Skip to Main Content

Contemporary Classical Music: Home

Contemporary Classical Music History

Contemporary Classical Defined

Contemporary classical music can be understood as belonging to the period that started in the mid-1970s to early 1990s, which includes modernist, postmodern, neoromantic, and pluralist music. However, the term may also be employed in a broader sense to refer to all post-1945 musical forms.

Generally "contemporary classical music" includes modern forms of art music such as post-tonal music after the death of Anton Webern, including serial music, electroacoustic music, musique concrète, experimental music, atonal music, minimalist music, etc; and post-1975 music such as Spectral music, post-minimalism, sound art, etc. Notable composers include Philip Glass, John Adams, Steve Reich, Thomas Adès, Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, Arvo Pärt, Terry Riley and Charles Ives. Continue reading from ClassicFM

Form and Structure

Unlike the symphony and sonata forms of the past, there was a breakaway towards aleatoric music (sometimes known as chance music), which provided greater flexibility over the outcome of a work. As opposed to clear notations that would direct an interpretation, a composer might choose to give the performer a wide range of interpretative options or instead leave the composition to indeterminate factors.

One champion of aleatoric music was John Cage. His most famous piece, 4’33, has minimal directions and no “music” at all. The absence of sound from the performer was meant to draw attention to the audience; in essence, the main argument of Cage’s work is that the audience also contributes their sounds to the event of a live performance.  Other composers during this time began to experiment with this indeterminacy of composition. Another American composer, Lamonte Young, was inspired heavily by John Cage and produced a set of pieces with various performance instructions entitled Compositions 1960.  Continue reading from CMuse

Watch Contemporary Classical Music History


Philip Glass Performing his Work, "Metamorphosis IV"


Copland Conducting his Famous "Appalachian Spring"


George Walker 's "Lyric for Strings", Performed by the Chenike! Orchestra

Delve Deeper into Electronic Music History

Link to John Cage and Postmodernism Resource Guide
Link to Air and Simple Gifts Resource Guide
Link to Atonal Classical Composition Resource Guide

Check Out a Book on Contemporary Classical Music

Link to Words Without Music by Philip Glass in the Catalog
Link to The Classical Revolution by John Borstlap in Freading
Link to Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical music by Amiri Baraka in the Catalog
Link to The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross in the Catalog
Link to Summertime: George Gershwin's Life In Music by Richard Crawford in the Catalog
Link to Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage by Kenneth Silverman in the Catalog
Link to The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg in the Catalog
Link to Fundamentals of Musical Composition by Arnold Schoenberg in the Catalog
Link to The Indispensable Composers by Anthony Tommasini in the Catalog
Link to Dangerous Melodies by Jonathan Rosenberg in the Catalog
Link to The Life and Music of Bela Bartok by Halsey Stevens in the Catalog
Link to Hallelujah Junction by John Adams in the Catalog
Link to The Complete Copland by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis in the Catalog