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The 20th century was a breeding ground of musical innovation and transformation unlike any other era in history. Within this course, you’ll discover the genius of composers such as Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Bartók, Ligeti, Adès, and many others. Experience the superlative musical art that so vividly and unforgettably speaks to the life of our times.

Great Music of the 20th Century is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (24 episodes). The series first aired on .

Great Music of the 20th Century is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Great Music of the 20th Century on demand at Amazon Prime, Amazon, Kanopy online.

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Great Music of the 20th Century Full Episode Guide

  • Finally, as a firsthand, contemporary account of one composer's life in music, Professor Greenberg discusses his own professional journey. Trace his performing arts family background, his musical education, career path, and the finding of his voice as a composer. Hear a range of his acclaimed works, highlighting his string quartets, song cycles, and concerti.

  • The 20th century ended with a trend toward "pluralism" - the practice of employing a range of different musical languages within a single work or movement. Witness the incredible range of this musical inclusivity and synthesis in composers ranging from the Americans Joseph Schwantner, Martin Bresnick, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Jennifer Higdon to the British composer Thomas Adès.

  • Postmodernism in music represented both a return to the musical values of Romanticism and an amalgam of diverse musical influences. Investigate the music of George Rochberg and David del Tredici, both of whom embraced musical styles from the past. Then explore "pastiche" - direct quotation from earlier works - in the phenomenal music of Luciano Berio, Peter Maxwell Davies, and George Crumb.

  • Cover global ground in this lecture, which looks at important 20th-century composers outside of the European/American orbit. Hear the fusion of Asian and Western traditions in the music of Tōru Takemitsu (Japan), Isang Yun (Korea), Chinery Ung (Cambodia), and Tan Dun (China). Discover the musical riches of Latin American composers Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chávez, and Alberto Ginastera.

  • The cultural environment of California produced some of the most original musical thinkers of the 20th century. First encounter Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison, composers of astonishing eclecticism whose works incorporated non-Western musical forms. Also meet John Cage and Morton Feldman, whose "indeterminate" music introduced new conceptions of unpredictability and a non-directional sense of time.

  • Discover the music of visionary composers who turned away from Serialism and Ultraserialism, beginning with Hans Werner Henze and Luigi Nono. Assess the place of postwar Ultraserialism, and the factors that led many to reject it. Explore the extraordinary Stochastic or "sound mass" music of Iannis Xenakis, and how his innovations prefigured and influenced the phenomenal works of György Ligeti.

  • Delve into the singular aesthetic philosophy behind Stravinsky's neoclassic music, in which he describes his compositional process as purely formal and objective. Learn about Stravinsky's relocation to the United States, and how in his seventies he turned to writing 12-tone music. Grasp how his last major work, Requiem Canticles, functions as a musical retrospective of his career.

  • Learn how the advent of musical synthesizers and the tape recorder gave rise to both electronic music (using sounds created electronically) and musique concrète (manipulating real sounds with a tape recorder). Witness how Ultraserialism developed within Europe, leading paradoxically to hyper-complex music which in performance sounded random - a fatal problem for listener comprehension.

  • The composers under discussion here were nonconformists whose works stand virtually as separate genres of music. Begin with celebrated individualist Charles Ives, and his programmatic masterwork, Three Places in New England. Then contemplate the alternate tonal system of Harry Partch, the mega-polyphony of Elliott Carter, and the unique music scored for player pianos by Conlon Nancarrow.

  • This lecture explores the rich diversity of American vernacular music, as it influenced and inspired American composers. Take account of the integral impact on America of West African musical forms, and their role in the development of blues, ragtime, and jazz. See how George Gershwin and Aaron Copland synthesized these forms in jazz-tinged masterworks that became icons of American music.

  • In 1925, Schoenberg developed a compositional system that would dominate Western concert music for 50 years. Study the elements of his "12-Tone Method," based in the use of a "tone row" where all 12 musical pitches are used in a pre-determined sequence. Observe how this system allowed composers to write large-form, non-tonal music. Grasp its enormous influence, and its challenges for listeners.

  • The 1920s saw both an explosion of new compositional languages and a conservative backlash against modernism. Follow the fortunes of Stravinsky, as he created a new ballet score for Diaghilev, incorporating themes from the Baroque composer Pergolesi. In Pulcinella, see how Stravinsky's ingenious treatment of the score created a neo-Classic musical hybrid of astonishing modernist sensibility.

  • Here, take the measure of the Viennese triumvirate of Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern, who advanced a historically new, non-tonal music. Delve into the most representative work of this era, Schoenberg's song cycle Pierrot Lunaire, and experience Schoenberg's stunning compositional language. Investigate the extraordinary works and contributions of Berg and Webern.

  • Learn about Schoenberg's friendship with Gustav Mahler, who defended Schoenberg's groundbreaking compositions. Study Schoenberg's remarkable metamorphosis in which he sought to free melody from the limits of functional tonality, as exemplified in his Six Little Pieces for Piano. Examine events in Schoenberg's personal life that may help explain his final break with musical tradition.

  • Schoenberg was both substantially misunderstood as a composer, and one of the greatest influences on 20th-century music. Learn about the enormous enmity and dissent that greeted his compositions, as they challenged tradition and offended musical conservatism. Trace his early life and music, his vision as a composer, and the achievements of his most "popular" work, Transfigured Night.

  • Relive The Rite of Spring's riotous premiere, and examine the qualities that made it the most influential musical work of the 20th century. Observe how Stravinsky evoked ancient pagan rituals through stunning rhythmic asymmetry, bi-tonal harmony, and other daring compositional techniques. Take account of how the Rite changed the way composers thought about rhythm, melody, and orchestration.

  • In the first of two lectures on this giant of 20th-century music, trace the early life of Stravinsky, the environment in which he grew to maturity, and his musical education and influences. Follow Stravinsky's relationship with the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, their legendary partnership in the ballets The Firebird and Petrushka, and grasp the striking musical originality of those works.

  • Examine historical and social factors that influenced 20th-century composers' abandonment of tradition and obsession with originality. Then learn about the influence of 19th-century German art on the French, and the new French nationalism in music that followed the Franco-Prussian War. Take a first look at Claude Debussy, whose revolutionary music created a new musical syntax.