The Contemporary

Contemporary music

By 1960, modernist music was running out of steam. The real rebels were now to be found in rock ‘n’ roll and pop. The next generation of ‘serious’ composers relaxed and had a wider palette of musical colours to work with - influences from other cultures, popular music, ancient music and the experiments of modernism.

  • Minimalism: building whole pieces out of repetitive rhythms and musical phrases, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman and John Adams have been at the forefront of a movement which not only broke musical boundaries but won them huge popularity. Their music reflects our cosmopolitan, technologically-advanced society - sometimes including elements of jazz and rock, sometimes played on synthesisers or generated using computers.
  • A group of composers who met while studying in Manchester have become the main exponents of ‘post-modern’ music in Britain. While music written by Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and Alexander Goehr isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, it can be profoundly powerful and stimulating.
  • The new spirituality: a lot of today’s music is varied, colourful and has an enormous following. The British composer John Tavener has been hugely successful. The Beatles’ company Apple Corps funded many of his first works in the 1960s. Since then, the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church have increasingly influenced Tavener and many people love his deeply religious, contemplative music as a way of dealing with the pace of modern life. Music written by Tavener was used at the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales in 1997, and to welcome in the Year 2000 at the Millennium Dome.
  • The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt also writes religious music which has found a great audience. His pieces are often very simple and sparse; the famous solo violin piece Spiegel im Spiegel, for example, uses only a few melodic and rhythmic ideas, which are repeated at a stately pace to create an incredible feeling of space and contemplation. The same is true for the Polish composer Henryck Gorecki, whose stunning Symphony No.3 blends repeating musical fragments with a striking soprano line to create a spellbinding effect.

Top Contemporary Pieces