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I was asked an interesting question earlier this week. As composers, we like to believe that our compositions are truly unique. However, we also know and can trace trends that have been passed down by composers through the years. (New instrumentation, new form, structure, etc......) 

So.....back to the question: Can you think of specific examples, in the last 20 years, of composers who came up with something new that was followed by others?

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20 years ago is not a very long time frame to measure influence.

Who can even name a few active and influential composers of the last 20 years ?
Uh... Philip glass? Minimalism? *shrugs* you said to TRY...
This is a good point Adrian. I had a feeling that might be true. I can think of quite a few progressive composers but it's hard to say the they had any direct influence on another group of guys. I started to look into Michael Daugherty's music a little.

Thank you for the tries.
I suspect even 'Minimalism' is dying a slow death. I brought up this subject a couple of years ago, as I believe that in art music, there isn't anything that hasn't been done before. The ultra-modernists came up with indeterminancy and 'silence', so unless someone invents a style that involves tackyon (spelt wrong probably) beams and fifth dimensions, there's nothing particularly revolutionary that will catch on. That's why I believe that composers of today rely on ''eclecticism''.

'''Eclectism'' officially means "borrowed from other sources". Therefore, we as composers have all the different styles of the last five hundred years to play with. So depending on one's influences and the music they have listened to in the past, you'll generally find that composers of today write a hybrid of all different styles, because that's all that's left for us.

The 20th century was an incredibly rich period of invention. There is a whole list of different styles:

Impressionism - Debussy/Ravel
Expressionism - Stravinsky
Free Tonality - Hindemith
Nationalism - Bartok/Kodaly/Vaughan Williams
Serialism/Atonality - Schoenberg/Berg/Webern
Minimalism - Adams/Glass/Reich
Modernism - Stockhausen/Cage all the composers who had their own independent style of writing such as Messiaen, Shostakovich (although restricted due to influence beyond his control). So what is left for us 21st century composers, but to just write in one's own style with the elements of different styles from the past, and not just from classical music, as it's not unknown to include idiomatic elements from jazz, folk music or even pop music. There is one composer on this site who has written a marvellous piece for a small ensemble that combines elements of quartal harmony, atonality and jazz. And it's on live instruments as well:

Paul Mitchell-Davidson - "Threnody (Song for Sarajevo)"

So you see, I can't really see there being a particular trend that will attract composers en masse, because it's all been done before.

"Eclecticism" is the way forward!
Unfortunately, most musical sounds in the last 20-30 years consist of relentlessly repeated mechanical loops with similar and trivial ideas. I do not know who set this trend, but it is very strong; I suspect minimalism has some influence here.

More interesting trend now (in my opinion) is inventing new instruments with ambient sounds, and probably the trends here are set by talented audio engineers - maybe even more than by conventional composers who write scores consisting of note signs.
One composer that I think is becoming a trend setter in the choral music world is Eric Whitacre and his extreme use of cluster chords in tonal music. A lot of his music has chords stacked in seconds and moving in such manner. Their is even now a term for that called "Whitacre Chords". If you have ever sung in a choir in a high school or university around 2002-ish to now, you know him and you probably know is LEADGENS of fans in the choir world, thus his music is incredibly popular to sing. Thus their has been TONS of copy cat composers following his lead. About every other choral piece of music that I have sung that was made after 2004 has some Whitacre-like cluster chord in it somewhere in it.
So if their is any real trend its Diatonic cluster chords in tonal choral music.

If you havent heard of his music here is one of his most popular pieces, I myself even sung this in high school:
People have been talking here about minimalism as though it's something new, but in fact it's about 40 years old !
Very true.

Adrian Allan said:
People have been talking here about minimalism as though it's something new, but in fact it's about 40 years old !
Let's see...Kurt Cobain, Thom York, Jack White, Eminem, Kanye West

Yeah I know, not really "composers", but popular music has become the more energized, vibrant, living field. It has been that way for a while now. Hopefully art music will become culturally relevant again, not that it's completely irrelevant now, but compared to popular music...
Thanks guys...these comments are great!

I would like to see (if it's possible) if we can steer this discussion closer to the kind of example Tyler gave. By trends, I think the question I was asked was focused towards more specific or subtle changes like new instruments (thanks to Andrew G for that example.....i'm looking into that), new colors, new subjects of inspiration, etc...

I really enjoyed listening to this Mitchell-Davidson piece....very cool.
If you mean my note Adrian, I meant minimalsm was the core of this loop-based music (my wording was probably understood in the opposite sense because of my bad English).

Adrian Allan said:
People have been talking here about minimalism as though it's something new, but in fact it's about 40 years old !
I didn't just mean you, no.

I thought that drugs, rather than a "high art" concept like minimalism was the inspiration for most loop based music.

Why ?

Because anything that repetitive only sounds good when your pupils are dilated and you're grinding away.

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