Early 20th (1900 - 1945)

The early twentieth century saw a sudden emergence of innovation – both technologically and artistically. Twentieth century music brought more freedom in compositional styles, breaking down the moulds of previous conventions and reaching new audiences.  At the beginning of the 20th century, classical composers experimented with an increasingly dissonant musical language. Following World War I, as a reaction to the increasingly exaggerated gestures and formlessness of late Romanticism, certain composers adopted a neoclassical style, which sought to recapture the balanced forms and clearly perceptible thematic processes of earlier styles.

In Western art music, the modernist era was a time when changes in compositional technique and style were becoming more and more dramatic, meaning that tonality was being used in new ways and the rate of evolution was escalating. Composers such as Webern, Schoenberg and Berg in Vienna and Stravinsky, Debussy and Satie in Paris, took mammoth steps in a search for a new tonal language. This inevitably saw new opportunities for existing forms, such as the symphony, the string quartet or the piano sonata, as well as new forms such as those adopting electronic music. At the beginning of the century Stravinsky, Debussy and Berg were massively experimental creators in this modernist style and pushed boundaries to remote limits.

...a sudden emergence of innovation...

In opera, the century started with Debussy’s Pelleas et Mélisande, in the aftermath of Wagner’s magnificent cutting-edge operas of the previous century. The twentieth century saw considerable developments in opera with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes and Death in Venice.

As early as the 1930s, Olivier Messiaen made use of electronic music in live compositions. In the years following World War II, increasing numbers of composers were quick to turn to developing electronic technology.

Jean Périer notably created the role of Pelléas in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande.

Benjamin Britten

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