Violin" by Juan Gris]
The evolution of music has been driven by composers' reactions to the music that they have been exposed to. For the most part, they have usually tried to adjust or improve upon the music that has come before them. However, the Modern period has been largely focused on completely redefining music as we know it. The twentieth century has been a time of musical experimenation, as composers have tried to redefine virtually every aspect of music: tonality, rhythm, form, harmony, and even the qualities of sound itself.
The reason that composers wanted to completely change the face
of music was mostly because the old systems were growing so
overused that they were becoming limiting factors. A large question
looming over composers was "what do you do when everything's been
done already?". As many different composers tried to answer this
question in many different ways, the musical world was split in
more different directions than it had been pulled before.
One usually points to Impressionism as being the root of the Modern period. However, the end of World War I is widely considered the real start of the Modern period. Postwar society was characterized by rebellion and experimentation. As a result, music of the time became increasingly divided as composers went their own separate ways. Because of its experimental nature, much of the music from 1910 to 1930 was called "the new music". A major development of this time was the concept of atonality.
In the thirties, the world faced a global economic depression, as well as the rise of dictatorships in Germany, Russia, and Italy. The tension of the time led many to adjust moral, political, and social questions. Music was affected as well, and from 1930 to 1950 there was a general movement to bridge the gap between "old" and "new" music. The Neo-Classical movement came as a result of this longing to somehow return to tradition.
In retrospect, the 20th century was generally a century of
"isms": Atonalism, Serialism, Minimalism, etc. No one can really tell yet
which of these movements will stand the test of time; as Schoenberg
put it: "Contemporaries are not final judges, but are generally
overruled by history."
Chamber Music in the Modern Period
The late Romantic period was full of massive, extravagant symphonies and tone-poems. For modern composers trying to counteract the size and scope of these gigantic works, chamber music provided the ideal medium. As a result, chamber music saw a bit of a resurgence in the Modern period.
However, the idea of chamber music was somewhat changed as well.
Many composers, seeking out new sound colors, tried several
different arrangements of instruments. Also, the music became
increasingly harder, to the point that much of it is playable only
by very skilled ensembles.
Currently it is difficult to tell which of the modern composers will be remembered by history. A few men seem to have already earned this lasting recognition. Among them are Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Arnold Schoenberg who are considered among the great authors of chamber music in the 20th century. Other widely recognized names include Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Prokofiev. There are many more names out there, but whether they will be remembered or not is still a question up in the air.
Click here to see
the full listing of Modern composers.