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MOdernPictureModern Art Music History Review

General Background on the Modern Era

The Modern Era (c1900 to the present) has been a period of massive technological and socio-political change, sparked largely by the increasingly rapid transit of people and information (via automobiles, airplanes, spacecraft and telephone, radio, television, satellite transmission, the internet, etc.). 

There have been more wars and outbreaks of social violence in the past century than in all previous ages combined, including two major World Wars that dramatically affected all aspects of life in Europe and America between 1914-18 (WWI) and 1939-45  (WWII). This era has seen the gradual decline of the worldwide British Commonwealth (which once included India, Hong Kong and other parts of the Far East, much of Africa, Canada, and the British Isles), the establishment of the United States as the major force of the Free World, and the rise and fall of Communism. The ever-changing delicate balance of economic and political power is now—more than ever—of urgent global significance.

Some Musical Considerations in Modern Art Music

The Modern Era has also been a period of turbulent change in musical style and taste. Many modern "art-music" composers have explored untraditional sounds and have based their music on rhythm, texture and tone color, instead of the more traditional aspects of melody and harmony. During first half of the 20th century, the two World Wars led to political isolation that impeded the sharing of musical ideas; however, since c1950, there has been a multi-national fusion of styles, driven largely by many great European composers, performers, scholars and teachers who sought political asylum in the US. 

Modern technological advances (especially mass media) have caused rapid changes in musical style/techniques, and expanded our knowledge of music from other cultures, further accelerating changes in musical taste while providing a wider range of music to listeners, composers and performers. Today, new musical ideas and styles can be introduced almost instantly, allowing large-scale trends to change in months or years, instead of decades. Computer-based technologies, synthesized sounds, and new recording techniques continually add new dimensions to today's music. The commercial music industry, which began in the 1930s, is now the dominant musical force across the world.

The Breakdown of Tonality: As a result of the gradual disintegration of tonality (key-centered music), various non-traditional modern approaches to harmony have emerged:

Experimentation with New Sounds: Modern composers have taken a closer look at rhythm, instrumentation, tone color, form, performance techniques (etc.). Harmony and melody are no longer the sole basis of musical structure.  Increased use of percussion, and use of standard instruments in non-standard ways were important developments in this era. There has been a growing interest in synthesizers and computer-based resources, and challenges with new types of music notation and performing formats.

The Influence of Multi-National Styles: Since 1945, the sharing of musical styles and approaches from around the world has accelerated dramatically, due to technological advances affecting mass media and transportation.

The Influence of Popular Music: Jazz, Blues, Rock and other popular styles and technologies have also affected modern art music.

The Interactive Timeline on Modern Music

You may begin your chronological review of Modern music by clicking the "Interactive Timeline" link on the left index.