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Twentieth-Century Music and Music Students

January 11, 2011
New York, N.Y.

I love New York City. Yesterday I took a stroll up to the Juilliard School of Music on West 65th Street and attended the opening concert of a totally free "come in and sit down" week-long series called ChamberFest 2011. Juilliard students involved in ChamberFest return back to school a week before spring semester for intensive study and rehearsal, culminating in these concerts.

In 8 concerts, 20 different works will be performed, and the program notes indicate that the students perform "repertoire they have selected themselves." This is an interesting tidbit, for it suggests that by examining the programs, we can determine what type of music intrigues the contemporary Juilliard student. I have arranged the following table chronologically by the birth date of the composers:

ComposerNumber of Works
Schubert (1797 – 1828)2
Brahms (1833 – 1897)6
Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921)1
Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)1
Dvořák (1841 – 1904)1

Schoenberg (1874 – 1951)2
Ravel (1875 – 1937)1
Bartók (1881 – 1945)1
Villa-Lobos (1887 – 1959)1
Poulenc (1899 – 1963)1
Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)1
Messiaen (1908 – 1992)1
Ligeti (1923 – 2006)1

I have also drawn a line between those composers traditionally classified as "19th century" and "20th century" — 11 works above the line, and 9 below.

Considering that in some circles, Schoenberg is considered to have destroyed music, this list is very encouraging. The two Schoenberg works are the Op. 26 Woodwind Quintet and (in a concert Saturday evening that I hope to attend) Pierrot Lunaire. Shostakovich isn't a surprise — I get the sense that music students love playing Shostakovich — but the last two are also interesting — Messiaen's famous Quartet for the End of Time and Ligeti's first String Quartet.

As these students graduate and head out into the "real world," I hope this means that we'll be hearing much more 20th century music (and perhaps even more 21st century!) in our concert halls.


Again you have to be impressed by the range.. but don't you think that we should have another name for "classical 20th/21st century" music?

But even if you agreed with the idea would you really wnat to put Shostakovich in with Ligeti?


Make sure you get to the Quartet for the end of time...

Mike James, Tue, 11 Jan 2011 12:37:01 -0500

Unfortunately, the Quartet for the End of Time is tonight, and I have a prior commitment. (But back in the 70s I was lucky enough to attend a concert of Messiaen's music performed by the Loriod sisters at which the composer was present.) — Charles

The best I've ever managed was a documentary on the man. I don't think he came to London in the era when I could have attended a concert (1970 to 1980-ish).

Which sort of brings us round to computing things.

Even in these days of Google and Alpha (try Alpha its not impressive) it is still difficult to get answers to questions like "when did Messiaen visit London".


Mike James, Tue, 11 Jan 2011 13:04:34 -0500

Re "when did Messiaen visit London" -- gets a relevent hit for the second link:

In the summer of 1978, Messiaen retired from teaching at the Conservatoire. He was promoted to the highest rank of the Légion d'honneur, the Grand-Croix, in 1987.[26] An operation prevented his participation in the celebration of his 70th birthday in 1978, but in 1988 tributes for Messiaen's 80th included a complete performance in London's Royal Festival Hall of St. François, which the composer attended, and Erato's publication of a seventeen-CD collection of Messiaen's music including recordings by Loriod and a disc of the composer in conversation with Claude Samuel.

But, I'll agree that search has a long, long way to go.

Robert, Tue, 11 Jan 2011 19:27:37 -0500

"Unfortunately, the Quartet for the End of Time is tonight, and I have a prior commitment."

My mother used to say, if you don't have time, make time.

For us that should be easy. Use a 64-bit type and you'll have all the time in the world.

"I hope this means that we'll be hearing much more 20th century music (and perhaps even more 21st century!) in our concert halls."

What? That sentiment is justin credible. It can't be berlieved a classical lover would write such a thing.

— 2012. No, 2038. No, wait., Tue, 11 Jan 2011 20:17:23 -0500

Words "repertoire they have selected themselves" make me suspicious. Looking at the composers list, I smell the foul odour of conformity.

— Nerevar, Wed, 12 Jan 2011 01:10:46 -0500

Hmmm... conformity? Yes I suppose so but there is a fashion in "classical" music and a lot of composers don't seem to get a look in because they are just out of fashion not because of the quality of the music.

Now you point it out it is a very "standard" selection when you think of the range they could have selected from - barber, piston, ives, bernstein, reich, diamond, carter, hanson, hovhaness ... just to list some American composers that are missing and a possibly a bit out of fashion.


Mike James, Wed, 12 Jan 2011 08:23:48 -0500


I find your comment on the programing of chamberfest to be interesting. I find it to Be a very brahms centered festival.... No Mozart Beethoven Haydn etc..... I can assure your readers that the repertoire is selected solely by Juilliard students.

I'm playing in the final concert in the Pierrot and it would be great if you came. And let me know if you do come. Make sure to get there early! As you saw on monday the hall was packed!


Pierrot player, Thu, 13 Jan 2011 13:42:31 -0500

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