use polyphony, wrote sacred music for voice in the Ars Antiqua style. He is one of the first composers in history remembered by name.


Bach, Johann Sebastian (1685–1750) German Baroque. Bach’s compositional output was enormous in both quantity and quality. A master of counterpoint and craft in composing, he was known during his life primarily as an organist, for he served as Kapellmeister (music director) of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig along with other appointments. Several of Bach’s sons went on to become notable composers themselves. Works include the Brandenburg Concertos, Goldberg Variations, Mass in b minor, St. Matthew Passion, and numerous other works, including hundreds of cantatas.

Handel, George Frideric (1685–1759) German Baroque. Handel, along with Bach, was foremost among the Baroque composers. Handel found fame and success as a composer of operas and oratorios in England but wrote a great many instrumental works as well. He brought music of the stage to a new and higher level of sophistication and development. Works include instrumental concerti grossi, numerous operas and oratorios (including the Messiah), andWater Music.

Purcell, Henry (1659–1695) English Baroque. Purcell is known foremost for his opera Dido and Aeneas, the first major opera to be set in English. He also wrote extensively for theater.

Rameau, Jean-Philippe (1683–1764) French Baroque. An important composer in the French opera tradition, Rameau also composed a great deal of music for harpsichord.

Scarlatti, Domenico (1685–1757) Italian Baroque. Scarlatti composed more than 500 sonatas for harpsichord. His keyboard music brought a new level of virtuosity and technical innovation to the medium. Scarlatti’s father, Alessandro, was also an important composer who specialized in opera.

Vivaldi, Antonio (1678–1741) Italian Baroque. Although the prolific Vivaldi is known primarily for concertos in the Baroque style, he wrote many other instrumental pieces and sacred and secular vocal works, including 94 operas, numerous sonatas, and hundreds of concertos. Today, he is best known for his four violin concertos known collectively as The Four Seasons.


Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770–1827) German Classical/Romantic. Beethoven was a musical revolutionary who straddled the transition between the Classical and Romantic periods. He expanded the scope of music in countless ways and was a pioneer of musical language and form. Beethoven’s symphonies, concertos, and chamber music became a model for all Romantic composers to follow. His music features a wide range of expression and an innate dramatic sense. Beethoven spent much of his life in Vienna, where he grew to be famous and successful despite a condition of gradual deafness that became acute in the last years of his life. Works include nine symphonies (No. 3, Eroica; No. 6, Pastorale; No. 9, Choral), five piano concertos (No. 5, Emperor), 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, and one opera, Fidelio.

Haydn, Franz Joseph (1732–1809) Austrian-German Classical. Haydn, along with Mozart, was foremost among the composers of the Classical era. Haydn’s massive output over the course of his life did much to secure the position of major musical forms like the symphony, and he is considered the originator of the string quartet. Haydn spent a large part of his life in the service of the royal Esterházy family of Austria—a secluded composing environment in which he created surprising and inventive music. Haydn’s court appointment also taught him versatility, and he wrote for a large variety of vocal and instrumental ensembles. Works include concertos, Masses, 52 keyboard sonatas, 20 operas, dozens of string quartets, and 104 symphonies.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756–1791) Austrian Classical. Perhaps the greatest composer in music history, Mozart showed astonishing musical gifts as a child and wrote nine operas and more than 30 symphonies before the age of 20. His music, which synthesized many influences from his environment and his predecessors, masterfully combined melody, harmony, form, and quality of craft. Mozart’s instrumental works are fluid and idiomatic, and his music for voice extended the possibilities of vocal music in the Classical era. He made enormous contributions to chamber music, expanded the form of the symphony, and wrote a body of operas among the finest ever written. Mozart’s reputation grew to greater prominence after his untimely death at the age of 35. Works include a great number of chamber pieces; dozens of concertos; operas, including Don Giovanni, Così Fan Tutte, The Magic Flute, and The Marriage of Figaro; many sonatas; 41 symphonies (No. 35, Haffner; No. 38, Prague; No. 41,Jupiter); and sacred works and Masses, including a Requiem.


Berlioz, Hector (1803–1869) French Romantic. Berlioz was also a highly regarded conductor, music critic, and writer. His Symphonie Fantastique is a prime example of Romantic extremes of technique and expression.

Bizet, Georges (1838–1875) French Romantic. Bizet is known primarily for his opera Carmen, which remains one of the most popular operas ever written.

Brahms, Johannes (1833–1897) German Romantic. Brahms’s life and work were shaped by a lifelong relationship with Robert and Clara Schumann. Brahms is considered one of the masters of Western music and wrote in almost every medium with the exception of opera. His music is Classical formally, but his musical language is Romantic in character, and technique is often progressive for his time. Nonetheless, his contemporaries viewed him as having a place opposite that of the experimental methods of Liszt and Wagner. Both Brahms’s symphonic works and chamber music are considered to be the height of musical sophistication and craftsmanship. Works includeEin Deutsches Requiem, four symphonies, two piano concertos, and many chamber, vocal, and orchestral works.

Bruckner, Anton (1824–1896) Austrian Romantic. Bruckner is known primarily for his substantial symphonic output, although his religious music is significant as well. His music, influenced by Wagner, is based on rich and complicated chromatic harmony. Works include nine symphonies, Masses, and a Te Deum.

Chopin, Frédéric (1810–1849) Polish Romantic (though associated with France). One of the foremost composers for piano in history, Chopin explored possibilities on the instrument and greatly expanded its range of expression. Much of his written work consists of short pieces, although he did write some sonatas and concertos. Chopin’s piano music endures as some of the most popular in the piano repertoire. Works include numerous preludes, scherzos, nocturnes, etudes, polonaises, waltzes, and mazurkas.

Dvořák, Antonín (1841–1904) Czech Romantic. The foremost Czech composer, Dvořák incorporated nationalism into a late European Romantic musical language, creating music that mixed Czech folk idioms with influences from Brahms and Wagner. Dvořák’s later music was further influenced by a trip to the United States. Major works include nine symphonies (No. 9, From the New World), symphonic tone poems, operas, choral works, and many string quartets and chamber pieces.

Elgar, Edward (1857–1934) English Romantic. Elgar, considered one of the greatest English composers, wrote memorably melodic music steeped in British nationalism. Works include the Enigma Variations,the suite of military marches Pomp and Circumstance, and numerous other choral and orchestral pieces.

Fauré, Gabriel (1845–1924) French Romantic/Modern. A pupil of Saint-Saëns, Fauré began his career rooted in Romanticism but later experimented with tonality and harmony and followed Debussy’s lead in exploring the whole-tone scale. Fauré’s works, which span a broad range of forms and genres, include numerous song cycles and many works for piano.

Grieg, Edvard (1843–1907) Norwegian Romantic. The greatest and best known Norwegian composer, Grieg concentrated primarily on smaller forms and media, including many compositions for piano. Major works include the Holberg Suite, a piano concerto, and incidental music written to accompany Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt.

Liszt, Franz (1811–1886) Hungarian Romantic. Although Liszt was regarded as the best pianist of his day, his greatest legacies are his compositions and his support of other composers. Liszt’s musical language was daring and took an innovative approach to harmony. His piano music is sophisticated and virtuosic. Major works include the Faust Symphony, Hungarian Rhapsodies, Mephisto Waltz, and many pieces for piano, including important transcriptions of works by other composers.

Mahler, Gustav (1860–1911) Austrian Romantic/Modern. For many years, Mahler was known more as a great conductor than as a composer, but that changed in the mid-20th century as his fame grew for an outstanding body of symphonic works. His compositional style was highly individual and expressed a wide spectrum of emotion, from the personal and introspective to bombastic. Mahler’s musical language pushed the envelope of tonality with extreme chromaticism. As an orchestrator, Mahler is nearly without peer. Works include 10 symphonies of the grandest scale (No. 1, Titan; No. 2, Resurrection; No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand; No. 10, unfinished and since reconstructed), and songs for voice and orchestra, including Das Lied von der Erde and Kindertotenlieder.

Mendelssohn, Felix (1809–1847) German Romantic. Mendelssohn blended the complexity of expression of Romanticism with the form and elegance of Classicism. He was a hugely gifted musician who showed great compositional skill at a very young age. As a conductor, he revived the works of Bach. His sister Fanny was also a gifted musician. Works include music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Songs Without Words, five symphonies (No. 4, Italian), and many other vocal and instrumental works.

Mussorgsky, Modest (1839–1881) Russian Romantic. Mussorgsky, whose musical language was greatly influential to later composers, is known primarily for vocal music and opera, including Boris Godunov.Perhaps his best known work, however, is the set of piano piecesPictures at an Exhibition, which Ravel later orchestrated.

Puccini, Giacomo (1858–1924) Italian Romantic. Puccini was primarily an opera composer, and his works have endured in popularity. His music is highly emotional and subjective but technically well-crafted. Major works include the operas La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly,and Turandot.

Rachmaninov, Sergei (1873–1943) Russian Romantic/Modern. Rachmaninov achieved fame not only as a composer but also as one of the great concert pianists in history. His compositions are strongly rooted in 19th-century Romanticism and feature traditional harmony and long, lush melodic lines. Works include four piano concertos, three symphonies, 25 piano preludes, the tone poem Isle of the Dead,the theme-and-variations work Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,and many other orchestral and vocal pieces.

Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai (1844–1908) Russian Romantic/Modern. An influential composer in Russia, Rimsky-Korsakov was largely self-taught. His music is invested in nationalism and uses Russian subject matter and indigenous melody. He is known for his innovative and technically brilliant orchestrations. Works include The Golden Cockerel, Scheherazade, and important orchestrations of works by other composers.

Rossini, Gioachino (1792–1868) Italian Romantic. Rossini achieved great success in his own lifetime as a prolific composer of comedic operas. He is known today as much for the overtures to these operas as for the operas themselves. Operas include Guillaume Tell, L’Italiana in Algeri, and Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Saint-Saëns, Camille (1835–1921) French Romantic. Although Saint-Saëns lived well into the 20th century, he never adapted his music to Modern idioms but preferred instead to adhere to more traditional structures and musical language. Works include Introduction andRondo Capriccioso, concertos for piano and violin, three symphonies (No. 3, Organ), the opera Samson et Davila, the ensemble suiteCarnival of the Animals, the tone poem Danse Macabre, and many other works in a variety of forms and genres.

Schubert, Franz (1797–1828) Austrian Romantic. Schubert, one of the great masters of the common practice period, wrote prolifically despite his short life and is renowned for having one of the great lyrical gifts in music history. He is best known for his output of over 600 lieder (songs), but much of his chamber, orchestral, and choral music has endured as well. Works include 21 piano sonatas; 15 string quartets (No. 14, Death and the Maiden); nine symphonies (No. 8,Unfinished; No. 9, Great); six Masses; the song cycles Die Schöne Müllerin, Schwanengesang, and Winterreise; and an abundance of other works for chamber, stage, and solo performance.

Schumann, Robert (1810–1856) German Romantic. Schumann, a longtime mentor of Brahms, was considered a master of lyricism. Although Schumann wrote four symphonies, he emphasized miniature forms for piano, chamber ensembles, and voice. His wife, Clara, was herself a talented composer. Works include the piano pieces Carnaval, Kinderscenen, and Kreisleriana, and the song cycleDichterliebe.

Scriabin, Alexander (1872–1915) Russian Romantic/Modern. Scriabin wrote in a highly chromatic style, influenced initially by Chopin and Liszt and later by Scriabin’s own mystical philosophy, which manifested itself in his technique. His music for piano is demanding and highly virtuosic. Works include five symphonies (No. 5,Prometheus, Poem of Fire) and many works for piano.

Sibelius, Jean (1865–1957) Finnish Romantic/Modern. The greatest of Finnish composers, Sibelius is known primarily for his orchestral writing. His music is characterized by striking orchestration and strong ties to Romanticism. Works include seven symphonies; orchestral tone poems, including Finlandia; and a violin concerto.

Strauss, Johann Jr. (1825–1899) Austrian Romantic. Born into a family of composers, Strauss rose to great fame as a composer of orchestral waltzes, including The Blue Danube.

Strauss, Richard (1864–1949) German Romantic/Modern. Strauss is known for his operas and orchestral works, which were characterized by intense chromaticism, complex counterpoint, and rich, full orchestration. His orchestral writing pushed the boundaries of possibility for the medium. Strauss also was one of the leading conductors of his day. Major works include the operas Der Rosenkavalier, Elektra, and Salome, as well as the symphonies and symphonic poems Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan, and Ein Heldenleben.

Tchaikovsky, Piotr (1840–1893) Russian Romantic. Although Tchaikovsky today is considered to be one of the great Russian composers, his contemporaries criticized him for being unconcerned with Russian nationalism and allowing the “European” to dictate his musical tastes. Tchaikovsky’s music, which features beautiful melodic lines and colorful orchestration, has won enduring popularity. Works include the ballets The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake;the opera Eugene Onegin; six symphonies; and concertos for piano and violin.

Verdi, Giuseppe (1813–1901) Italian Romantic. Verdi was one of the greatest opera composers in music history, and his mastery of the form secured opera’s place in the Italian tradition. His expression is the height of Italian Romanticism, and his strengths lay in text setting, vocal writing, and dramatic treatment of his subject matter. Works include the operas Aida, La Traviata, Rigoletto, and Otello, as well as two choral works.

Wagner, Richard (1813–1883) German Romantic. Wagner was one of the great opera composers, and operas comprise the vast majority of his output. His innovations in both musical and extra musical elements of opera significantly expanded the possibilities of the medium. Much of Wagner’s music is highly chromatic and full of dense harmonies set in grandiose orchestrations. His use of orchestral and vocal forces is some of the largest in scale in operatic settings, and his operas themselves set a new bar for length of work—his Ring cycle of operas is 16 hours in duration. Wagner’s political and cultural beliefs shaped the subject matter of his operas (for which he wrote his own librettos) and proved to be hugely influential to the German Nazi party. Works include the operas Das Rheingold, Der Ring des Nibelungen, Die Meistersinger, Die Walküre, Parsifal, Siegfried,and Tristan und Isolde.


Barber, Samuel (1910–1981) American Modern. Although Barber lived in the 20th century and tried a number of modern techniques, his music remained connected to the European Romantic tradition. Major works include Adagio for Strings, Dover Beach, Hermit Songs, andSummer Music.

Bartók, Béla (1881–1945) Hungarian Modern. Bartók was influenced by other composers, including Richard Strauss, but his most noted works are in his own unique style, which incorporated folk music with a modern musical language and often incorporated mathematical concepts from nature into musical form. Bartók’s music is a prime example of 20th-century nationalism in music. Works includeBluebeard’s Castle; Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta; and six string quartets considered among the finest in history.

Berg, Alban (1885–1935) Austrian Modern. Berg, along with his teacher, Schönberg, and colleague, Webern, comprised the Second Viennese School. Berg’s musical language used the twelve-tone system of serialism, but he applied it flexibly so that at times his music sounds Romantic. Major works include a violin concerto and the operas Lulu and Wozzeck.

Bernstein, Leonard (1918–1990) American Modern. Bernstein found influences in a wide variety of sources, including popular music and jazz. As a longtime conductor of the New York Philharmonic, he revived the works of many significant composers and raised awareness of concert music in general. Asa composer, Bernstein made a successful crossover between concert music and contemporary popular music. Works include Candide, Chichester Psalms, and West Side Story.

Britten, Benjamin (1913–1976) English Modern. Britten was a prolific composer of vocal and instrumental works, notably 13operas. He experimented with various 20th-century techniques but never left his unique approach to tonality. Britten established many important musical institutions in England and left an indelible mark there as a composer and musician. Major works include Death in Venice, Peter Grimes, and War Requiem.

Cage, John (1912–1992) American Modern/Contemporary. Cage was influenced by Eastern music and philosophy. He invented the” prepared piano” (a piano with objects placed in its strings to make new sounds) and was a pioneer of indeterminacy, in which the composer leaves major musical decisions up to the performer. Cage believed that all sounds were valuable to listen to as musical events. Works include 4’33” (a duration of silence to allow the audience to listen to the sounds around them in the performance space), Music of Changes, and Sonatas and Interludes.

Copland, Aaron (1900–1990) American Modern. The central figure in creating an “American” sound in concert music, Copland incorporated popular, folk, and jazz elements into modern musical idiom. Bothered by the growing rift between audiences and modern music, Copland wrote many works in a more accessible style. He flirted with serialism briefly in the middle of his career but returned to tonal writing afterward. Copland wrote little in the last decades of his life and chose instead to conduct and promote contemporary music. His work has influenced all types of music, especially film scores and commercial music. Works include Appalachian Spring, Fanfare for the Common Man, Lincoln Portrait, and Rodeo.

Debussy, Claude (1862–1918) French Modern. Debussy was the founder of Impressionism in music, which emphasized color, fluid rhythm, and innovative tonal structures over goal-directed harmony. He is in many ways the father of the Modern period, as he broke fundamental rules of the common practice period to create his own unique world of sound. Although Wagner was a nearly influence, Debussy later rejected Wagner’s approach as a “dead end.” He drew significant influence from Asia after the 1889 Paris Exposition brought the music of the Javanese gamelan (percussion ensembles of drums, gongs, and xylophones) to Europe. Major works includeNocturnes, Pelléas et Mélisande, Prélude à L’Aprés-midi d’un Faune,and two books of piano preludes.

Gershwin, George (1898–1937) American Modern. One of the first composers to fuse jazz music into a concert setting, Gershwin wrote many Broadway musicals and show tunes, as well as concert works. Prominent works include An American in Paris, Porgy and Bess, andRhapsody in Blue.

Hindemith, Paul (1895–1963) German Modern. Hindemith made his name as an opera composer but went on to compose extensively for orchestra and instrumental groups. He also was a pioneer of functional “utility music” for everyday occasions. Hindemith created his own tonal musical language based on a formalized approach to counterpoint and harmony. In addition, he was proficient in virtually every instrument in the orchestra and was an important writer of music theory texts. Works include Mathis der Mahler, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, and many other instrumental and vocal works, including numerous sonatas.

Ives, Charles (1874–1954) American Modern. Ives was an experimental and innovative composer but did not achieve recognition until near the end of his life. He employed almost every 20th-century technique available, often many years before its widespread use (although there is doubt about the authenticity of the dates of his works). Ives drew extensively from American folk and popular music, as well. Works include Concord Sonata, The Unanswered Question, Three Places in New England, four symphonies, and many others, including a large body of songs.

Janáček, Leoš (1854–1928) Czech Modern. Janáček’s early style reflects influences from Dvořák, Smetana, and Moravian folk music; later works feature his own idiosyncratic musical language. Works include Glagolithic Mass, Intimate Letters, Jenufa, and The Cunning Little Vixen.

Joplin, Scott (1868–1917) American Modern. Joplin was the foremost composer of ragtime music and pioneered the form. Although he wrote the first ragtime opera, Treemonisha, he is remembered mainly for short piano pieces, including the Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer.

Khachaturian, Aram (1903–1978) Russian Modern. Khachaturian wrote bold, lush, and highly rhythmic music that combined Romantic elements, dissonance, and influence from the folk music of his native Armenia. Works include a piano concerto, three symphonies, and the ballets Gayane and Spartacus.

Messiaen, Olivier (1908–1992) French Modern. Messiaen wrote in a highly personal—but highly influential—musical language that drew from Indian Classical music, birdsong, Catholic themes, and Gregorian chant and other forms of plainchant. Works includeOiseaux Exotiques, Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps, Turangalîla-Symphonie, and Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jésus.

Prokofiev, Sergei (1891–1953) Russian Modern. Prokofiev was a very prolific composer who wrote for many media, including film. His works combine an emphasis on melody and traditional forms with an unconventional treatment of dissonance and Russian themes. Many of Prokofiev’s pieces are technically very difficult. Major works include piano and violin concertos, operas, piano sonatas, symphonies, and vocal works, including the film score Alexander Nevsky.

Ravel, Maurice (1875–1937) French Modern. Ravel was born on the Spanish border, and strong Spanish influence is evident in many of his works. Although he usually is associated with Impressionism, his music grew quite different from that of Debussy, the primary Impressionist composer. Revel’s later works show a connection to neoclassicism and elements of jazz. His brilliance as an orchestrator is unquestioned. Major works include Boléro, Daphnis et Chloé, La Valse, and the String Quartet in F.

Respighi, Ottorino (1879–1936) Italian Modern. Respighi combined traditional forms with Romantic full orchestrations. He is known mainly for his orchestral works but also wrote significantly for voice. Works include Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome.

Schönberg, Arnold (1874–1951) Austrian Modern. Schonberg was the founder of serialism and a founder of the Second Viennese School. In his attempts to “liberate dissonance” in his music by redefining traditional rules of harmony, Schönberg invented a system of composing called the twelve-tone method, in which all twelve notes of the chromatic scale appear in serial order. He intended this system of serialism to eliminate any feeling of key and tonality. Although many subsequent composers rejected serialism, the importance of Schönberg’s methods in shaping the progression of Modern music is indisputable. Works include Five Pieces for Orchestra, Gurrelieder, Moses und Aron, Pierrot Lunaire, and Verklärte Nacht.

Shostakovich, Dmitri (1906–1975) Russian Modern. Shostakovich wrote music in many genres for many media. His works show great technical mastery of traditional idioms and extreme range of emotion. For much of his career, he struggled for creative expression while writing under the eyes of the Soviet communist party and the dictator Joseph Stalin, who instituted a climate of artistic repression that imposed strict constraints on Soviet composers. Notable works include piano and violin concertos; the operas Lady Macbeth of Mtensk and The Nose; numerous piano preludes and fugues; 15 string quartets; 15 symphonies; incidental and film music; and two suites for jazz orchestra.

Stravinsky, Igor (1882–1971) Russian Modern. Stravinsky’s influence on the 20th century cannot be overstated. His style was extraordinarily versatile, and his music evolved profoundly over his career. Stravinsky’s early ballets show influence from Russian nationalism, Debussy, and his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, combined with incisive rhythms, large blocks of texture, and polytonality. From about 1920 to 1950, Stravinsky dominated the realm of neoclassicism, adapting traditional Baroque and Classical forms from the common practice period to a modern perspective. His later works are characterized by experiments in serialism, and their innovative approach was highly influential. Major works include the early balletsFirebird, Petroushka, and The Rite of Spring; other ballets, includingAgon, Les Noces, and Pulicinella; chamber pieces, includingL’Histoiredu Soldat; operas, including The Rake’s Progress; sacred works, including Symphony of Psalms; and many others.

Villa-Lobos, Heitor (1887–1959) Brazilian Modern. Villa-Lobos’ musical language fuses late Romantic music from eastern Europe and Stravinsky with traditional folk idioms from Brazil. He often worked in Brazilian musical forms. Works include Bachianas Brasileiras, Chôros,and significant music for classical guitar.

Webern, Anton von (1883–1945) Austrian Modern. Co-founder of the Second Viennese School, Webern wrote sparse, brief, and delicate music that often consists of a single note at a time arranged to create a melody between instruments. Webern’s approach to serialism proved to be one of the most influential of the 20th century. He wrote many short works, both instrumental and vocal, and also arranged many works by other composers.


Adams, John (1947–) American Contemporary. Adams’s music’s rooted in minimalism but often breaks out of the typical minimalist tendency of constant repetition without traditional development. One of the most widely performed composers of the latter 20th century, Adams is known for his orchestral works and opera. Works includeHarmonielehre, Nixon in China, and Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

Boulez, Pierre (1925–) French Contemporary. Boulez, equally important as a composer and conductor, is a major figure in the 20th-century European “Avant-garde.” His musical techniques include systematic approaches to composing, such as serialism. He has experimented with indeterminate music and electronic music. Works include Le Marteau sans Maître and Plis Selon Pli.

Corigliano, John (1938–) American Contemporary. Corigliano has drawn on a wide range of sources, from indeterminacy to neoclassicism, to create eclectic, highly personal music full of descriptive imagery. Prominent works include the Clarinet Concerto,the opera Ghosts of Versailles, Symphonies No. 1 and No. 2, and the film score The Red Violin.

Crumb, George (1929–) American Contemporary. Crumb uses graphic notation and extended techniques to explore sound and color, often with electronic amplification. Much of his music is based on delicate details and effects. Works include Black Angels, Ancient Voices of Children, Makrokosmos, and Vox Balanae.

Glass, Philip (1937–) American Contemporary. Glass’s minimalist works feature incessant repetition of sounds and rhythmic patterns and often show Eastern influences. Works include the operas Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten, and numerous film scores, notably Koyaanisqatsi and Kundun.

Knussen, Oliver (1952–) English Contemporary. As a conductor, Knussen has championed the works of many 20th-century composers and has performed primarily Modern music. As a composer, he is a leading figure in English Contemporary music. Works include the operas Higgledy-Piggledy Pop and Where the Wild Things Are, andSymphony No. 3.

Ligeti, György (1923–) Hungarian Contemporary. Ligeti’s music is associated with graphic notation and makes use of dense clusters—a technique he calls “micropolyphony.” More recent works have been more traditional in form and notation. Works include Atmospheres, Horn Trio, Lux Aeterna, and Requiem.

Reich, Steve (1936–) American Contemporary. Reich, a pioneer of minimalism, has been influenced by world indigenous music, especially that of Africa. Many of his works involve a slow separation of rhythmic patterns that begin synchronized—an effect he calls “phasing.” Works include Come Out, Drumming, Music for 18 Musicians, and Piano Phase.

Takemitsu, Toru (1930–1996) Japanese Contemporary. The largely self-taught Takemitsu is considered Japan’s most accomplished composer. His music, influenced by Messiaen and early electronic music, shows great concern for color and texture and frequently uses traditional Japanese instruments in combination with Western ensembles. Works include How Slow the Wind, Riverrun, November Steps, and dozens of film scores.

Credit: sparknotes