10 pieces to introduce 20th and Century music

If you were introducing 20th century music to a friend, a class, or a to
any just interested in Modern music and only had ten pieces to
show a spectrum or shows a evolutionary time line of music from
1900- 1999.
Pick ten pieces (operas, symphonies, chamber music, any complete pieces)
that you think best represent the 20th century or that you think are
the best ten pieces to introduce some one who isn't familiar with music
of the 20th century, and why.

You need to be a member of Composers' Forum to add comments!

Join Composers' Forum

Email me when people reply –


  • Le Mer; Debussy
    I would start off with this piece because it displays Impressionism as it enters the 20th century, and shows how composers were looking at other cultures for musical inspiration.

    Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth") ; Mahler
    I choose this piece to show that music from the romantic period was still present and thriving in the early 20th century.

    Le sacre du printemps ("The Rite of Spring") ; Stravinsky
    I choose this piece to demonstrate the dramatic shift in music and to demonstrate new compositional techniques.

    Pierrot Lunaire ("Moonstruck Pierrot") ; Schoenberg
    I choose this piece because it demonstrates atonality, Sprechstimme, and several other compositional techniques.

    Quatuor pour la fin du temps ; Olivier Messiaen
    I choose this for the compositional technique used, but mainly for its history and its the circumstances that surround the creation of this piece.

    4′33″; John Cage
    This piece I choose to demonstrate Aleatoric music and experimental music. It is used to also show how music was changing and what people began to consider music.

    Appalachian Spring ; Aaron Copland
    I choose this piece to demonstrate what became known as the "American Sound".

    Different Trains ; Steve Reich
    I choose this piece to demonstrate minimalism and tape music.

    Sunday in the Park with George ; Stephen Sondheim
    This piece is to show has Broadway had developed with the times.

    Empreintes for 15 instruments and live electronics ; Joshua Fineberg
    This piece as an example of acoustic instruments playing with live electronics.
  • Good list, however, I wouldnt go as far back as Beethoven. Maybe Wagner with Tristan and Isolde

    Fredrick zinos said:
    i think I would have to start with music from the 19th century to make the transtion from the sound structure of mozart to that of the 21st century.

    Beethoven Grosse Fugue
    Bruckner symphony #9
    Sibelius symphony #4
    Schoenberg Chamber symphony Op 9
    Ives Three Places in New England
    Stravinsky Rite of Spring
    Stockhausen Gesang Der Junglinge
    Penderecki Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima
    Phillip Glass Koyaanisqatsi
    John Adams Chamber Symphony
    10 pieces to introduce 20th and Century music
    If you were introducing 20th century music to a friend, a class, or a to any just interested in Modern music and only had ten pieces to show a spectr…
  • The pieces I would choose for an audience already well versed in music up to 1900 would be very different from the pieces I would choose for a lay person. However I think this would make a good starting curriculum. While some of these may not be the "most important" pieces of the 20th century for pedagogical aesthetic reasons I think they make a good introduction. Part of introducing people to new concepts is giving it to them in chunks that are representative of big ideas. In this respect the Webern and Rzewski are extremely articulate in illustrating the ideas of expressionism and development that creates a good foundation for understanding much of the 20th century.


    In the order I would teach them:


    Webern 5 movements for String Quartet op.5

    Bartok String Quartet nr. 5

    Bruno Maderna Serenata nr. 2

    Fred Rzewski The People United Can Never Be Defeated

    Ivan Tcherepnin Flores Musicales

    Elliott Carter Canaries

    Conlon Nancarrow Player Piano Studies

    Helmut Lachenmann Pression

    Charles Ives Symphony 4

    Luciano Berio Sinfonia

  • La Mer, Debussy

    Le Sacre, Stravinsky

    Putnam's Camp from 3 Places, Ives

    Six Little Pieces for Piano, op. 19, Schoenberg

    Wozzeck, Berg

    String Quartet, Ruth Crawford Seeger

    Turangalila, Messiaen

    Sinfonia, Berio

    Piano Phase, Riley

    Black Angels, Crumb

  • The problem with introducing someone to all the different experimental styles of the 20th century is that you’ll probably do nothing but convince them that they don’t need listen to any of it.  My approach would not be to give them a survey of all the different directions taken in the 20th century, but to give them examples of music that is more accessible, especially after Rochberg brought tonality and neo-romanticism back in the sixties.  Basically I would exclude the extremes of Boulez, Stockhausen, Messiaen, Cage, etc..  I would be sure to include post 60’s pieces from Rochberg, Penderecki, Ginestera, Lutoslawski, Tower, and Brouwer to represent the second half of the 20th century.  The first half of the century is a lot easier as you can include Hindemith, Bartok, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Poulenc, etc etc.,  which are pretty easily accessible.


    On a side note, I wish orchestras and musicians would spend the majority of their time performing these composers I’ve listed a lot more. 

This reply was deleted.