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20th Century Music

Updated: May 31, 2018

For the purposes of length, I will only focus on two of my most beloved 20th century theatrical works in this post. 20th century quartets and concertos deserve a solo blog post.

It took a long time to for me to begin appreciating this era of music. No, I’m not talking about the oh so ever catchy pop and R&B music. Rather, I’m thinking of composers like: Philip Glass, Charles Ives, Igor Stravinsky, and Paul Hindemith to name a few. For years, I frustratingly could not understand their music: perhaps, I was too cynical to hear the underlying beauty in their music. There were times that I imagined these composers sitting down with a glass of whisky, cigar in the same hand as their pen, writing random notes for each instrument, picking a random name for the piece and then have an orchestra perform it. Basically, I thought, composers just did whatever they wanted unlike the former musical eras where the term “structure” was followed.

Well, I decided to try it (with the absence of a cigar and a glass of wine instead). Oh, I wish I still had this god-forsaken composition to show you because it was awful. However, this experiment of mine allowed me to peak through the lens of 20th century composers. It wasn’t until my last music history class in college during which my musical palette expanded to this world of mysterious and curious music. Now I can’t seem to get enough of it!

The ones below are some of my favorites. (Yes, I’m that weirdo who sits at your local coffee shop and watch different versions of the same piece on YouTube.)

1) Einstein on the Beach:

I have wanted to see this opera performed as much as this country has wanted to see Hamilton on broadway. In college, my quartet would sing the opening Knee Play all the time. Listen to it and you will understand why. I suppose it made for a good group rhythm exercise. Einstein on the Beach is a brilliant composition by Philip Glass and directed by producer Robert Wilson. The music uses mathematical formulas alluding to Einstein’s theory of relativity. The themes of the opera allude to nuclear weapons and political machinations occuring in the mid twentieth century. It is a five hour long opera without intermission but allowing the audience to enter and leave freely during the performance (which is definitely my kind of opera). Einstein on the Beach has both mystically calming effects in one scene and abrupt surprising music in the next.

Click to hear Knee Play 1:

(If you watch Mr. Robot, you may have heard it in Season 2)

If it is too obscure for you try listening to the gorgeous violin solo from the opera:

2) The Rite of Spring:

No history lesson here, only a listening recommendation. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is another theatrical work (specifically a ballet) I have longed to hear in person. If you think ballet is boring, you will change your mind after hearing this one. It simply will not allow you to sleep. The dramatic rhythms and unusually placed accents will keep you wondering what will happen next. Now that we’ve established I am indeed an orch dork from my first post, I can freely admit I have gone on many runs to the selection below. If you are looking to run faster, try listening to this crazy piece of music.

Running part begins at 2:57:

Musically yours,

Christine B

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