Appeal to the Masses

Can anyone recommend a really good 20th-century music history text, one including (or even limited to) European music, and extending past the 1970s? The ones I’ve seen are either terribly out of date or crap. I’ve already got a decent 20th-century American text.


  1. Bill Sallak says

    Have you had any luck with the Schwartz/Godfrey “Music Since 1945?” It doesn’t really deal with the early 20th century, but there are other sources for that period, and it seems quite good on the more recent stuff.

  2. says

    Definitely have a look for “Illegal Harmonies” by my colleague Andrew Ford (a music broadcaster, writer and composer). It’s a very accesible (read: entry level) yet well-thought out volume that reaches into the (shock!) 1990s, with a chapter on the general post-modern situation. Also, and a nice touch for those of us living outside of Europe and the US, it actually takes a look at composers from Asia and the Pacific (like Australia!) who others have rarely bothered to investigate.
    ISBN: 0868066354

  3. Jeth Odom says

    The best one I know of is in French – ‘La musique du XXe siecle’ by Jean-Noel von der Weid on the Pluriel imprint. Kagel does the forward. It mentions works up to 1997, but unfortunately still doesn’t cover any composers under 40.

  4. says

    Paul Griffith’s Modern Music and After goes from 1945 to the mid-1990s. It’s very nice, lavishly illustrated, and has a good narrative arc that keeps the reader interested. My only complaints are skimpy coverage of Gubaidulina (who Griffiths doesn’t like at all), and total lack of Norgard and, if I recall correctly, Lutoslawski.

  5. Nathan Brock says

    I take it you have issues with the Griffiths book? It certainly has a point of view, and his various prejudices… but I don’t think it’s such a bad book for all that.
    KG replies: My only issue with Paul’s book is that, last I looked, the latest edition was 1981. If he’s got a newer one, I’ll be glad to look into it.

  6. L says

    Hi Kyle,
    I like to use Mark Morris’ “The Pimlico Dictionary of 20th-Century Composers” (ISBN 0-7126-6568-4), 1999. It’s not quite a “music history text” since it’s organized as an encyclopedia by country and then by composer, but it goes up to the late 1990s and has informative entrees about many countries (including post-Soviet bloc) and their most important composers, including some younger ones.
    There is a good book on Scandinavian music up to the current years (“New Music of the Nordic Countries”, 2002, Pendragon Press, ISBN: 1576470199). Or do you have any other specific regions in mind?
    And … do you want to practise reading in Russian? There is plenty to recommend on the topic…
    KG replies: Well, it’s not for me, it’s for my students, silly, and I can’t ask them all to follow along in Russian. I just ordered the Mark Morris book – available only from Amazon UK, not US.

  7. Chris Hertzog says

    I taught from Salzman’s Twentieth-Century Music (Third Edition). I haven’t seen the Fourth Edition, published in 2001, but the Third was published in 1988 and cites works as recent as 2 years before publication. Although it’s obvious Salzman favors postmodernism over modernism, he casts a wide net to catch just about all of the important movements and genres after World War II. On the basis of the past two editions, I’d bet that the Fourth is worth considering. (I’ve been out of academia too long–$58 for a freakin’ paperback?!)
    If you’re teaching grad students, Taruskin is–well, provocative, and would be good supplemental reading, as would Music Downtown, which I am having a blast dipping into this summer.

  8. says

    I could’ve sworn there was a newer version of the Griffiths book, but that box of books got lost in the last move. I think it was published in ’96 or so.

  9. says

    It’s not the most academic of texts, and it might be a couple years out of date now, but Leaving Home, which was originally a group of BBC Radio scripts overseen by Simon Rattle, is a nice overview of some major movements in 20th-century classical.
    Faber & Faber published it, I think, and it’s a good general history that puts a lot of pieces and composers into context.
    Not quite what you’re looking for, maybe, but I find it very useful for personal reference purposes.

  10. Nathan Brock says

    Sorry to be posting so late after the fact here, but there is indeed a newer version of the Griffiths text, retitled “Modern Music and After”, that includes the 80s and early 90s; it was published in ’95. He does cover Lutoslawski, if sparingly, though Norgard gets only one parenthetical reference. And then there’s Part: Griffiths gives a section header for Part but then includes only a few bars of his “Passio Domini” and no text whatsoever. I found it rather funny, but I guess a Part person might be offended…