Avant-garde music

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The term avant-garde is applied to music that is considered to be at the forefront of experimentation or innovation in its field. Avant-garde music may critique existing aesthetic conventions, reject the status quo in favor of unique or original elements, and intentionally challenge or alienate audiences.[1]


In a historical sense, some musicologists use the term "avant-garde music" for the radical compositions that succeeded the death of Anton Webern in 1945,[2] while for others, this period is typically thought to begin with Wagner[3] or Josquin des Prez.[4]

Today the term may be used to refer to any other post-1945 tendency of modernist music not definable as experimental music, though sometimes including a type of experimental music characterized by the rejection of tonality.[2]

Although some modernist music is also avant-garde, a distinction can be made between the two categories. Because the purpose of avant-garde music is necessarily political, social, and cultural critique, so that it challenges social and artistic values by provoking or goading audiences, composers such as Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, George Antheil, and Igor Stravinsky may reasonably be considered to have been avant-gardists in their early works (which were understood as provocative, whether or not the composers intended them that way), but the label is not really appropriate for their later music. Modernists of the post–World War II period, such as Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, György Ligeti, Witold Lutosławski, and Luciano Berio, never conceived their music for the purpose of goading an audience, and so cannot be classified as avant-garde. Composers such as John Cage and Harry Partch, on the contrary, remained avant-gardists throughout their creative careers.[5]

Popular music

In the 1960s and early 1970s, rock artists such as Captain Beefheart, the Velvet Underground and Roxy Music incorporated avant-garde elements into their music.[6][7][8] Writer David Toop characterized the mid-1960s work of Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson as "avant-garde pop",[9] a designation also lent to the group by The New York Times.[10] The 1960s also saw a wave of avant-garde experimentation in popular jazz, represented by artists such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis.[11] Other artists described "avant-pop" include singers Grace Jones,[12] Björk,[13] and Róisín Murphy.[14]

See also


  1. AllMusic
  2. 2.0 2.1 Paul Du Noyer (ed.), "Contemporary", in the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music: From Rock, Pop, Jazz, Blues and Hip Hop to Classical, Folk, World and More (London: Flame Tree, 2003), p. 272. ISBN 1-904041-70-1
  3. Don Michael Randel, "Modernism", The Harvard Dictionary of Music, fourth edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003). ISBN 9780674011632.
  4. Edward Lowinsky, "The Musical Avant-Garde of the Renaissance; or, the Peril and Profit of Foresight", in Music in the Culture of the Renaissance and Other Essays, edited and with an introduction by Bonie J. Blackburn with forewords by Howard Mayer Brown and Ellen T. Harris, 2 vols. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989) 2:730–54, passim.
  5. Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002): xiii–xiv. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.
  6. The Independent
  7. Dolan, Jon (October 27, 2013). "Lou Reed, Velvet Underground Leader and Rock Pioneer, Dead at 71". Rolling Stone.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Roxy Music". AllMusic.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Toop, David (1995). Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds. London: Serpent's Tail. p. 114. ISBN 9781852423827.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Ames Carlin, Peter (March 25, 2001). "MUSIC; A Rock Utopian Still Chasing An American Dream". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. West, Michael (April 3, 2015). "In the year jazz went avant-garde, Ramsey Lewis went pop with a bang". The Washington Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Joffw, Justin (June 2, 2015). "AFROPUNK Announces Lineup, New Paid Ticket System". The Observer.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Electronic Beats
  14. Idolator

Further reading