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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

MMC

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
CDs
Scores

Bartók, Béla
 ML410 .B26

1881

1945

Hungarian

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

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)
CDs
Scores

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)
CDs
Scores

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)
CDs
Scores

Debussy, Claude
 ML410 .D28

1862

1918

French

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

Gershwin, George
 ML410 .G288

1898

1937

American

Porgy and Bess (opera)
Rhapsody in Blue (piano & orchestra)
CDs
Scores

Grainger, Percy
 ML410 .G75

1882

1961

Australian-American

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

CDs
Scores

Hindemith, Paul
 ML410 .H685

1895

1963

German

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

Holst, Gustav
 ML410 .H748

1874

1934

English

The Planets (orchestra)
2 Suites for Military Band
CDs
Scores

Ives, Charles
 ML410 .I94

1874

1954

American

Third Symphony (orchestra)
Three Places in New England (orchestra)
Unanswered Question (chamber orchestra)
Concord Sonata (piano solo)
General Booth Enters Heaven (voice & piano)
CDs
Scores

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)
CDs
Scores
Orff, Carl
 ML410 .O65

1895

1982

German

Carmina Burana (soloists, chorus & orchestra) CDs
Scores

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)
CDs
Scores

Ravel, Maurice
 ML410 .R23

1875

1937

French

Daphnis et Chloé (ballet)
Bolero (orchestra)
CDs
Scores

Schoenberg, Arnold
 ML410 .S283

1874

1951

Austrian-American

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

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)
CDs
Scores

Stravinksy, Igor
 ML410 .S932

1882

1971

Russian

Firebird (ballet, orchestra)
Petrushka (ballet, orchestra)
Rite of Spring (ballet, orchestra)
Histoire du Soldat (chamber)
Symphony in C (orchestra)
Symphony of Psalms (chorus & orchestra)
In Memorium Dylan Thomas (chamber)
Mass (choral)
CDs
Scores

Varèse, Edgard
 ML410 .V27

1883

1965

French-American

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

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

MMC

Antheil, George
 ML410 .A638

1900

1959

American

Ballet Mechanique (12 pianos, percussion, chamber)

Babbitt, Milton

1916

2011 

American

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

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
CDs
Scores

Bartók, Béla
 ML410 .B26

1881

1945

Hungarian

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

Berg, Alban
 ML410 .B47

1885

1935

Austrian

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

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)
CDs
Scores

Boulez, Pierre
 ML410 .B773

1925

 

French

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

Britten, Benjamin
 ML410 .B853

1913

1976

English

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

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)
CDs
Scores

Carter, Elliott
 ML410 .C3293

1908

 2012

American

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

CDs
Scores

Childs, Barney

1926

2000

American

A Box of View (woodwind quintet)
Trombone Sonata
 
Scores

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)
CDs
Scores

Cowell, Henry
 ML410 .C859

1897

1965

American

Banshee (piano solo)
Aeolian Harp (piano solo)
CDs
Scores

Debussy, Claude
 ML410 .D28

1862

1918

French

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

Ellington, Duke
 ML410 .E44

1899

1974

American

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

Feldman, Morton

1926

1987

American

String Quartet
Rothko Chapel (chamber & vocals)
CDs
Scores

Foss, Lukas

1922

2009

German-American

String Quartet No. 1
Baroque Variations (orchestra)
CDs
Scores

Franchetti, Arnold

1911

1993

Italian-American

Germania (voice & piano)
Married Men Go to Hell (opera)

Gershwin, George
 ML410 .G288

1898

1937

American

Porgy and Bess (opera)
Rhapsody in Blue (piano & orchestra)
CDs
Scores

Ginastera, Alberto

1916

1983

Argentine

Danzas argentinas (piano)
Piano Concerto No. 1
CDs
Scores

Gould, Morton

1913

1996

American

Stringmusic (orchestra)
Fall River Legend (ballet)
CDs
Scores

Grainger, Percy
 ML410 .G75

1882

1961

Australian-American

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

CDs
Scores

Hanson, Howard

1896

1981

American

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

CDs
Scores

Henze, Hans Werner
 ML410 .H483

1926

2012

German

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

CDs
Scores

Hindemith, Paul
 ML410 .H685

1895

1963

German

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

Holst, Gustav
 ML410 .H748

1874

1934

English

The Planets (orchestra)
2 Suites for Military Band
CDs
Scores

Honegger, Arthur

1892

1955

Swiss / French

Pacific 231 (orchestra) CDs
Scores

Hovhaness, Alan

1911

2000

Armenian-American

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

Husa, Karel

1921

 

Czech-American

Music for Prague 1968 (orchestra – also transcribed for wind ensemble) CDs
Scores

Ives, Charles
 ML410 .I94

1874

1954

American

Third Symphony (orchestra)
Three Places in New England (orchestra)
Unanswered Question (chamber orchestra)
Concord Sonata (piano solo)
General Booth Enters Heaven (voice & piano)
CDs
Scores

Janáček, Leoš
 ML410 .J18

1854

1928

Czech

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

Lehár, Franz

1870

1948

Austro-Hungarian

The Merry Widow (opera) CDs
Scores

Luening, Otto
 ML410 .L947

1900

1996

German-American

Low Speed (tape)
Concertino (flute & orchestra)
CDs
Scores

Lutoslawski, Witold

1913

1994

Polish

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

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

MMC

Mayuzumi, Toshiro

1929

1997

Japanese

Nirvana Symphony (male chorus & orchestra)  
Scores

Menotti, Gian Carlo
 ML410 .M52

1911

2007

Italian-American

Amahl and the Night Visitors (opera) CDs
Scores

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)
CDs
Scores

Milhaud, Darius
 ML410 .M674

1892

1974

French

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

Nono, Luigi
 ML410 .N667

1924

1990

Italian

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

Orff, Carl
 ML410 .O65

1895

1982

German

Carmina Burana (soloists, chorus & orchestra) CDs
Scores

Persichetti, Vincent

1915

1987

American

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

Pinkham, Daniel

1923

2006

American

Christmas Cantata (choir & orchestra)
Versets (organ)
 
Scores

Poulenc, Francis
 ML410 .P787

1899

1963

French

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

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)
CDs
Scores

Rachmaninoff, 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)
CDs
Scores

Ravel, Maurice
 ML410 .R23

1875

1937

French

Daphnis et Chloé (ballet)
Bolero (orchestra)
CDs
Scores

Respighi, Ottorino

1879

1936

Italian

The Pines of Rome (orchestra) CDs
Scores

Rochberg, George

1918

2005

American

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

Schoenberg, Arnold
 ML410 .S283

1874

1951

Austrian-American

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

Schuman, William
 ML410 .S386

1910

1992

American

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

Scriabin, Alexander
 ML410 .S5988

1872

1915

Russian

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

Seeger, Ruth
 ML410 .S4446

1901

1953

American

String Quartet CDs
Scores

Sessions, Roger
 ML410 .S473

1896

1985

American

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

Shostakovich, Dmitri
 ML410 .S53

1906

1975

Russian

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

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)
CDs
Scores

Stravinksy, Igor
 ML410 .S932

1882

1971

Russian

Firebird (ballet, orchestra)
Petrushka (ballet, orchestra)
Rite of Spring (ballet, orchestra)
Histoire du Soldat (chamber)
Symphony in C (orchestra)
Symphony of Psalms (chorus & orchestra)
In Memorium Dylan Thomas (chamber)
Mass (choral)
CDs
Scores

Takemitsu, Tōru
 ML410 .T134

1930

1996

Japanese

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

Tippett, Michael
 ML410 .T467

1905

1998

English

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

Ussachevsky, Vladimir

1911

1990

Russian-American

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

Varèse, Edgard
 ML410 .V27

1883

1965

French-American

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

Villa-Lobos, Heitor
 ML410 .V76

1887

1959

Brazilian

Bachiannas Brasilieras (various combinations of instruments)
String Quartet No. 6
CDs
Scores

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)
CDs
Scores