During the fifties, some composers who had already established themselves in the period between the two wars still dominate the music scene, and who in those years moved in a generally autonomous way with respect to the currents of new music. Among the most important of them, all pupils of N. Boulanger (1887-1979) during the 1920s, we remember V. Thomson (1896-1989), who lived in France between 1925 and 1940; A. Copland (1900-1990), the first of Boulanger’s American pupils; E. Carter (b. 1908) and L. Bernstein (1918-1990), notable figures of composer especially in the operatic and musical genre, as well as one of the most celebrated orchestral conductors of the 20th century.
Carter, a prominent figure in American music, began a more mature phase of his artistic development immediately after the war: from 1945-46 he was the sonata for piano ; he anticipated the forms of instrumental theater with works such as the Sonata for cello and piano (1948) and Otto pieces for tympanum (1949-66), with which he gained a certain fame. Later he composed, among other things, three quartets for strings (1951, 1959, 1973), the work A mirror on which to dwell, based on texts by E. Bishop (1976), and the 9 Fantasie for piano (1980). Also worthy of note are R. Sessions (1896-1985), who also plays a fundamental role as a teacher (teacher among others of M. Babbitt and D. Martino), and S. Barber (1910-1981), pupil of R. Scalero at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.
The diffusion of the principles of serialism, to which A. Weiss (1891-1971) and W. Riegger (1885-1961) had already referred, albeit in isolation, during the 1930s, characterized, at least until the early 1960s, one of the main currents of the new American music, whose most eminent representatives are RL Finney (b. 1906), M. Babbit (b. 1916), M. Powell (b. 1923), G. Perle (b. 1915).
Finney, a pupil of A. Berg in Vienna, adopted serialism in works from the 1950s, such as the Sixth String Quartet (1950) and the Second Symphony (1959). Babbitt makes use of an ” integral seriality ” in works from the late 1940s, such as 3 compositions for piano (1947-48), Composition for flute, clarinet, violin and cello (1948), Composition for 12 instruments (1948; rev. 1954). Powell, a pupil of P. Hindemith at Yale University, composes serial works such as the Quintet with Piano (1956); of the sixties is the composition of electronic music, such as Second electric setting (1962) and Immobiles I-IV with orchestra (1967). Perle develops a “ twelve-tone modal system ” of which his first compositions are already a valid example (thus the Suite for piano, 1940, up to the Toccata for piano, 1969).
The other dominant current in the music scene of the 1950s is the ” indeterministic ” or ” aleatory ” one, which develops in full antithesis with the principles of serial determination: it is mainly represented by the work of J. Cage (1912-1992). The figure of Cage is undoubtedly one of the most singular of the contemporary American music scene, and the one who had the greatest influence on the developments of the European avant-gardes of the sixties. A pupil in California of A. Schönberg, Cage very early opposes twelve-tone, putting himself in the spotlight since the 1940s with the composition of “ prepared ” piano music (16 Sonatas and 4 Interludes, 1946-48). A new phase of his artistic itinerary opens in the 1950s, after the encounter with Zen philosophy and the adoption of random procedures in the compositional act (Music of changes for piano and Imaginary landscape n.4 for 12 radio sets, 1951), procedures that sometimes involve the randomness of the reading of the musical text (Music for piano nos. 1-84, 1952-56) or even the uncertainty of the executive instruments (Winter music, 1957); with 4 ′ 33 ″ (1962) the performer is simply asked to be silent for the duration of the composition. Cage’s work contributes considerably to the development of instrumental theater and electronic experimentation (thus Musik walk, 1950, and Variations III and IV, 1963). His latest works include Roaratorio and Irish circus on Finnegan’s wake, by J. Joyce (1981).
Since the 1950s, M. Feldman (1926-1987), E. Brown (b. 1926), D. Tudor (b. 1926), C. Wolff (b. 1934) have gathered around Cage. Feldman’s first random works, which he meets Cage in 1951, are Projections I (1950) and Marginal intersection (1951); among his latest compositions we remember Crippled symmetry (1983). From 1952 is Brown’s best-known work, perhaps the most radical of Cage’s pupils, December 52 ; immediately followed by Twenty five pages (1953) and Four systems (1954); from the seventies are Cross sections (1973) and Stall piece (1975). Tudor has been collaborating for a long time with Cage: for example, the Sixties date back. Talk I (1965) and Fontana mix (1967). Together with the other members of the Cagean avant-garde, he founded (1952) the group Project of music for magnetic tape, working as a pianist in the field of new music. Wolff is also one of Cage’s best-known followers: his works are particularly notable for Duo for pianists II (1958), and the more recent Studies, in which great freedom of action is left to the performer.
A group of avant-garde composers of the Sixties moves along the line of Cage’s indeterminism, who are particularly interested in creating works of integral art, sometimes giving life to improvisational musical groups: we remember in particular R. Ashley (n. 1930), G. Mumma (b. 1935), R. Reynolds (b. 1934), M. Subotnick (b. 1933), and again L. Austin (b. 1930) and L. Foss (b. 1922).
Among the compositions of Ashley, who in 1958 founded the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music with Mumma and in 1960 gave birth, together with Mumma, Reynolds and Subotnick, to the ONCE Group of Ann Arbor, we remember Public opinion descends upon the demonstrators (1961 ), In memoriam Kit Carson (opera) for 8 performers, The entrance, for organ (1965-70), String quartet describing the motions of real bodies, for quartet with electronic interventions (1972). Mumma’s A twopiece (1961) dates back to the early 1960s ; Reynolds’ The emperor of icecream (1962); Play! (1964) by Subotnick. Austin, who founded the New Music Ensemble (1962) and works at the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts in Buffalo, was affected by his jazz training (so in Improvisation, 1961); among other things he is the author of Plastic Surgery for electric piano, percussion and tape (1970) and Phantasmagoria for various instruments (1977). Foss, who in 1957 gave life to the Improvisations chamber ensemble, also carrying out the activity of conductor (in 1971 he was appointed head of the Brooklyn Philarmonia Orchestra in New York), is the author of works such as Time cyrcle (1959-60) for soprano and orchestra, Echoi (1961-63), for piano, percussion, clarinet and cello, in which he refers to the principles of improvisation typical of jazz music, Concerto for percussion (1974), Quintet for orchestra divided into 5 solo groups (1979).
A prominent figure in the new American music is La Monte Young (b. 1935), who in 1959 studied in Darmstadt with Stockhausen and founded (1962) the Theater of Eternal Music; in his compositions, in addition to serialism, he refers to improvisation of jazz derivation and to some principles of Indian philosophy. Among the most interesting scores, those for reciting voice (Compositions 1960 Nr. 1-15, 1960; 1961 Nr. 1-29, 1961) and The Tortoise, his dreams and journey, for voices, strings, drone sounds, microphones, mixer, amplifier, loudspeaker and light sources (1964).
Another important phenomenon is represented by the diffusion of electronic music: in 1953 V. Ussachevsky founded the Laboratory of Experimental Music at the Music Department of the Columbia / Princeton University. Other electroacoustic studies later arise in the universities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Iowa City, Chicago, Stanford and Urbana (Illinois). Among the major representatives of the American avant-garde, the aforementioned M. Babbitt makes a particular use of the synthesizer of electronic music, in works such as Ensemble for synthetizer (1962-64), Philomel (1964) and Phonemena (1974-76). Within the electroacoustic genre one of the most significant trends in American music of recent decades has developed, that of ” repetitive music ” or ” minimalistic ”, represented by a group of New York composers, such as T. Riley (n. 1935), Ph. Glass (b. 1937) and S. Reich (b. 1936).
Riley, who in 1970 was commissioned at Mills College in Oakland (California), is the author of works such as In C for various instruments (1964) and The keyboard studies for amplified and electronic keyboard instruments (1963), with which he greatly influences development of ” repetitive ” music in his country. Glass is particularly affected by the principles of Indian philosophy and music since the first compositions of the sixties. His works include the plays Einstein on the beach (1976) and The juniper tree (1985), written in collaboration with composer R. Moran (1937). Reich, who in the early seventies was a pupil of L. Berio, is the author of Music for 18 musicians (1976), New York counterpoint for flute and magnetic tape (1985) and Three movements for orchestra (1985).