When you hear “20th century music” what kind of music in your mind? You might think jazz, musical, pop-song, or hip-hop. On this post, I’d like to talk about something less familiar music, the 20th century “classical music.”
20th century music has many aspects such as atonality, 12 tone scale, bitonality, irregular rhythm, new approach to music, new technique of playing instruments, etc. Of course, those are not all for explaining 20th century music. There are always something beyond our imagination and most of the cases, it is hard to understand the concept of music. Personally, I think George Crumb (born October 24, 1929)’s Voice of the Whale is a great example of 20th century music. The piece consists of flute, cello, and piano. The three performers play their instrument with irregular technique. The flutist sings while she plays flute. The pianist directly pluck the piano strings or block the string and play keyboard. The cellist intentionally make shrieking sound. Moreover, Crumb specifically wanted the performers to wear the face masks and to set the aquamarine blue color of light.
Now I wonder why this trend began. There are some possibilities about this. First, as the earlier periods of music did, 20th music must be inspired by the atmosphere which the composers encountered. The composers in 20th century (we can simply see the music composed in 1900–1999) experienced or witnessed the World War I and II. The disaster must be embedded in the sensitive musicians’ mind and influence their composition. Second, the invention of new technologies would evoke new ideas such as the electronic instruments, recording systems, radios, televisions, typewriter, and computers.
Third, in my personal opinion, trying to surpass the previous generation might push musicians to think much creative way. Over hundreds years from Medieval period, a countless number of music has been composed. It must be so painful for composers to always find something “new” to avoid plagiarism or to succeed. So they start thinking “why not?” Why can’t we use typewriter in music even though the machine makes some sort of sound? Why can’t I include specific direction for my music to be performed? Why we should play the piano by keyboard instead of plucking or striking the strings directly?
Finally I’d like to share another “why not,” a new trial for classic music to communicate with the young generation. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed with the English rock band group, Deep Purple. Would you call it as another 20th century classic music? a collaboration of rock and classic? or, a rock music which used orchestra?