Exploring Music's Complexities

Modern Forms of Instrumental Music

Age of Musical Diversity

The history of modern music forms sbegan when composers such as Claude Debussy, Charles Ives and Alban Berg turned away from harmonic methods that had been used in music for over 150 years.  Instead, Debussy infused his music with Russian and East Asia harmonic techniques.   He also shared with Impressionist painters a propensity to depict nature.  Ives blended, overlaid and contrasted tunes of music from American life.  Berg’s opera “Wozzeck” displayed inner conflict and alienation from conventions of society.  Critics agree to credit Debussy with our entering the “Modern” era of Western art Music (1).

Modern Forms of Music

Music changing over time follows technology changes.  When listening to modern forms of music one can hear these changes (2).  As noted by Espie Estrella, there may be a prominence of percussion instruments and or noisemakers.  There also are new ways of combining chords and building of chord structures as heard in Elliott Carter’s “Fantasy” (3).

Symphonic Suites:  An instrumental suite unlike the Baroque dance suite and different from the Late Romantic suite.  It is thought to be a cross between a symphony and a tone poem.  (Ravel’s “Mother Goose” )

Symphonic Poem:  Often more ugly and more brutal than the typical Romantic poem (Richard Strauss’s “Eine Alpensinfonie of 1915)

Ballet:  An offshoot of opera became very popular during the early 20th Century.  (“Swan Lake, “New Music”)

Concerto:  The concerto began to take its modern shape in the late-Baroque period, beginning with the concerto grosso form popularized by Arcangelo Corelli). The Baroque classical concerto was mainly for a string instrument (violinviolacello, seldom viola d’amore or harp) or a wind instrument (fluterecorderoboebassoonhorn, or trumpet.) (5).

Today the term has evolved into describing a piece of music that features a “soloist” who stands at the front of the orchestra playing the melody while the orchestra accompanies.  The soloist sets the stage for the performance.  The conductor follows.

Symphony:  There is an absence of a typical 20th Century symphony.  It is probably safe to say “it’s every composer for himself”.

Chamber Music: Early on Chamber Music took two routes “traditional and radical”.  Ravel, Debussy, and Faure are examples of composers of traditional chamber music.  Hindemith and Bartok are examples of the radical side

Composers of the Modern Period

Modern Forms of music include compositions by Richard StraussEdward Elgar, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Zoltan Kodaly, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Sergei ProkofievDmitri Shostakovich, John CagePhilip GlassMichael NymanLeonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Benjamin Britten, Olivier Messiaen, Henryk Gorecki, Gyorgy LigetiJohn CoriglianoAaron CoplandJohn WilliamsGeorges Auric, Darius Milhaud, Malcolm Arnold (3).

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Music of the 21st Century

Virtually all types of music forms are being written today.  Technology continues to play an important role in the development of 21st century music.   Composers use recording tapes as a compositional tool.   Electronically generated sounds are used both on their own and in combination with traditional instruments.  Some are manipulating the performance of instruments in real time (4).

Listen, like and buy

The nice thing about all of this is you can choose any form in preference to what is in vogue.  Don’t stop listening!


  1. https://www.musicgenreslist.com/music-classical.
  2. https://www.quora.com/How-has-music-changed-over-time.
  3.  http://www.mfiles.co.uk/composers. 
  4. https://www.thoughtco.com/music-instruments-and-innovvations-2456617
  5.  Goulding, Phil G.  Classical Music.  The 50 Greatest Composers and their 1,000 Greatest Works. Fawcett Columbine.  New York, 1992.  pp.90-93.

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