'Classical' music from the last 50 years (or so)

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Posted (edited)

For as long as I've been listening to 'classical' music (about 40 years) I've tried to listen to contemporary classical with mixed results; in the end my centre of gravity lies in the first half of the 20thC.

But in the last few years I've redoubled my efforts to listen to newer music (and even older music that still sounds difficult) and found myself getting increasingly engaged (though often left a bit bewildered as to why).

So...

What music from the last 50 years (pretty arbitrary number but quite a bit there is still being absorbed beyond academic circles) has really grabbed you?

Preferably a few examples with some reasons why rather than lists. And please, please avoid sharing what you don't like. I'm sure there's room for a 'what 'classical' music from the last 50 years is crap?' thread elsewhere.

With so much out there I'm genuinely looking for things to explore.

Edited by A Lark Ascending

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Posted

I genuinely enjoy Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians."

I saw a blurb recently claiming that Karl Jenkins is the most popular current British classical composer. Is this true? As a Soft Machine fan, I found this interesting/amusing. I have the first Adiemus disc, but consider it more New Age than classical.

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Posted

I'll be interested in this. Pristine classical vinyl is available for next to nothing at my local shop. I'm not very knowledgeable about classical in general. I've just been stocking up on every D Gram LPs and boxed sets almost weekly.

I've been listening to Tschaikowsky-Karajan with the kids all morning. Perfect for this rainy Sunday.

All of which to say, I am almost completely ig'nant (hello elder moms clementine) when it comes to classical.

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Posted

I started a thread on Boulez (uh, a bit quiet) so I won't repeat all that, and I won't make a list either but just mention one composition at a time.

So my first up is Ligeti's violin concerto. Maybe other Ligeti like the Piano Concerto is ahead of this one, but I like this, love the eccentric squiffy tonality (including a passage for two ocarinas) but still a likable and sufficiently mainstream work that it has been taken up by several performers (including Tasmin Little, remarkably).

P.S. I am going to talk about compositions not about CDs.

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Posted

I started a thread on Boulez (uh, a bit quiet) so I won't repeat all that, and I won't make a list either but just mention one composition at a time.

So my first up is Ligeti's violin concerto. Maybe other Ligeti like the Piano Concerto is ahead of this one, but I like this, love the eccentric squiffy tonality (including a passage for two ocarinas) but still a likable and sufficiently mainstream work that it has been taken up by several performers (including Tasmin Little, remarkably).

P.S. I am going to talk about compositions not about CDs.

Thanks, David. This is just the sort of suggestion I'm interested in (the focus on composition rather than interpretation suits me too).

As it happens I downloaded a Ligeti set only last week. 5 CDs worth for sixpence. The first disc - including the Piano Concerto - made an immediate impact.

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Posted (edited)

I keep coming back to Stockhausen. Don't let that scare you - although most of his earlier output is very much in the avant-garde, much of his later output is surprisingly melodic, even if some of his melodies are a little off-center. Tierkreis (Zodiac) is one of his most-recorded works, probably because it is quite melodic. The twelve Zodiac melodies were originally composed for music boxes, to be used in a larger theater work, but he then wrote versions for many different instruments and ensembles. I particularly like this version on Pilz, arranged for trio and played by three of his favorite interpreters, Suzanne Stephens on clarinet, Kathinka Pasveer on flute, and Markus Stockhausen on trumpet and piano.

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The CD also has a solo trumpet piece ("Upper Lip Dance") extracted from the opera Samstag aus Licht. If you like that, you might enjoy some of Stockhausen's other pieces for solo instruments, like In Freundschaft (In Friendship). Originally written for clarinet, there are versions for almost every instrument.

Edited by jeffcrom

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Posted (edited)

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Here's one I've enjoyed for a long time. Actually saw one of the first performances in Nottingham in the 80s (I think) before it was recorded - Rattle at the helm.

It's a vast, Mahlerian piece that slowly unfolds over its 90 minute length. Probably considered a bit conservative - it clearly connects to the world of Mahler, Schoenberg (of the Chamber Symphonys), Berg. I 'got it' immediately in that concert and continue to play the disc.

Edited by A Lark Ascending

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Posted

Here are the the post-modernists that have engaged my interest: Morton Feldman (big time); Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Lygeti, Stockhausen, Earle Brown, Lutoslawski, Berio, Stravinsky (why not?) and yes, Boulez.

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Posted

Hope this thread can be added to.

Prefer single works or discs with a line or two as to why the music appeals.

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Posted

A "postwar" composer I've always liked is Bernd Alois Zimmermann. For one CD, I'd recommend Requiem für eine jungen Dichter, a massive and overpowering (though kinda depressing) vocal/tape collage piece covering 20th century history (well, through about 1970). I have a Sony recording with Gielen conducting, but I think there's at least one other. Because the tape is prominent, I wouldn't expect much difference between recordings (I saw a live performance once, and it sounded almost identical to the CD).

A Luigi Nono piece I really like (despite his Commie agitprop sensibilities :smirk: ) is Como una ola de fuerza y luz, which is a totally fiery and intense piano/vocal/orchestral/tape work. I have an old Berlin Classics CD, but I'm sure the DG (and possibly others) are OK.

Warning: both of the above employ 12-tone "idiom" in places (and the composers' overall works are generally serial), if that's a no-no for you.

Big fan of Morton Feldman, though he's likely too far out for many (sparsity, silences, low volume). The works that usually get recommended to "novices" are Rothko Chapel and Coptic Light for orchestra. I personally prefer solo piano pieces like Triadic Memories, Palais de Mari or For Bunita Marcus.

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Posted

Many thanks. Zimmerman and Nono are but names to me.

I have no grudge against serialism or any other -ism if the music that results engages me.

Feldman is someone I want to try after coming across lots of praise, especially on this site.

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Posted

Ben Johnston's String Quartets have been my first introduction to just intonation. Probably the most famous of them is his #5 (I think) with the incorporation of "Amazing Grace".

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Posted (edited)

Ben Johnston's String Quartets have been my first introduction to just intonation. Probably the most famous of them is his #5 (I think) with the incorporation of "Amazing Grace".

The "Amazing Grace" variations piece is actually the Fourth Quartet. But I strongly second Hoppy's recommendation: It is a remarkable piece, full of honest emotion and sonic delight. The Kepler Quartet is in the midst of recording all 10 of Ben's quartets. There are two volumes so far. The first has the 4th on it; the discs pair works from different eras so you get a sense of the composer's trajectory, from early dense serial works through a return to tonality and overt Americana references, plus the ever-present exploration of mictrotonality (but don't let that scare you -- he is a very human composer with an ear for song.) The Kronos recorded the Fourth on an album called "White Man Sleeps" that pairs it with music by Bartok, Ives, an arrangement of Ornette's "Lonely Woman" and more. There's also an old LP by the Fine Arts Quartet that I think was reissued on CD that pairs the Fourth with Ruth Crawford Seeger's quartet and something else that I forget.

I'll try and address the broader question -- works from the last 50 years I really like -- when I have a few free moments. It's a big, big topic. Many answers,

Edited by Mark Stryker

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Posted (edited)

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Or any disc from this outstanding series from Bridge records. Gorgeous music, this disc contains his well known piece, "Voice of the Whale." Fabulous playing by the group ICE.

Edited by Stefan Wood

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OK here's my second contribution. I am going to stick to recommending compositions and not CDs, although in this case I only know the work from CD.

Really with Hans Werner Henze I want to attract attention to two. One is the Requiem, an instrumental piece with major parts for trumpet and piano that started life as two separate concertos. The recording by Metzmacher is a classic and I know it has fans on this board.

Henze is very like Strauss in his love of sensuous immediacy and very free approach to form. He is also very much a vocal composer. The comparison with the reactionary Strauss would no doubt annoy Henze politically and aesthetically, but it helps explain that the centre of gravity in his works cannot be found in his symphonies, many of which are symphony in name only and several of which are derived from his operas. An exception is the 7th which he called 'germanic' and the 9th.

The 9th I find of intense interest but it is harder to approach than the Requiem. It is not musically more difficult, but it is a choral symphony in which the choir presents the narrative of The Seventh Cross by Anne Seghers, a novel about an escape from a German concentration camp. This means that in practical terms it is helpful to have the libretto, if not the score, as it has to be followed. It also means the work is quite dour and jarring, as it is a refusal of the optimism of Beethoven's Ninth. It is also a very dense work and therefore hard to record, which means you very much have to listen through the recording. I have the EMI version but the Wergo version is reported to be similar. Despite all those caveats, and although the work is not clearly a 'success', I think its existence is interesting and getting (somewhat) to grips with is a worthwhile exercise. I am interested in works intended to be public and from that point of view this is one of the more notbale of recent decades.

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Probably my favorite modern composer is Messiaen, who spans this 50 year period, though most of his better known compositions are over 50 years old. I never get tired of hearing Quartet for the End of Time. I've actually managed to see it live 3 times. It requires considerable control, particularly for the clarinet. Messiaen plays with unusual combinations of the 4 instruments throughout.

As far as "postmodern" composers, I like some of the work of Osvaldo Golijov, including Ainadamar, which is a quasi-opera about the murder of playwright/poet Federico García Lorca. I really wanted to like the Kronos Quartet recording of The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, but the volume kept swinging from ppp to fff, and my ears really can't bear that. Regardless if that was the composer's intentions, I won't listen more than once to pieces that do that.

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Posted (edited)

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Best string quartet music of the late 20th century. Period.

Edited by Stefan Wood

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Many thanks for these recs. As it happens I acquired a disc of the first 4 Carter Quartets today (Arditti) and one of some of the Ben Johnston Quartets. The Crumb dis is likely to get sucked of e-music too.

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Best string quartet music of the late 20th century. Period.

I was fortunately enough to see the Pacifica do the entire Shostakovich String Quartet cycle. It was incredible, and I picked up so much that I don't think I would have caught just listening to CDs; this was particularly true of #2 and #3. While most of these are on the cusp of 50 years, these string quartets are definitely worth investigating. I do think I like 13-15 the most.

I'm partial to the Fitzwilliam String Quartet cycle, but the Emerson Quartet also has recorded the complete cycle. Pacifica is in the midst of recording them as well, but including an additional string quartet by one of Shostakovich's contemporaries: Soviet Experience 1. It will probably take a couple of years for them to wrap this project up.

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Best string quartet music of the late 20th century. Period.

Not being funny here, but why do you consider it greater than other string quartet music of that era? Just interested as a way to getting into it.

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OK, a bit of hyperbole, but I really enjoy his music! The Arditti version is supposed to be excellent. I originally heard the Composers Quartet play it on Nonesuch, and then the Julliard, on Sony. I have recently ordered the Pacifica/Naxos, an award winning set, and equal in quality to the Arditti. The first, considered a landmark in American music, is breathtaking in its complexity and innovative use of counterpoint. Quoting from Carter's notes from the Nonesuch recording, he states:

Like the desert horizons I saw daily while it was being written, the First Quartet presents a continuous unfolding and changing of expressive characters -- one woven into the other or entering from it - on a large scale. The general plan was suggested by Jean Cocteau's Fil Le Sang d'un Poete, in which the entire dreamlike action is framed by an interrupted slow-motion shot of a tall brick chimney in an empty lot being dynamited. Just as the chimney begins to fall apart, the shot is broken off and the entire movie follows, after which the shot of the chimney is resumed at the point it left off, showing in its disintegration in mid-air, and closing the film with its collapse on the ground. A similar interrupted continuity is employed in this quartet's starting with a cadenza for cello alone that is continued by the first violin alone at the very end. On one level, I interpret Cocteau's idea (and my own) as establishing the difference between external time (measured by the falling chimney,or the cadenza) and internal dream time (the main body of the work) - the dream time lasting but a moment of external time but, from the dreamer's point of view, a long stretch. In the first Quartet, the opening cadenza also acts as an introduction to the rest, and when it reappears at the end, it forms the last variation in a set of variations.

As a visual artist, listening to this music for the first time was a revelation. I heard forms fragmenting and reforming, harmonizing and reacting against one another. I was used to the Bartok quartets, but these were something different. A different form of sonic storytelling, so to speak.

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Thanks for those recent contributions - just what I hoped for.

I listened to Carter's 1st and 4th last night (the Arditti set) and the 1st again this afternoon. A complete fog last night but today there were a few gaps in the mist - in particular a wonderful passage in the last couple of minutes of the second movement. Will keep returning to see what happens.

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The 2nd will lift the fog away.

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...On December 8, friends of Elliott Carter arranged for a concert at the 92nd St. Y in honor of his 103d birthday, which arrived three days later. All of the works were written in recent years, nine of them since Carter reached his century mark. The evening began with the most promising sign, a performance of a Duettino for violin and cello played by two well-known and superb performers, Rolf Schulte and Fred Sherry, who have played Carter for many decades, and continued with a new piece for solo violin.

This was followed by a world premiere of a string trio written this year. The program notes by John Link claim that Carter tries in this piece to give an unaccustomed leading role to the viola and writes revealingly that “as in much of Carter’s recent music, the line between dispute and shared expression is ambiguous,” but this was already true of the treatment of the viola in Carter’s second string quartet of more than a half century ago. Nevertheless, the new string trio is a dramatic and satisfying work. Some even grander works appeared later in the program..."

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Now playing: Marva Broome & The Art Ensemble of Chicago - For All We Know

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Posted

A little early on the mid century mark (c 1949), but well worth exploring:

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