George Gershwin - Gershwin was one of the prominent composers and songwriters of the 20th century. He composed scores for Broadway musicals and wrote some of the most memorable songs of our time. Most of the lyrics of Gershwins' songs were written by his older brother Ira Gershwin. One of Gershwin’s influences was classical music, which he fused with other music genres. His works were also influenced by his travels and experiences. He used musical instruments that at the time were not widely used, such as the maracas and bongo drums in his "Cuban Overture." His song "Of Thee I Sing" won a Pulitzer Prize in 1931. His opera, "Porgy and Bess," premiered in 1935 with mixed reactions but is now considered one of his greatest works. It was later performed at La Scala, Milan. His “Rhapsody in Blue” for piano and orchestra has one movement and has a jazz-like theme.
Aaron Copland - Copland was an influential composer, conductor, writer and teacher of the 20th century. He helped bring American music to the forefront. Copland wrote the ballet "Billy the Kid" and "Rodeo" which were both based on American folk stories. He was also influenced by jazz and used certain techniques such as polychords and polyrhythms. His ballet “Appalachian Spring” employs a huge percussion section. He also wrote film scores based on John Steinbeck's novels, namely "Of Mice and Men" and "The Red Pony." His “The Heiress" won an Academy Award; he also received a Pulitzer Prize, and over 30 honorary degrees during his career.
Bela Bartok - Bartok was a Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist and music teacher. He was an avid collector of folk songs. His compositions, which include stage and orchestral works, were influenced by music forms of the Classical period as well as the 20th century. However, he reinterpreted these forms and at times gave it a folk flavor. In 1906, he and Zoltan Kodaly published Hungarian Folk Songs which sparked interest on the music of central Europe. Bartok employed different techniques that were widely used during the 20th century, such as polychords, changes in meter and the use of percussion instruments uncommonly used in previous periods. He was one of the composers who were affected during the Nazi regime. This forced him to migrate to the United States where he encountered personal, financial and physical hardships. His last compositions where written when he was already very ill, but remains much-loved works to this day. He became well-known in the United States after his death.
John Cage - Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano by Cage is a strangely beautiful and hypnotic piece. It reflects the music styles of the 20th century as it is highly innovative. In this piece, the composer placed various materials between the strings of the piano keys which altered the sound of the piano. It is also an example of chance music because, even though the type of material and where it should be placed on the piano has been specified, Cage leaves room for creative interpretation. As a result, when you hear other recordings of this work, it sounds different than Cage’s. There are changes in dynamics and tempo, tones that are muted and bright, sounds that mimic drums, brief pauses, repeated patterns and rapid notes towards the end. Many hail Cage as a genius; however there are those who think otherwise. Whatever our opinions are of this composer and his works, one thing is for sure, he was one of the most innovative composers of the 20th century.