10 Great Electronic Music Composers of the 20th Century: a list based blog about electronic music composers.
The idea for this list came about when I was trying to gather some background information for an essay I was writing on the history of electronic music. While there is plenty of information available from a multitude of excellent sources, locating it and collating it can be a laborious process. Also I wanted to put my own spin on the data, so I decided to write my own list based blog post.
I will preface this by saying that this is obviously a list of my own personal favourite composers and not a definitive list of who were the best or most important composers of their time. These are not necessarily the best known or even the most talented people who worked in electronic music in the 20th century, but simply those whose work I enjoy and feel have made an important contribution to electronic music culture.
While electronic music is now the norm, it wasn’t always so. In the beginning, electronic music was new and terrifying. This is a list of 10 great electronic music composers of the 20th century.
Lou Harrison (1917-2003) was among the first to work with electronic instruments. He used an early analog synthesizer called the Trautonium (invented by Friedrich Trautwein in 1930), which was controlled by a keyboard that resembled an organ’s. Its sound was similar to an electric organ’s. Harrison also invented his own instruments, including one made out of scrap metal, and another using only bamboo pipes. Other early works include “Suite for Violin with American Gamelan” (1938) and various works for percussion.
John Cage (1912-1992) may be best known for inventing the prepared piano, but his work with electronics is just as noteworthy. He composed “Williams Mix” in 1952, a work that uses tape loops to create a layered effect of sounds. He also created other tape collages like “Imaginary Landscape No. 4” (1951) and “Cartridge Music” (1960). His electronic works range from collages that feature radio transmissions
Electronic music has been around since the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that a “scene” started to develop. Today, electronic music is one of the most popular genres for up-and-coming musicians to cut their teeth on and it’s created by a new crop of bedroom producers.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly who the first electronic musician was; there are too many factors to consider – and different definitions of what electronic music really is. But we can certainly identify some of the early pioneers from this era, such as Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Over time, more and more composers started experimenting with electronic music. Many were influenced by what had gone before them, while others brought something completely new to the table.
Here are ten great electronic music composers of the 20th century:
Thanks to the digital revolution, electronic music has evolved rapidly in the last few decades. In any genre of music, there are hundreds of artists and musicians who have made their mark. This list of ten composers is far from comprehensive, but it covers some of the most influential and enduring artists in 20th century electronic music.
1. Brian Eno: Experimental composer Brian Eno was a member of Roxy Music before going solo and releasing his first ambient album in 1978. Often credited with pioneering ambient music, Eno has also worked with David Bowie, U2 and Coldplay, among others.
2. Karlheinz Stockhausen: Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Junglinge” (1955-56) is credited as one of the first pieces of electronic music ever produced, though it is more accurately described as an early example of musique concrete.
3. Morton Subotnick: Morton Subotnick’s “Silver Apples of the Moon” (1967) was one of the first electronic compositions commissioned by a record label (Nonesuch). It was also one of the first albums to be entirely conceived on a modular synthesizer.
4. Jean-Jacques Perrey: Jean-Jacques Perrey is
I was reading a book a while back called Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks and it got me thinking about all the different types of musicians and music genres out there. I was also thinking that there are so many different types of musicians and music, but I really couldn’t think of any great lists about them – so, I started writing my own.
My first list is about electronic music composers. Here’s the list and a brief description about each person:
1. Arnold Schoenberg – He was an Austrian composer who lived from 1874 to 1951. He is considered one of the most influential composers of his time, and he is responsible for developing serialism and the twelve tone system.
2. John Cage – An American composer who lived from 1912 to 1992. He is known for being one of the pioneers of indeterminacy and aleatoric music (aleatory).
3. Olivier Messiaen – A French composer who lived from 1908 to 1992. He is known for using birdsong in his compositions and for his very colorful compositions (he often used a lot of percussion in his pieces).
4. Pierre Boulez – A French composer who lived from 1925 to 2016. He is known for composing with computers.
1. Karlheinz Stockhausen
If you are familiar with electronic music, you have most likely heard about Stockhausen. He has been active for more than half a century, and is still considered one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. His works have influenced artists such as John Cage, Brian Eno, Frank Zappa and many others. The piece he is most known for is “Kontakte”.
2. György Ligeti
Ligeti is praised for his experimental pieces. His work is considered to be avant-garde in nature, which means that he was always willing to try new things. He started out as a classical composer in Hungary, but eventually moved to Germany where he continued his career as a composer/conductor. Ligeti is most well known for his piece “Atmospheres”
Vangelis is mostly famous because of his collaboration with Ridley Scott on the film Blade Runner (1982). Although he has worked on other films as well (including Chariots Of Fire), his soundtrack for Blade Runner made him one of the most famous electronic music composers of all time.
4. Wendy Carlos
Although Karlheinz Stockhausen was not the first composer to incorporate electronic sounds in his music, he was one of the most prolific and innovative 20th century composers who used electronic music. His interest in electronics started in 1951 when he experimented with tape recorders and created a piece called Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths). The work, which combines electronically produced voices with natural voices and instrumental sounds, was composed on an analog tape recorder. In 1959, he composed Kontakte (Contacts), which combined synthesized sounds with natural sounds.
Stockhausen’s use of electronic music continued throughout his life. He became a well known proponent of the use of computers in composition during the 1970s. Some of his compositions from this period were commissioned by Philips, who supplied him with computer equipment.