The late twentieth century period began at a crucial time in modern history. The social and political upheaval brought about by World War II inevitably led to a new way of thinking, philosophically, intellectually and in turn, artistically. Eminent figures such as Shostakovich and Britten who were active in the earlier part of the century, found new ways of expression whilst retaining traditional conventions. Meanwhile, younger composers Penderecki and Lutoslawski embraced modernist techniques in a strikingly radical manner. The American composer John Cage rethought the fundamentals on which Western music is based: even before WW II, he was experimenting with prepared pianos and introducing elements of ‘chance’ to his methods of composition. His famous silent piece 4’33’’ raises questions about perception, performance and the very concept of organised sound.
As early as the 1930s, Olivier Messiaen made use of electronic music in live compositions, which became increasingly adopted as the years went by and new aesthetics were formed. In the years following World War II, increasing numbers of composers were quick to turn to developing electronic technology. Electronic music was embraced by composers such as Edgard Varèse, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, and Iannis Xenakis.