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21st-century Classical Music

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Title: 21st-century Classical Music  
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Subject: Contemporary classical music, Classical period (music), Baroque music, History of music, Classical music
Collection: 21St-Century Classical Music, Contemporary Classical Music
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21st-century Classical Music

Periods of
Western classical music
Medieval c. 500–1400
Renaissance c. 1400–1600
Common practice
Baroque c. 1600–1760
Classical c. 1730–1820
Romantic c. 1780–1910
Modern and contemporary
Modern c. 1890–1975
20th century 1901–2000
Contemporary c. 1975–present
21st century 2001–present

21st-century classical music is a diverse art form. Some elements of the previous century have been retained, including post-modernism, polystylism and eclecticism, which seek to incorporate elements of all styles of music irrespective of whether these are "classical" or not—these efforts represent a slackening differentiation between the various musical genres. The combination of classical music and multimedia is a notable practice in the 21st century; the Internet, alongside its related technology, are important resources in this respect. The number of important female composers has also increased significantly.


  • Music in the 21st century 1
  • Female composers 2
  • Polystylism 3
  • Multimedia and music 4
  • Film-score and TV-theme-music composers who also write classical music 5
  • Technology in music production 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Music in the 21st century

For its October 2009 edition,[1] the BBC Music Magazine asked 10 composers, mostly British, to discuss the latest trends in western classical music. The consensus was that no particular style is favoured and that individuality is to be encouraged. The magazine interviewed Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Nyman, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Henri Dutilleux, John Adams, James MacMillan, Jonathan Harvey, Julian Anderson, John Tavener, and Roxanna Panufnik. The works of each of these composers represent different aspects of the music of this century but these composers all came to the same basic conclusion: music is too diverse to categorise or limit. In his interview with the magazine, Dutilleux argued that "there is only good or bad music, whether serious or popular". Anderson, a British composer, combines the music of traditional cultures from outside the western concert tradition with elements of modernism, spectral music and electronic music. His large-scale Book of Hours for 20 players and live electronics premiered in 2005.

Tavener, another British composer, draws his inspiration from eastern mysticism and the music of the Orthodox Church.[2]

Nyman is an English minimalist best known for his film score for The Piano. He often borrows from Baroque music and is an acclaimed composer of operas, including (in this century) Facing Goya and Sparkie. The latter work draws its inspiration from a talking budgie. His shorter works often written for his own Michael Nyman Band.

Often styled the "Father of New Complexity", English composer Brian Ferneyhough has recently started writing works which reference those of past composers. His Dum transisset are based on Elizabethan composer Christopher Tye's works for viol; the fourth string quartet references Schönberg. His opera Shadowtime (libretto by Charles Bernstein), which premiered in Munich in 2004, is based on the life of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin.

Rautavaara is a Finnish composer writing in a variety of forms and styles. His opera Rasputin premiered in 2003 and he has written a large—and rapidly growing—body of orchestral and chamber works.

Active frm the mid-1940s until his death in 2013, the French composer Dutilleux followed the Impressionist and Neoclassical tradition of Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, and Albert Roussel. His last works include Correspondances and Le temps l'horloge, both of which are song cycles.

John Adams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer with strong roots in minimalism. His best-known recent works include On the Transmigration of Souls (2002), a choral piece commemorating the victims of the 11 September 2001 attacks (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2003) and Doctor Atomic (2005), which covers Robert Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project, and the building of the first atomic bomb. In October 2008, Adams told BBC Radio 3 that he had been blacklisted by the U.S. Homeland Security department and immigration services.[3]

MacMillan is a Scottish composer and conductor influenced by both traditional Scottish music and his own Roman Catholic faith. His most recent works include operas (The Sacrifice premiered in 2007) and a St John Passion (2008).

Harvey, a British composer, was Composer-in-Association with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra from 2005-2008. His 21st-century works include the large-scale cantata Mothers shall not Cry (2000), written for the BBC Proms Millennium, and the orchestral works Body Mandala (2006) and Speakings (2008).[4]

Female composers

Although there have been women composers in earlier centuries (Hildegard of Bingen, Francesca Caccini, Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Amy Beach are well-known examples), the 21st century has seen an increase in their number and importance. Roxanna Panufnik, in the aforementioned interview with the BBC, says:

Attitudes towards women composers have changed during the past few decades. Even after women started getting careers, it took a while before they could find work as composers, but we got there in the end, thanks to role models such as Judith Weir, Nicola Lefanu [sic], and Thea Musgrave. Hip young things like Tansy Davies and Emily Hall will exert a great influence on the new music scene in the next ten years.[5]

The trend started in the latter quarter of the 20th century when Musgrave was joined by such prominent composers as Weir, LeFanu, Sofia Gubaidulina, Pauline Oliveros, Meredith Monk, Maryanne Amacher, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Kaija Saariaho and Joan Tower—many of whom are only now becoming recognised as important. The trend continues with such people as Panufnik, Davies, Hall, Unsuk Chin, Onutė Narbutaitė, Julia Wolfe, Jennifer Higdon, Olga Neuwirth, Rebecca Saunders, and many others joining the ranks.

Other notable female composers include Kinuyo Yamashita and Yoko Kanno.


Polystylism (or musical eclecticism) is a growing trend in the 21st century.[1] It combines elements of diverse musical genres and compositional techniques into a unified and coherent body of works. Composers have often started their musical career in one discipline and have later migrated to or embraced others, while retaining important elements from the former discipline. In some cases, a composer now labelled "classical" may have started out in another discipline. A specific label for John Zorn's music is difficult to choose: he started out as a performance artist and moved through various genres including jazz, hardcore punk, film music, and classical, and often embraces Jewish musical elements. All of these diverse styles appear in his works.[6]

Julian Anderson combines elements from many different musical genres and practices in his works. Elements of modernism, spectral music and electronic music are combined with elements of the folk music of Eastern Europe and the resulting works are often influenced by the modality of Indian ragas.[7]

Tansy Davies's music also fuses elements of pop and classical music. Prince and Iannis Xenakis are both major influences.[8]

Multimedia and music

The work In Seven Days (2008), by Thomas Adès, was composed for a piano, an orchestra, and six video screens. The video segments were created by Tal Rosner, Adès's civil partner.

Judith Weir's opera Armida was premiered on television, rather than on stage. Channel 4 commissioned the work in 2005. The libretto, also written by Weir, updates Torquato Tasso's 1581 epic poem, setting it in a modern Middle-East conflict which alludes to but never specifically mentions the Iraq War.[9] Weir's opera calls for props that could not be used practically in an opera house, such as a helicopter.

In 2008, Tan Dun was commissioned by Google to compose Internet Symphony No. 1 - "Eroica" to be performed collaboratively by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. This work used the internet to recruit orchestra members and the final result was compiled into a mashup video, which premiered worldwide on YouTube.

Film-score and TV-theme-music composers who also write classical music

Howard Goodall, a composer for TV series, was Classic FM's Composer-in-Residence for 2009 and was named Composer of the Year at the Classical BRIT Awards in 2009.[10]

Technology in music production

With the growing popularity of the home computer and the vast improvements in music production applications during the 21st century, home-based composers and performers are no longer limited to the facilities of designated recording studios. Though the technology was available in the 1990s, home computers were not capable of replicating the functionality of a professional production facility. At that time computer processors were slow, internal memory was small, hard disk storage capacities were limited, and data access times were too slow for serious multitrack recording work if using only a single device. Today's computer workstations have vastly improved performance capabilities, with data storage space in the region of several terabytes, processors with multiple cores, and onboard memory measured in gigabytes. Home users can now quickly and easily sample, record, and produce their own music using their own home recording studios, and promote it via the internet.

There are numerous types of applications involved in music production. While many will allow the user to play musical notation back via MIDI (through either external electronic instruments or internal "virtual instruments"), some of them are dedicated solely to notation, others are dedicated solely to live performance, yet others are dedicated solely to the production (i.e. recording) process itself, while a few present all these capabilities in one package. Many of these applications have capabilities to store live sound in WAV, MP3, or MP4 format (which do not involve notation) and often have functions which can transform the sound (changing the pitch, stretching the sound, merging sounds together, adding effects, and so on). Of course, there are widely used applications which are dedicated to recording sound in digital formats, and some offer these transforming functions.

See also


  1. ^ a b Shave, Nick (October 2009). "The Shape of Sounds to Come". BBC Music Magazine (Andrew Davies) 18 (1): 26–32. 
  2. ^ Anon (27 December 1999). "Music for a New Millennium". World Service: Education: BBC News. Retrieved 14 October 2009. 
  3. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (19 October 2008). "I'm Blacklisted, Says Opera Maestro". The Observer. Retrieved 17 October 2009. 
  4. ^ Faber Music Ltd. "Jonathan Harvey - composer". Retrieved 17 October 2009. 
  5. ^ Panufnik quoted in Shave 2009, p. 32.
  6. ^ Service, Tom (7 March 2003). "Shuffle and cut". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 15 October 2009. 
  7. ^ Julian Anderson at Faber Music
  8. ^ Service, Tom (18 June 2001). "She's got the funk". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 October 2009. 
  9. ^ Jeffries, Stuart (1 December 2005). "Desert bloom". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 October 2009. 
  10. ^ anon (2009). "Howard Goodall". Retrieved 11 November 2009. 

External links

  • Clearnessism
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