American Music Composers

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Chapter 8 pages 437-461

Serialism: method of composing that uses an ordered group of musical elements to organize rhythm, dynamics, and tone color, as well as pitch; developed in the mid-twentieth-century. Chance (aleatory) music: music composed by the random selection of pitches, tone colors, and rhythms; developed in the 1950s by John Cage and others. Minimalist music: music characterized by steady pulse, clear tonality, and insistent repetition of short melodic patterns; its dynamic level, texture, and harmony tend to stay constant for fairly long stretches of time, creating a trance-like or hypnotic effect; developed in the 1960s. Quotation: works which make extensive use of quotations from earlier music; common since the mid-1960s. Microtones: interval smaller than a half step.

Prepared piano: a piano whose sound is altered by placing objects such as bolts, screws, rubber bands, or pieces of felt between the strings of some of the keys. Vibraphone: percussion instrument o definite pitch with metal bars, similar to the marimba, with tubular metal resonators driven by electronic impulses. Marimba: percussion instrument with tuned wooden bars, similar to the xylophone, but larger and having cylindrical acoustic resonators.

(p. 446) Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1946-1948) by John Cage. Biological: John Cage (1912-1992). He was an American composer that was highly influential creator of chance music and major figure in the development of percussion music. He invented the prepared piano, a grand piano that’s sound is altered by objects such as bolts, screws, rubber bands, pieces of felt, paper, and plastic inserted between the strings of some of the keys. He invented the prepared piano around 1940, when he was asked to write music for a modern dance on an African theme. The large-scale Sonatas and Interludes, lasting about 66 minutes, is his best-known work for prepared piano. Type of Composition: Sonata, A A B B form.

(p. 448) Poeme electronique (Electronic Poem; 1958), by Edgard Varese. Biological: Edgard Varese (1883-1965). He was one of the great innovators of the twentieth-century music. He was born in France, but spent most of his life in the United States. As early as 1916, he dreamt of freeing music from the limitations of traditional instruments and expanding the vocabulary of sounds. In the 1920s and 1930s, he pioneered in the exploration of percussive and noise like sounds, and he wrote the first important work for percussion ensemble. At the age of seventy-five (in 1958), he composed Poeme electronique, one of the earliest masterpieces of electronic music created in a tape studio. It is 8 minutes long, and was heard within the pavilion of the Philips Radio Corporation at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. He worked in collaboration with the architect Le Corbusier, who picked out a series of images that were projected on the walls as the music was heard. Type of Composition: electronic poem.

(p. 449) Threnody: To the Victims of Hiroshima, for 52 Strings (1960) by Krzysztof Penderecki. Biological: Krzysztof Penderecki was born in 1933. He was a boy when the Nazis occupied Poland and massacred most of the Jewish population. Even though he was not personally threatened, he felt deep compassion for the victims. He expressed his compassion for human suffering in such works as Dies irae (1967), to the memory of the victims of Auschwitz. He draws spectacular and novel sounds from voices and conventional instruments in this work as well as Threnody: To the Victims of Hiroshima and St. Luke Passion. In his works, there is an almost unbearable intensity; the sounds are not meant to be pleasant. He often used slides or glissandos to make the clusters expand and contract. Type of Composition: electronic, climactic. I almost want to say it is a requiem because of what it is about, but I am not sure.

(p. 451) Ancient Voices of Children (1970), by George Crumb. Biological: George Crumb was...
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