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Jordan Everest, Erin Motley, Emily Nine, Jordan Lindsey


Section 1: Overview

Modernism, or Early 20th Century music, is defined by its eclecticism, integration of form, and avant garde style. Because it includes innumerable styles and variations, it is very hard to generalize about 20th Century music. The modern style was mostly a reaction to the music of the 1800's, and marks the beginning of current modern music. This was the first time that music attempted to test the boudnaries of aural perception, and openly embraced dissonance with melody. As music is and has always been a cohesive subject, the past forms of Rennaissance, Baroque, and especially Romantic are embellished and variated upon. Sub-genres of the Early 20th Century include Primitivism, Futurism, and Expressionism.


Final Paper Due: Submit here



Section 2: Early Modernistic Composers

Jordan Everest


1. Richard Strauss (German; 1864-1949)


Strauss initially composed as a late Romantic composer, with many tone poems, yet as the 20th century began he transitioned into operas and was considered as a modernistic composer. In fact, his first two operas were failures, but later he managed to be more liberal and have a better understanding of this newly founded era. His operas were very dissonant, which was very unusual in music, his dissonance was heavily criticized, but this criticism in a way helped define the era and gave him publicity. All together he enjoyed Impressionism and Expressionism, in which both heavily influenced his music. His later compositions had realistic sound effects, thematic transformations, thick but vividly colored textures, and a wide range of highly effective melodies.


2. Jean Sibelius (Finnish; 1865-1957)


Sibelius was considered as a modernistic composer whom composed music reflective of 18th century music; making him a Neo-Classicist. The reason Sibelius was such a remarkable composer was because of the musical foundation he created for Finland. His music revolutionized his country in a very nationalistic way. Sibelius and Beethoven are similar in the way they compose- they both develop and enhance their musical ideas after each composition. Sibelius had a total of 7 symphonies, in which he applied this musical method. As Sibelius began composing, he heavily took advantage of Sonata form, but after each new musical idea he would attempt to be farther and farther away from it. Still, many of his works contain an original free form based on variations and transformation of a germinal movement. Today, his first, second, and fourth symphonies are performed prominently; as well as his compositions Finlandia and Valse Triste.


3. Ralph Vaughan Williams (English; 1872-1958)


Williams’ music gradually matured; beginning with a very traditional and folk-like style progressing to a fulfilling modal flavor in his more mature works. Essentially, one can describe Williams as a very traditional man based on of his many folk tunes, in which sound familiar. However one very interesting aspect of this composer that sets him aside from others is that his music is hard to distinguish between the old and the new; in a way expressing a new attitude of the new musical era. His music provided the listener with deep mystical ideas, presented with melancholic emotional lyrics and melody. His remarkable works include A Sea Symphony, Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis, and Hugh the Drover.


4. Arnold Schoenberg (Austrian/American; 1874-1951)


Schoenberg began as a late Romantic Austrian composer and then transitioned to an early modernistic American composer at the turn of the 20th century. Schoenberg’s musical ideas were highly expressionistic- with the exception of his works that pertain to his innovative twelve tone technique. His expressionistic pieces contained a very atonal sound, while his twelve tone compositions were odd, yet orderly. This technique ruled that all 12 notes must be used equally- which inevitably will play every note as much as possible. Some of his twelve tone works are Chamber Symphony No. 2 and Gurrelieder, while an example of his heavy expressionism is Pierrot Lunaire. All together this composer was a highlight of the early modern era, he insisted that without all of the trouble presented within the 20th century music would not be as creative.


5. Charles Ives (American; 1874-1954)


Ives was an original American composer, and he represented his country well with his music. He studied music theory at Yale and their, he learned how he desired to compose his music- with complicated rhythms, polytonality and atonality, and many complex contrasts between each section. From this description one can easily tell that Ives was very expressionistic, some of his most notable pieces are Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3, and The Unanswered Question. His pieces were primarily Sonatas, String Quartets, and Symphonies, in which all contained a variety of different instruments.


6. Igor Stravinsky (Russian/American; 1882-1971)


Stravinsky’s fame came from being a composer, pianist, and conductor. His pieces persist of so many different musical methods (which are all cosmopolitan), including Primitivism, neo-Classicism, and atonalism, which made him such an interesting modernistic composer. This composer is definitely one of the greatest composers of his time because of his infinite desire to learn about art, and more specifically music. Some of his very powerful rhythmic works include the Conceto in E-flat Major and the Symphony in Three Movements. This composer chose to take a pathway of true musical dedication, providing us with a vast amount of variety in the early modernistic period.




Section 3: Prominent Modernistic Musical Terms

Jordan Everest


Atonality: Lacking a tonal center, principally through application of the tone-row technique.


Polytonality: Creating two or more tonal centers by repetitive use of the resources of two or more keys in counterpoint or in polychords


Pandiatonic chords: Chords formed freely from all degrees of a diatonic scale regardless of their diatonic function.


Pandiatonic successions: Successions formed freely from all degrees of a diatonic scale regardless of their diatonic function.


Pandiatonicism: Music in which the tonality of one key is firmly established, but dissonance is recognized freely where conventional relationships between the prime chords are not considered.


Neo-Modality: Modern harmonic or contrapuntal context that use archaic modes.


Polymetrical Rhythm: Rhythm with two or more meters being used simultaneously.


Mixed Meter: Often used in rapid successions; basically where the meter varies and sometimes changes signature within each measure.


Polyrhythm: Multiple important rhythmic patterns occurring simultaneously.


Primitivism: Essentially derived from uncivilized culture, Primitivism exerts odd musical ideas yet still provides melodic and rhythmic patterns provided with a wild and barbaric feel.


Futurism: Originally a term derived from Italy; basically Futurism is music with new instrumentation- by experimenting with distorted sounds with different objects.


Machinism: An early form of Futurism, which persists of realistic imitation of sounds and movements, such as the imitations of automotive noises.


Expressionism: Music interpreted prominently with extremely deep emotions that can express a heavy psychological feel on the listener. Expressionism often persists of a complex and fluid rhythm, atonal, chromatic, and disjunct melody, irregular phrasing, and indefinite pitches.


Neo-Classicism: A provided 18th century outline for 20th century music, in other words music that was 20th century music but sounded somewhat like 18th century music. This eclectic style used tone colors to emphasize melodic lines for a creative expression.


Neo-Romanticism: Also an eclectic style, but employing 20th century techniques with Romantic techniques.


song cycle: a group of songs that circle around a central concept/idea.



Section 4: Overall Influence of Early Modernism


Early Modernism has shown itself to be the seed to the Postmodern era.  The trend of sound experimentation and eclectic structures has only increased since the early years, leading to more musical applications in unorthodox ways.  The era was strongly influenced by the Late Romantic period from which it came, and the composers of the era show the transition that took place through their combination of beautiful melodic lines and harsh dissonance.  Many artists of the postmodern era, such as John Cage, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Alvin Lucier, have utilized the forms of futurism and machinism to produce their current recordings.  The music of today can be viewed as an expansion of what music was becoming in the early 20th century.    


Modernism, while often described as progressive and blurring the lines between music and sound, is also criticized by traditionalists for not being "musical enough to be considered real music".  The point of Modernism, however, is not so much to create aurally appealing peices of music, but to experiment with the shakily defined term 'music'.  Composers in the postmodern era are not only limited to a set of instruments; the universe is the limit.


 Section 5: Typical Stylistic Devices and Forms

The 20th Century era of music is typically defined by its lack of traditional musical elements and forms.  Although some of the remnants of the Romantic period can be heard in earlier 20th Century pieces- for instance the influence of nationality was still very strong- the whole idea of the 20th Century period was a moving away from the standard and the organized, tonal and consonant ways of composing.  Some different styles of composing are usually classified loosely under atonality; music written without a perfectly set key signature nor consonance, expressionism; the style seen in Schoenberg's early music, and neo-romanticism and neo-classicism; the style of integrating classical or romantic components into a 20th century piece.  Much of the composing stylistic choices were influenced by technology advancing- Western music was able to communicate and blend with non- Western as well as using technology to manipulate sounds.  Styles became less obviously western and more expressive and free-flowing.  Non- western scales and dissonant harmonies were adapted and incorporated with progressive classical, romantic and baroque ideas.  20th Century musical styles can be mainly described in this way; the style is not quite uniform, the ideas are new, and the level of emotional involvement increased dramatically.


Section 6: Styles & Sounds of 20th Century Music

Jordan Lindsey


The music of the 20th century is very different from the traditional music that most people were used to from the previous eras. The new advances in technology allowed composers and musicians to incorporate new ideas into songs and music. For example, the new instruments that could be made, like the electric guitar, and the synthesizer, and the electric keyboard allowed new and unfamiliar sounds to be the key melodies of the songs from this era. Also, with the new breakthrough of radios and televisions, music was able to be more dispersed worldwide than before, thus letting music of the 20th century to be influenced by traditional music from countries around the world. For example, American music was incorporating, Indian, Chinese, and European styles into their new modern music. These breakthroughs in technology and communication caused the styles of the 20th century to alter from the more traditional and conservative musical eras.


Music in the 20th Century included many genres as opposed to just a few like operas, symphonies, and sonatas. Genres included things that hit the people as less formal and wackier than what they were used to hearing. Some examples of the musical trends in the 20th century include, blues music, country music, jazz, rock and roll, rock/alternative rock, punk rock, heavy metal, disco/funk, hip hop, rap, salsa, soul, electronic music, world music, and techno. These new innovated ideas gave flavor and excitement to the new era that has become some of the most popular forms of music to today’s listeners.


Modernism was not completely composed of new ideas, however; many composers took old ideas and incorporated them in innovative ways.  A transitional example of this is "Dark Angels" by George Crumb, who takes <i>dies irea</i>(a death mass melody that stems back to the middle ages) to illustrate death.


Section 7: Example of a modern day song

Jordan Lindsey


"This is the Day" by The The from the album Soul Mining 1987


-Fast paced, even, and up beat phrasing
-Verse/chorus relationship (ABAB)
-Repeated ideas
-Major key, doesn’t change
-4/4 time
-Very flowy, not choppy, easy to follow
-Very happy vibe


The piece has a somewhat “electric” feel to it. There is one male singer, and a girl’s voice occasionally that comes in as backup. The instruments include a drum set, mallets, keyboard, bass, accordion and a male’s voice.
It begins slow and quiet and then becomes louder and louder and builds to its full potential. The music is all sang pretty low until the chorus when it jumps to a much higher octave. The singer sings the 1st verse, chorus, 2nd verse, chorus is then repeated twice. Then the music fades out which is contrasting how it first began which was quiet to loud and then it ends loud to quiet.
This song is alike many 80’s songs because of the lyrics, and the bouncy/happy feel it portrays. However, it is unalike other 80’s songs because it includes unique instruments that are not usually used in pop culture songs such as an accordion.
Well... you didn't wake up this morning

Because you didn't go to bed

You were watching the whites of your eyes

Turn red

The calendar, on your wall, is ticking the days off

The calendar on your wall is ticking

the days off

You've been reading some old letters

You smile and think how much you've changed

All the money in the world

Couldn't bring back those days.

You pull back the curtains, and the sun burns into your eyes,

You watch a plane flying across a clear blue sky.

This is the day your life will surely change.

This is the day your life will surely change.

You could've done anything -- if you'd wanted

And all your friends and family think that you're lucky.

But the side of you they'll never see

Is when you're left alone with the memories

That hold your life together like glue




This is from the 1980’s. It is modern, and has stylistic features that classify it as part of the pop culture era. It follows a verse/chorus structure and it has lyrics and meaning illustrating a very common theme during that decade. It is newer because it combines tradition and untraditional instruments and ideas. It is very vividly colored with meaning and emotion and it is not a formal piece, it is more of a fun, free-spirited piece. It was also featured in the popular teen movie Empire Records.



 Song Analysis

Jordan Everest

Band: Brand New

Song: Socco Amarreto Lime

Album: Your Favorite Weapon [listened to entire album- 42 minutes]


+Timbre: Lead Vocals and Background Vocals, can be played with electric or acoustic guitar. 

+Voice does not really accompany guitar, however they both are very repetitive and consist with their same individual tone and harmonics.

+Song would be considered strophic and homophonic

+Guitar is played very serenely, and the voice is used with a sense of gloom

+Guitars Low E string is tuned to Drop D

+Moderate tempo

+Subtle/nostalgic feel


0:00-1:31- Guitar introduces song with the main rhythm, and then the lead vocals come in after about 20 seconds.  The guitar repeats this rhythmic riff over and over again, while the lead vocalist sings verses that speak of a memory.  The voice’s low tranquil monotone sound gives the song a nostalgic feel.  The guitar continues its riffs and the voice continues its verses leading up to the chorus, as the lead vocalist continues the background vocalist begins to provide some dissonance and ornamentation.

1:32-2:19-The guitars and vocalists introduce the chorus by dropping down an octave. By dropping down an octave, the chorus will have a more saddened emotion; after all it is when the vocalist says he “will stay 18 forever”.  The chorus is repeated numerous times and is gradually transitioned back to the main rhythm.

2:20-2:53-The vocalist and guitar transition to their original tone, and now there are new verses providing ideas for the main theme of missed memories.  The verses quickly lead into the chorus.

2:54-4:44- The chorus is played again, yet this time it is played with an additional amount of verses in order to conclude the song.  Also the background vocalist sings hard to hear lyrics to provide a discordant angered feeling, after a while it gets clearer and “you’re just jealous because we’re young and in love” can be heard.  This verse by the background vocalist gradually increases in volume as the lead singer’s chorus decreases.  Finally a bunch of random static ends the song.


This song seems to be about a man who does not want to grow up, or who already is grown up and misses his memories with his loved one at the age of 18.  He sings about how lovely his life was at that age, and how he wanted to be with his loved one forever.  This song can be related to any other acoustic/vocalist work- for example all of the other Brand New songs, with the exception of their new album because it is much more experimental.   


Song Analysis

Gustav Mahler Brief Listening Guide


Jordan Everest



+timbre-opera singer (female alto), brass (english horn, flute, tuba), strings (harp, many violins, violas, cellos)

+thorough composed- not written in verses

+very polyphonic (counterpoint)

+instruments accompany vioce

+duple meter

+slow tempo; legatto phrases

+Largo/Adagio line

-this gives majestic mood, also minor mode/tonal (but chromatic) gives majestic mood

+late romantic/early 20th century

+operatic, very polyphonic, wide range, variety of dynamics

+Gradual dynamic changes build tension



+Continuous melodic line



+English horn and other brass instruments introduce piece majestically

+Opera singer is main focus and slowly ascends and descends pitch with other instruments

+Only instruments now play, brass played slowly and relaxed

+Opera singer maintains focus again, singing the same line as before

+Instuments interven again, however this time the tuba is played at a very low pictch giving an eerie feel




+Late Romantic/Early 20th Century


+Excerpt from Gustav Mahler's aria Kindertotenlieder

+Highly influenced by Wagner/Strauss

+Sound like Vacelri

+Similar to Prokofiev War and Peace

+Both Arias/operatic

+same instrumentation







Works Cited


Randel, Don Michael. The Harvard Dictionary School of Music. New York: Beknap Press, 2003.

Chalmers, Kenneth. Bela Bartok (20th Century Composers). New York: Phaidon Press, 1995.

Butler, Christopher. Modernism: Literature, Music, and Painting in Europe, 1900 - 1916. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Kennedy, Michael. Richard Strauss. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.





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