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The 20th century is the century of “New Music”. The term has been used several times in the past to describe important changes in music, like Ars Nova around 1320 in the Middle Ages, Ars Nova around 1430 in the Renaissance, Musica Nova around 1630 in the Baroque, etc. However, up until now the disagreement with tradition had never been so deep. It can be said that the changes began with the abandonment of tonality by Arnold Schonberg (1874 - 1951) to end with an overall rejection of the traditional meaning of music and music works by John Cage (1912).
The 20th century is characterized by an unprecedented pluralism in style that reflects the spirit of the time. In contrast to older periods – where authoritative terms exist for the description of character and dominant trends – the 20th century can’t be categorized in such ways due to its multiple music directions. This polymorphism is caused both from the intense presence of the past and the expansion of knowledge on music in non western civilizations, as well as the developments of technology and music transmission mediums.
We can distinguish two phases in the music creation of the 20th century: the music created in the beginning of the century and the music created after the 1950s.
- Impressionism: an eminently French movement, characterized by force and fineness of sentiments, which opened the way for new sound horizons.
- Expressionism: an eminently German movement that refers to the expression of the inner self and goes beyond the barriers of established aesthetics.
- Futurism: a movement that encouraged the integration of technological and industrial noise into music.
- Neoclassicism: a movement that explored the return to classical norms as a reaction to Late Romanticism.
The second phase (music created after the 1950s) includes the following music streams:
- Serial music: key structural element is the construction of the “subject” with all (12) chromatic notes in arrays (sets) where each note can be used only once. An array may be subjected to transformations / variations, like inversion, reversal, etc. Later on, in total Serialism, other attributes of sound, like intensity, duration and timbre, were also parameterized.
- Electronic music: the use of new technologies that enable the production of new sounds, created by electric generators.
- Aleatoric music: programmed use of random events that restored the fantasy element in a rationalized environment. This notion can be realized by the free selection of notes, their duration or their place in the performance of the different parts of a music piece.
- Post-serial music: it further refines the structures and parameters, reaching a maximum level. This style had a refreshing effect on experimental music theater.
- New simplicity: it restored the subjective, immediate expression of sentiment, while the American minimal music served a simplicity aiming towards meditation.