Contemporary Music and some famous European composers Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium
The New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic is a concert of classical music that takes place each year in the morning of January 1 in Vienna, Austria. It is broadcast around the world to an estimated audience of 50 million people and 73 countries.

In recent articles we already focused on different artistic genres and this time we will discover contemporary music and some important European composers.

"Contemporary Classical Music"

What is generally called contemporary music is actually an evolution of classical music and for this reason very often this genre is also named contemporary classical music. In fact since the end of World War II a new kind of music developed, originally inspired by romantic music, but also introducing many different characteristics of modern music (atonality, twelve-tone music, Second Viennese school, etc..). The debate over the use of the definition is still open and although some critics include in this category all genre of music composed in the modern age, others focus just on the use of avant-garde music. Nowadays there are many and specialized Festivals dedicated to contemporary music, such as the Donaueschingen Festival of Contemporary Music, the Festivals of Aix-en-Provence, the Wien Modern, the Ultima Festival in Oslo, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival, the Festival Pontino of Latina and the Festival Tempo Reale in Florence.

We could generally divide the development of contemporary music in two major periods:

1945 - 1970: electronic music, concrete music, experimental music, minimalist music;

1970 - Today: Postmodern music, neo-tonality, spooky music.

The post-war period saw the birth of the Summer Courses for New Music Composition, which is held every two years at the International Institute for Music of the German city of Darmstadt, in which musical language was revolutionized. One of the most influential teachers in the early years in Darmstadt was French composer Olivier Messiaen, who introduced musical techniques borrowed from non-European musical cultures in his works.

The 60's to the 90's

During the Sixties musical vocabulary expanded and instrumental techniques took to extreme and experimental sounds. Thanks to innovations brought to Europe by John Cage, the randomness and uncertainty become part of the materials used in the process of composition and interpretation. The Trosième pour piano sonatas of Pierre Boulez, the Mobile of Henri Pousseur, Quadrivium and Aura of Bruno Maderna are some of the most notorious works of that time.

The same period also saw influences from Indian philosophy. Terry Riley and Thornton Young (also known as La Monte Young) fathers of minimalism, composed works finding their inspiration in Indian philosophy, upsetting the traditional conception of rhythm and duration.

During the Seventies contemporary music was imprinted by a strong tendency for individualism, which allows composers to differentiate the styles and genres, and to move freely between heterogeneous materials, in an original reflection on the world and cultures. For this reason that decade is seen as an era dominated by a plurality of styles. For example, György Ligeti began to melt influences from the music of different cultures and eras, composing a stylistic and ironic pastiche, Mauricio Kagel brought theatrical features, Salvatore Sciarrino adopts a rarefied language, mixed to silence.

The Eighties were the decade that saw the end of the political system in Eastern Europe and openness to other cultures, the beginning of a period of general crisis, which weakens the ideas and ideologies born in the second post-war period. The protagonists of the Neue Musik (born in the mid-twenties) are now old and no longer provide new stimuli. At the same time there does not seem to be a generation capable of ending the crisis and giving music the strong impulse of renovation that already seems to be necessary.

The Nineties were characterized by the acquisition of new techniques and technologies, thanks to the spread of the computer. The music software comes from large research centers and allows each composer to achieve in his studio works of electronic music. The same mode of composition is affected, with extensive use of improvisation. This trend finds its expression also in forms of social engagement that connect more and more inextricably musicians and singers, even in defense of their creativity. This same period also saw the rise of la Musique Spectrale (born in France), in which some authors combined different experiences to create a new music. 

Famous Contemporary Composers

Ludovico Einaudi


Ludovico Einaudi (Turin, Italy, November 23, 1955) trained at the Conservatory Verdi in Milan in the early 1980s, he started his career as a classical composer and soon began incorporating other styles and genres, including poprockworld music, and folk music. He soon garnered international attention and his music was performed at venues such as the Teatro alla Scala, the Tanglewood Festival, Lincoln Center, and the UCLA Center for Performing Arts.

In the mid-1980s he began to search for more personal expression in a series of works for dance and multimedia, and later for piano. Some of his collaborations in theater, video, and dance included compositions for the Sul filo di Orfeo in 1984, Time Out in 1988, a dance-theater piece created with writer Andrea De CarloThe Wild Man in 1990 andThe Emperor in 1991. Einaudi began using his style to compose film soundtracks in the mid-1990s. He started with two films by Michele Sordillo, Da Qualche Parte in Città in 1994 and Acquario in 1996, for which he won the Grolla d'oro prize for best soundtrack. In 1998 he composed the soundtrack with Treno di Panna, and that same year wrote the score for Giorni Dispari by Dominick Tambasco. In 2004, his soundtrack for Sotto Falso Nome received the prize for best film music at the Avignon Film Festival. He has also released a number of solo albums of piano and orchestra, notably I Giorni in 2001,Nightbook in 2009, and In a Time Lapse in 2013. He has since either written the scores for a number of films or had his music included in the soundtracks. For example in 2010 he wrote the music for the trailer of Black Swan.

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Uģis Prauliņš


Uģis Prauliņš (Riga, June 17, 1957) is a Latvian composer whose choral work Missa Rigensis (Riga Mass) was recorded by the Choir of Trinity College of Cambridge and the Riga Cathedral Boys Choir and has been performed in several locations around the world, amongst those Canada, France and England. Uģis Prauliņš studied at the Emīls Dārziņš Music School from 1963–74. Later, he studied conducting and pedagogy at the Latvian Academy of Music from 1977–82, where he also studied composition with Jānis Ivanovs in 1982–83 and Ģederts Ramans and Valda Kalnina from 1984–89. As a keyboardist, he was active as a rock musician in the progressive rock group Salve in the 1970s and in the folk-/progressive-rock group Vecās mājas in the 1980s. His album Paganu Gadagramata (Pagan Yearbook), was recorded with the band Ilgi with guest appearances by Latvian folk musicians in 1998. It contains a seasonal cycle of mostly traditional songs and instrumental pieces with an emphasis on the natural progression of the year. His Christmas composition, Latvian Solstice in the New World, was described as a song that would "disturb the solitude so people can feel real joy" in a review by Minnesota Public Radio. In 2010 Prauliņš recorded together with Stephen Layton, Michala Petri, and the Danish National Vocal Ensemble his work The Nightingale (based on the eponymous fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen) was nominated for a 2013 Grammy award in the category “Best Choral Performance”.

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Einojuhani Rautavaara


Einojuhani Rautavaara (Helsinki, October 9, 1928) is one of the most notable Finnish composers. Rautavaara studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under Aarre Merikanto from 1948 to 1952. He first came to international attention when he won the Thor Johnson Contest for his composition A Requiem in Our Time in 1954. Rautavaara served as: a non-tenured teacher at the Sibelius Academy from 1957 to 1959; music archivist of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra from 1959 to 1961; rector of the Käpylä Music Institute in Helsinki from 1965 to 1966; tenured teacher at the Sibelius Academy from 1966 to 1976; artist professor (appointed by the Arts Council of Finland) from 1971 to 1976; and professor of composition at the Sibelius Academy from 1976 to 1990.

He experimented with serial techniques in his early career, while his later works often have a mystical element (such as reference to angels). A characteristic that distinguishes Rautavaara might be a rhapsodic string theme of austere beauty, with the use of flute and bells. His compositions include a number of biographical operas including Vincent (1986–1987, based on the life of Vincent van Gogh), Aleksis Kivi(1995–1996) and Rasputin (2001–2003).

His latest works include orchestral works Book of Visions (2003–2005), Manhattan Trilogy (2003–2005) and Before the Icons (2005) which is an expanded version of his early piano work Icons. In 2005 he finished a work for violin and piano called Lost Landscapes. A new orchestral work, A Tapestry of Life, was premiered by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in April 2008. Rautavaara was nominated for several awards, including a Grammy. 

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Poul Ruders


PoulRuders (Ringsted, Denmark, March 27, 1949) Ruders trained as an organist, and studied orchestration with Karl Aage Rasmussen. He created a large body of music ranging from opera and orchestral works through chamber, vocal and solo music in a variety of styles, from the Vivaldi Pastiche of his first violin concerto (1981) to the explosive modernism of Manhattan Abstraction (1982). Other works include the operas Tycho (1986), The Handmaid's Tale (1990), Proces Kafka/Kafka's Trial (2005), and Selma Ježková (2007), Abysm (2000). Ruders has written several works for the American guitaristand promoter of new music David StarobinPsalmodies (1989), and Psalmodies Suite (1990) and Chaconne (1996). His fourth symphony, An organ symphony, (with a significant part for organ) was a joint international commission by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Odense Symphony Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

The world premiere took place in the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, Texas, 20 January 2011. 

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Pierre Boulez


Pierre Boulez (Montbrison, France, March 26, 1925) As a child he began piano lessons and then he  pursued music at the Paris Conservatoire under Olivier Messiaen, with whom Boulez discovered twelve-tone technique. Boulez was influenced by Messiaen's research to extend twelve-tone technique beyond the realm of pitch organization, serialising durationsdynamicsmode of attack, and so on. This technique became known as integral serialism. Boulez quickly became one of the philosophical leaders of the post-war movement in the arts towards greater abstraction and experimentation. Boulez, like many other composers of his generation, took part at the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt (Germany), where he was in contact with many composers who would become influential, including John Cage and Karl Heinz Stockhausen.  Boulez research includes how the conductor might be able to 'improvise' on vague notations and how the players might 'improvise' on irrational durations. From the 1950s, beginning with the Third Piano Sonata (1955–57/63), Boulez experimented with what he called "controlled chance". Other famous works by this composer are: Éclat (1965), Domaines (1961–68) and Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna (1974–75). While in Cage's music the performers are often given the freedom to create completely unforeseen sounds, with the object of removing the composer's intention from the music, in works by Boulez they only get to choose between possibilities that have been written out in detail by the composer—a method that, when applied to the consecutive order of sections, is often described as "mobile form", a formal technique innovated by his colleague Earle Brown in 1952 and originally inspired by Alexander Calder's sculptures.

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Krzysztof Eugeniusz Penderecki


Krzysztof Eugeniusz Penderecki (Dębica, Poland, November 23, 1933) According to The Guardian, Penderecki has been called Poland's greatest living composer. Penderecki studied music at Jagiellonian University and in the Academy of Music in Kraków. After graduating he became a teacher at the academy and he began his career as a composer 1959 during the Warsaw Autumn festival. His Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima for string orchestra and the choral work St. Luke Passion, have received popular acclaim. Penderecki has won several prestigious awards, including the Commander's Cross in 1964, the Prix Italia in 1967 and 1968, three Grammy Awards in 1987, 1998 and 2001. Due to the jubilee of People's Republic of Poland he received Commander's Cross (1974). In 2001, Penderecki's work Credo received the Grammy Award for best choral performance for the world-premiere recording made by the Oregon Bach Festival, which commissioned the piece. The same year, Penderecki was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in Spain, one of the highest honors given in Spain to individuals, entities, organizations or others from around the world who make notable achievements in the sciences, arts, humanities, or public affairs. Invited by Walter Fink, he was the eleventh composer featured in the annual Komponistenporträt of the Rheingau Musik Festival in 2001. Penderecki received an honorary doctorate from the Seoul National University, Korea in 2005, as well as from the University of Münster, Germany in 2006.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber


Andrew Lloyd Webber (London, March 22, 1948) has achieved great popular success in musical theatre. Several of his musicals have run for more than a decade both in the West End and on Broadway. He has composed 13 musicals, a song cycle, a set of variations, two film scores, and a Latin Requiem Mass. He has also gained a number of honors, including a knighthood in 1992, followed by a peeragefrom Queen Elizabeth II for services to Music, seven Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards and many other prizes. Several of his songs have been widely recorded and were hits outside of their parent musicals, notably The Music of the Night from The Phantom of the OperaI Don't Know How to Love Him from Jesus Christ SuperstarDon't Cry for Me, Argentina and You Must Love Me from Evita andMemory from Cats. Having achieved great popular success in musical theatre, Lloyd Webber was referred to by The New York Times in 2001 as "the most commercially successful composer in history." Lloyd Webber accepted the challenge of managing the UK's entry for the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, to be held in Moscow. In early 2009 a series, called Eurovision: Your Country Needs You, was broadcast to find a performer for a song that he would compose for the competition. Jade Ewen won the right to represent Britain, winning with It's My Time, by Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren. At the contest, Lloyd Webber accompanied her on the piano during the performance. The United Kingdom placed 5th in the contest.

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Giovanni Allevi


Giovanni Allevi (Ascoli Piceno, Italy, April 9, 1969) attained a diploma both in piano at the conservatory in Perugia and in composition at the "G. Verdi" academy of music in Milan. He also graduated inPhilosophy and attended the Accademia Internazionale di Alto Perfezionamento (the International Academy of Improvement) in Arezzo. In 1991 he did military service in the National Band of the Italian Army. At the end of his military service Allevi started presenting in concert a repertory formed exclusively of his own compositions for pianoforte while at the same time attending courses of "Bio-music and music therapy", in which he enhanced his awareness of music and his ability to evoke memories, images and emotions. In 1996 he set to music the tragedy The Trojan Women by Euripides, performed on the occasion of the International Festival of the Ancient Drama in Siracusa. It won a special prize for the "best scene music." In 1997 he won the international selections for young concertists at the San Filippo Theatre in Turin. Thanks to his friend and guitarist Saturnino Celani, Giovanni Allevi matures the idea of moving to Milan and to gather into one CD his own piano production, which was published by the labelSoleluna, together with Universal Italia. The title of Allevi’s first album was 13 Dita (13 Fingers). In 1998, again with Saturnino as the producer, Allevi creates the soundtrack for the short film Venceremos, awarded at the Sundance Film Festival, which takes place annually in the state of Utah, in the USA. Giovanni Allevi also provided the music at the opening ceremony of the 2009 World Aquatics Championships in Rome. In add he has also written some non-piano works, in addition to his piano compositions, which are mostly unpublished. Some of them are:

  • Inno delle Marche (Hymn of the MarcheRegion) - Orchestral work for the Marche Italian Region, commissioned fora meeting of young people promoted by the Italian Church in Loreto (2007).
  • Angelo Ribelle (Rebel Angel) - Suite for string orchestra, written in five movements. It was published in his album Evolution (2008).
  • 300 Anelli (300 Rings) - Work for piano and orchestra composed in two movements. The premiere was executed on 4 August 2007 for the "I suonidelleDolomiti" season, by the Virtuosi Italianiorchestra with Allevi on the piano and conductor.
  • Foglie di Beslan (Beslan's leaves) - Work for piano and symphony orchestra written to commemorate the Beslan massacre. The premiere was executed on 29 April 2005 at the Metropolitan theatre inPalermo, by Allevi himself at the piano with the Orchestra sinfonicaSiciliana directed by Daniel Kawka.
  • Sparpagghiò - Musical comedy for orchestra (22 players) and choir, under the direction of Gianni Lattanzi. The first execution was held on 9 February 2001 at the Ventidio Basso Theatre in Ascoli Piceno.
  • On December 21, 2008 Allevi directed "I virtuosi Italiani" symphony orchestra at the Christmas concert at Senate House of the Italian Parliament. The audience included the likes of the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano.

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Editor's note:

Read Santino Santinelli's other articles on contemporary European Art and Culture, they range from analysis about contemporary European Dance and Theater, to broader observations on European Culture and what it means for us.

You can see all of his articles at the bottom of his profile: