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Composers You Should Know: 20th Century

Lists, facts, dates, links, and more, organized by time period

Notable Twentieth-Century Composers (1900 - 1975)

If you wish to be generally familiar with classical music, here is a short list of composers you should know from this period.

Name

Birth

Death

Nationality

Representative Pieces

Barber, Samuel
 ML410 .B23

1910

1981

American

Adagio for Strings (check out original String Quartet)
Knoxville Summer 1915 (soprano & orchestra)
Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance (orchestra)
Three Essays for Orchestra

Bartók, Béla
 ML410 .B26

1881

1945

Hungarian

Six string quartets (all)
Mikrokosmos (piano solos)
Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion
Music for Strings, Percussion, & Celesta
Miraculous Mandarin (orchestra)

Bernstein, Leonard
 ML410 .B566

1918

1990

American

West Side Story (musical)
Mass (a theatre piece)
Serenade (violin & orchestra)
Jeremiah Symphony (orchestra)
Chichester Psalms (chorus & orchestra)
On the Waterfront (film score)

Cage, John
 ML410 .C24

1912

1992

American

Sonatas & Interludes for Prepared Piano
Aria (with or without Fontana Mix) (voice with tape)
4’33” (piano solo)
Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (12 analog radios)

Copland, Aaron
 ML410 .C756

1900

1990

American

Appalachian Spring (both 13 player and full orchestra)
Third Symphony (orchestra)
Piano Variations (piano solo)
Organ Symphony (organ & orchestra)

Debussy, Claude
 ML410 .D28

1862

1918

French

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (orchestra)
Preludes Books I & II (piano)
Pelleas et Mellisande (opera)

Gershwin, George
 ML410 .G288

1898

1937

American

Porgy and Bess (opera)
Rhapsody in Blue (piano & orchestra)
Cuban Overture (orchestra)
An American in Paris (orchestra)

Grainger, Percy
 ML410 .G75

1882

1961

Australian-American

Lincolnshire Posy (band)
Country Gardens (piano)
Train Music (piano or orchestra)

Hindemith, Paul
 ML410 .H685

1895

1963

German

Mathis der Maler (opera)
Ludus Tonalis (piano solo)
Symphonic Metamorphosis (orchestra)

Holst, Gustav
 ML410 .H748

1874

1934

English

The Planets (orchestra)
2 Suites for Military Band
Evening-Watch (chorus and orchestra)

Ives, Charles
 ML410 .I94

1874

1954

American

Third Symphony (orchestra)
Unanswered Question (chamber orchestra)
Concord Sonata (piano solo)
General Booth Enters Heaven (voice & piano)

Messiaen, Olivier
 ML410 .M595

1908

1992

French

Turangalila Symphony (orchestra & ondes martenot)
Quartet for the End of Time (chamber)
Vingt Regards sur l’enfant-Jesus (piano solo)
La Nativité du Seigneur (organ)
Orff, Carl
 ML410 .O65

1895

1982

German

Carmina Burana (soloists, chorus & orchestra)

Prokofiev, Sergei
 ML410 .P865

1891

1953

Russian

Peter and the Wolf (orchestra & narrator)
Third Piano Concerto (piano & orchestra)
Fifth Symphony (orchestra)
Scythian Suite (orchestra)
Love for Three Oranges (opera)

Ravel, Maurice
 ML410 .R23

1875

1937

French

Daphnis et Chloé (ballet)
Bolero (orchestra)

Schoenberg, Arnold
 ML410 .S283

1874

1951

Austrian-American

Verklärte Nacht (string sextet)
Gurre-Lieder (soloists, chorus & orchestra)
Pierrot Lunaire (chamber with voice)
Survivor from Warsaw (chamber orchestra w/narrator & men’s choir)
Kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 33a&b (piano)

Strauss, Richard
 ML410 .S93

1864

1949

German

Der Rosenkavalier (opera)
Salome (opera)
Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (orchestra)
Death and Transfiguration (orchestra)
Four Last Songs (voice and orchestra)

Stravinksy, Igor
 ML410 .S932

1882

1971

Russian

Firebird (ballet, orchestra)
Petrushka (ballet, orchestra)
Rite of Spring (ballet, orchestra)
Histoire du Soldat (chamber)
Symphony of Psalms (chorus & orchestra)
Mass (choral)

Varèse, Edgard
 ML410 .V27

1883

1965

French-American

Ionisation (percussion ensemble)
Ameriques (orchestra)
Poeme Electronique (multi-channel tape)
Density 21.5 (flute solo)

Twentieth-Century Composers (1900 - 1975) A-L

If you are a student of Music History or Composition, here is a more detailed list of composers you should know from this period.

Name

Birth

Death

Nationality

Representative Pieces

Antheil, George
 ML410 .A638

1900

1959

American

Ballet Mecanique (12 pianos, percussion, chamber)

Babbitt, Milton

1916

2011 

American

Whirled Series (saxophone & piano)
Homily (snare drum)

Barber, Samuel
 ML410 .B23

1910

1981

American

Adagio for Strings (check out original String Quartet)
Knoxville Summer 1915 (soprano & orchestra)
Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance (orchestra)
Three Essays for Orchestra

Bartók, Béla
 ML410 .B26

1881

1945

Hungarian

Six string quartets (all)
Mikrokosmos (piano solos)
Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion
Music for Strings, Percussion, & Celesta
Miraculous Mandarin (orchestra)

Berg, Alban
 ML410 .B47

1885

1935

Austrian

Lyric Suite (string quartet)
Wozzeck (opera)
Violin Concerto (violin & orchestra)

Bernstein, Leonard
 ML410 .B566

1918

1990

American

West Side Story (musical)
Mass (a theatre piece)
Serenade (violin & orchestra)
Jeremiah Symphony (orchestra)
Chichester Psalms (chorus & orchestra)
On the Waterfront (film score)

Boulez, Pierre
 ML410 .B773

1925

 

French

Pli selon pli (soprano & orchestra)
Structures (2 pianos)
La marteau sans maitre (alto & chamber group)

Britten, Benjamin
 ML410 .B853

1913

1976

English

War Requiem (chorus, soloists & orchestra)
Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (narrator & orchestra)
Peter Grimes (opera)

Cage, John
 ML410 .C24

1912

1992

American

Sonatas & Interludes for Prepared Piano
Aria (with or without Fontana Mix) (voice with tape)
4’33” (piano solo)
Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (12 analog radios)

Carter, Elliott
 ML410 .C3293

1908

 2012

American

Eight Etudes and a Fantasy (woodwind quartet)
Concerto for Orchestra (orchestra)
Second String Quartet (string quartet)

Childs, Barney

1926

2000

American

A Box of View (woodwind quintet)
Trombone Sonata

Copland, Aaron
 ML410 .C756

1900

1990

American

Appalachian Spring (both 13 player and full orchestra)
Third Symphony (orchestra)
Piano Variations (piano solo)
Organ Symphony (organ & orchestra)

Cowell, Henry

1897

1965

American

Banshee (piano solo)
Aeolian Harp (piano solo)

Debussy, Claude
 ML410 .D28

1862

1918

French

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (orchestra)
Preludes Books I & II (piano)
Pelleas et Mellisande (opera)

Ellington, Duke
 ML410 .E44

1899

1974

American

Anatomy of a Murder (film score)
Black, Brown, and Beige (jazz symphony)

Feldman, Morton

1926

1987

American

String Quartet
Rothko Chapel (chamber & vocals)

Foss, Lukas

1922

2009

German-American

String Quartet No. 1
Baroque Variations (orchestra)

Franchetti, Arnold

1911

1993

Italian-American

Married Men Go to Hell (opera)
Three Italian Masques (octet)

Gershwin, George
 ML410 .G288

1898

1937

American

Porgy and Bess (opera)
Rhapsody in Blue (piano & orchestra)
Cuban Overture (orchestra)
An American in Paris (orchestra)

Ginastera, Alberto

1916

1983

Argentine

Danzas argentinas (piano)
Piano Concerto No. 1

Gould, Morton
 ML410 .G695

1913

1996

American

Stringmusic (orchestra)
Fall River Legend (ballet)

Grainger, Percy
 ML410 .G75

1882

1961

Australian-American

Lincolnshire Posy (band)
Country Gardens (piano)
Train Music (piano or orchestra)

Hanson, Howard

1896

1981

American

Symphony No. 2 "Romantic"
Merry Mount (opera)

Henze, Hans Werner

1926

2012

German

New Folk Songs and Shepherd’s Melodies (chamber ensemble)
Das Wundertheater (opera)
The Raft of Medusa (soloists, choir, & orchestra)

Hindemith, Paul
 ML410 .H685

1895

1963

German

Mathis der Maler (opera)
Ludus Tonalis (piano solo)
Symphonic Metamorphosis (orchestra)

Holst, Gustav
 ML410 .H748

1874

1934

English

The Planets (orchestra)
2 Suites for Military Band
Evening-Watch (chorus and orchestra)

Honegger, Arthur
 ML410 .H79

1892

1955

Swiss / French

Pacific 231 (orchestra)
Le Roy David (oratorio)

Hovhaness, Alan

1911

2000

Armenian-American

Symphony No. 60 "To the Appalachian Mountains" (orchestra)
And God Created Great Whales (orchestra & tape)

Husa, Karel

1921

 

Czech-American

Music for Prague 1968 (orchestra – also transcribed for wind ensemble)
String Quartet No. 3

Ives, Charles
 ML410 .I94

1874

1954

American

Third Symphony (orchestra)
Unanswered Question (chamber orchestra)
Concord Sonata (piano solo)
General Booth Enters Heaven (voice & piano)

Janáček, Leoš
 ML410 .J18

1854

1928

Czech

Taras Bulba (orchestra)
Glagolitic Mass (chorus and orchestra)

Lehár, Franz
 ML410 .L42

1870

1948

Austro-Hungarian

Gold and Silver (waltz for orchestra)
The Merry Widow (opera)

Luening, Otto
 ML410 .L947

1900

1996

German-American

Low Speed (tape)
Concertino (flute & orchestra)

Lutoslawski, Witold
 ML410 .L965

1913

1994

Polish

Piano Concerto (piano & orchestra)
Concerto for Orchestra (orchestra)
Jeux Vénitiens (Venetian Games) (chamber orchestra)

Twentieth-Century Composers (1900 - 1975) M-Z

If you are a student of Music History or Composition, here is a more detailed list of composers you should know from this period.

Name

Birth

Death

Nationality

Representative Pieces

Mayuzumi, Toshiro

1929

1997

Japanese

Nirvana Symphony (male chorus & orchestra)

Menotti, Gian Carlo
 ML410 .M52

1911

2007

Italian-American

Amahl and the Night Visitors (opera)
The Saint of Bleecker Street (opera)

Messiaen, Olivier
 ML410 .M595

1908

1992

French

Turangalila Symphony (orchestra & ondes martenot)
Quartet for the End of Time (chamber)
Vingt Regards sur l’enfant-Jesus (piano solo)
La Nativité du Seigneur (organ)

Milhaud, Darius
 ML410 .M674

1892

1974

French

La Création du Monde (ballet)
Scaramouche (saxophone & orchestra)
Saudades do Brasil (piano)

Nono, Luigi

1924

1990

Italian

Il canto sospeso (soloists, chorus & orchestra)
Intolleranza 1960 (opera)

Orff, Carl
 ML410 .O65

1895

1982

German

Carmina Burana (soloists, chorus & orchestra)

Persichetti, Vincent

1915

1987

American

Symphony No. 6 (band)
Flower Songs (choir & chamber orchestra)
Hymns and Responses for the Church Year (choir)

Pinkham, Daniel
 ML410 .P5

1923

2006

American

Christmas Cantata (choir & orchestra)
Versets (organ)

Poulenc, Francis
 ML410 .P787

1899

1963

French

Organ Concerto (organ & orchestra)
Gloria (choir & orchestra)

Prokofiev, Sergei
 ML410 .P865

1891

1953

Russian

Peter and the Wolf (orchestra & narrator)
Third Piano Concerto (piano & orchestra)
Fifth Symphony (orchestra)
Scythian Suite (orchestra)
Love for Three Oranges (opera)

Rachmaninov, Sergei
 ML410 .R12

1873

1943

Russian

Piano Concerto No. 2
Symphony No. 3 in A Minor
Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (choir)
The Isle of the Dead (orchestra)

Ravel, Maurice
 ML410 .R23

1875

1937

French

Daphnis et Chloé (ballet)
Bolero (orchestra)

Respighi, Ottorino

1879

1936

Italian

La Fiamma (opera)
The Pines of Rome (orchestra)

Rochberg, George

1918

2005

American

String Quartet No. 3
Concord Quartets (Nos. 4-6) (string quartet)
Symphony No. 2 (orchestra)

Schoenberg, Arnold
 ML410 .S283

1874

1951

Austrian-American

Verklärte Nacht (string sextet)
Gurre-Lieder (soloists, chorus & orchestra)
Pierrot Lunaire (chamber with voice)
Survivor from Warsaw (chamber orchestra w/narrator & men’s choir)
Kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 33a&b (piano)

Schuman, William
 ML410 .S386

1910

1992

American

A Free Song (cantata)
New England Triptych (orchestra)

Scriabin, Alexander
 ML410 .S5988

1872

1915

Russian

Piano Sonata No. 7 "White Mass"
Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (orchestra)

Seeger, Ruth
 ML410 .S4446

1901

1953

American

2 Ricercari (voice & piano)
String Quartet 1931

Sessions, Roger
 ML410 .S473

1896

1985

American

String Quartet No. 1
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d (cantata)
The Black Maskers (orchestra)

Shostakovich, Dmitri
 ML410 .S53

1906

1975

Russian

Fifth Symphony (orchestra)
Eighth String Quartet (string quartet)
Piano Trio No. 2 in e minor (piano trio)

Strauss, Richard
 ML410 .S93

1864

1949

German

Der Rosenkavalier (opera)
Salome (opera)
Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (orchestra)
Death and Transfiguration (orchestra)
Four Last Songs (voice and orchestra)

Stravinksy, Igor
 ML410 .S932

1882

1971

Russian

Firebird (ballet, orchestra)
Petrushka (ballet, orchestra)
Rite of Spring (ballet, orchestra)
Histoire du Soldat (chamber)
Symphony of Psalms (chorus & orchestra)
Mass (choral)

Takemitsu, Tōru
 ML410 .T134

1930

1996

Japanese

November Steps (orchestra)
Les Yeux Clos I & II (piano solo)
Ran (soundtrack)

Tippett, Michael
 ML410 .T467

1905

1998

English

Concerto for Double String Orchestra
A Child of Our Time (chorus and orchestra)

Ussachevsky, Vladimir

1911

1990

Russian-American

4 Studies (clarinet & tape)
Sonic Contours (tape)

Varèse, Edgard
 ML410 .V27

1883

1965

French-American

Ionisation (percussion ensemble)
Ameriques (orchestra)
Poeme Electronique (multi-channel tape)
Density 21.5 (flute solo)

Villa-Lobos, Heitor
 ML410 .V76

1887

1959

Brazilian

Bachianas Brasileiras (various combinations of instruments)
String Quartet No. 6

Webern, Anton
 ML410 .W33

1883

1945

Austrian

Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 10 (orchestra)
String Quartet, op. 28 (string quartet)
Drei Lieder, op. 25 (voice & piano)