Modern influential composers everyone should know about

Last week, I compiled a list of close-to-40 of the most prominent composers today. While working on that list, I realized that many of the composers I love and have had a strong impact on me have passed away. Either recently or quite some time ago. So, let’s make this clear now: contemporary composers are all those living in the same period as us. However, there are also lots of modern influential composers that are no longer alive.

Now, here’s what you should know about the upcoming list – no composer has passed away before 1945, the only exception being Alban Berg. He’s an incredibly influential figure who died prematurely. He was also a member of the Second Viennese School, together with Schönberg and Webern.

But first, let’s take a look at each style.

  • Atonal – music without a tonal center.
  • Avant-Garde – expanding the boundaries of what can be called music and employing extended playing techniques and original sounds.
  • Eclectic – mixing different music styles in one piece. It also includes composers who have mixed various styles over their illustrious career.
  • Electronic – refers to both electroacoustic tape music, as well as live electronics.
  • Experimental – going beyond regular or traditional aesthetics, as well as methods for composing and creating music.
  • Folk Music – serves as inspiration or is directly quoted or used in one way or another by the composer.
  • Modernism – music with a modern character as opposed to classical. It still features similar styles of expression, though.
  • Microtonal – music using microtonal steps, such as quarter steps and eight steps, instead of, or in combination with half step and whole steps, making for many more pitches within the octave.
  • Minimal – music created with a minimal amount of material. For example, you can use just one pitch.
  • Polystylism – the use of several styles and techniques in the same piece of music.
  • Religious – not so much of a style, but a type of music. Naturally, it features extensive use of the choir.
  • Serialism – the use of formalized music in every aspect in terms of series of notes, pitches, etc.
  • Spectral – music based on computer generated analysis of acoustic timbres or electronic timbres.
  • Traditional – sounds like something you have heard before in classical music. Not to be confused with folk music.
  • Twelve Tone – using the twelve tones in a manner where none is repeated before all of them have been used. There are many different implementations of the 12-tone technique.

And now, here’s the list of modern influential composers who are no longer among the living.

  1. Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) American – Serialism, Electronic
  2. Bela Bartok (1881-1945) Hungarian – Modernism, Folk Music
  3. Alban Berg (1885-1935) Austrian – Twelve Tone
  4. Luciano Berio (1925-2003) – Italian – Experimental, Electronic, Avant-Garde
  5. Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) French – Atonal, Serialism, Electronic
  6. Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) British – Traditional
  7. John Cage (1912-1992) American – Avant-Garde, Experimental
  8. Elliott Carter (1908-2012) American – Eclectic
  9. Aaron Copland (1900-1990) American – Eclectic
  10. Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975) Italian – Serialism
  11. Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) French – Modernism
  12. Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) French – Modernism
  13. Morton Feldman (1926-1987) American – Avant-Garde, Experimental
  14. Henryk Górecki (1933-2010) Polish – Eclectic
  15. Gérard Grisey (1946-1998) French – Spectral
  16. Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012) British – Modernism, Electronic
  17. Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012) Germany – Eclectic
  18. Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) German – Eclectic
  19. Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) Swiss/French – Modernism
  20. Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008) – Argentinian – Avant-Garde
  21. György Ligeti (1923-2006) Romanian/Hungarian/Austrian – Eclectic
  22. Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) Polish – Modernism
  23. Bruno Maderna (1920-1973) Italian – Twelve Tone, Electronic
  24. Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) French – Modernism
  25. John Maxwell-Davies (1934-2016) English – Eclectic
  26. Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) French – Eclectic
  27. Luigi Nono (1924-1990) Italian – Avant-Garde
  28. Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) French – Traditional
  29. Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) Russian – Traditional, Modernism
  30. Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988) Italian – Eclectic, Minimal, Microtonal
  31. Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) Russian/German – Eclectic, Polystylism
  32. Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) Austrian – Twelve Tone
  33. Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) Russian – Polystylism
  34. Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) German – Avant-Garde, Serialism, Electronic
  35. Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) Russian – Eclectic
  36. Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) Japanese – Eclectic
  37. John Tavener (1944-2013) British – Religious, Traditional
  38. Edgard Varèse (1883-1965) French/American – Avant-Garde, Electronic
  39. Anton Webern (1883-1945) Austrian – Twelve Tone
  40. Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) Romanian/Greek/French – Avant-Garde
  41. Bernd Alois Zimmerman (1918-1970) German – Eclectic, Serialism
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