In the twentieth century, musicians were very open to change. Many new styles and genres were made. In a way, they got rid of all of the rules and created new ones. Composers, trying new things, created ragtime, jazz. Some of the new approaches towards tonality were atonality, polytonality, neotonality and the twelve-tonal methods. Different styles were impressionism, expressionism, neoclassicism, primitivism and minimalism. Composers trying to create completely new sounds produced experimental music, spatial music, and electronic music. Not all composers aimed for completely new things. Some wanted to continue the traditions of old classical composers while also finding ways to make their music relevant in their time. All of these elements together are what characterize the twentieth century and what influences much of our music today.
At the end of the nineteenth century, there were African Americans whose traditions got blended with American music. As a result of this, new traditions, such as jazz were formed. Jazz has a lot of styles and genres included within it. Early beginnings of jazz came out of ragtime and blues music. A good example of ragtime is Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag which is still one of the most popular ragtime pieces to this day. The music of the blues expresses feelings about oppression and sadness. It contained elements from the African American tradition like syncopated rhythms, growls, slides, and blue notes. There were two major kinds of blues which were the Delta and Classic blues. The Delta Blues had more of the older style and traditions in it. They usually were performed by African-American males playing a guitar. Usually Classic blues were typically performed by women. One of these famous women was Bessie Smith whose Back Water Blues includes the most popular form known as twelve-bar blues. The twelve-bar blues uses the tonic, the subdominant and the dominant in a set sequence that repeats itself throughout the song. The lyrics are in AAB form. The first two lines repeat the same idea and the last line either concludes the idea or presents a new question.
“The leading style of jazz in the period just after World War I is now known as New Orleans jazz” (Burkholder, p. 867). Out of this came the form of jazz that we know today. It has a steady rhythmic and harmonic background with soloists who improvise over the top. A few very well-known improvisers during this time were Joe “King” Oliver and Louis Armstrong. They both played in the New Orleans style. Another influential jazz artist was Duke Ellington. He brought new innovations to jazz that include fast, syncopated melodies with unexpected twists. Ellington enjoyed finding new musicians that had unique sounds. He is a very typical twentieth century composer because he constantly tried to push the boundaries and try new things.
When it came to pushing boundaries and trying new things, Arnold Schoenberg was a perfect example of...