Five Modern Classical Pieces for Pop Listeners

20th-Century Classics You Should Get to Know

Alex Ross

hide captionAlex Ross weaves a tale of the 20th century through its music in his new book, The Rest Is Noise.

David Michalek

Now that we're comfortably settled into the 21st century, critic Alex Ross has taken a look (and a listen) backward, to the classical music spanning the previous 100 years. His new book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, explores how modern composers forged new techniques, found inspiration in jazz and pop, and forced us to hear music in new ways.

Ross makes a case for some of the century's most demanding pieces and visionary composers, from early modernists such as Arnold Schoenberg to revered minimalists such as Steve Reich.

From the vast array of music Ross traces in his book, he's chosen a Top 5 list he thinks is essential for anyone curious about modern music.

Ross is best known for his insightful music criticism in The New Yorker — and on his blog, The Rest Is Noise.

Click here for Ross' list of the Top 5 Pop Albums for Classical Listeners.

1. Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring'

Stravinsky's riot-causing ballet of pagan sacrifice expounds on a new science of rhythm.

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic (DG 477 6198)

2. Olivier Messiaen

Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

In a German POW camp during WWII, Messiaen heard sounds of eternity.

Members of Chamber Music Northwest (Delos 3043)

3. Karlheinz Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Stockhausen's electronic classic, a cauldron of sound centered on a choirboy singing "Praise the Lord," set a standard for far-out music that no psychedelic band surpassed.

4. Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel
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  • "Morton Feldman: Rothko Chapel; Why Patterns?"
  • Album: Morton Feldman: Rothko Chapel; Why Patterns?
  • Artist: Various
  • Label: New Albion
  • Released: 1991
 

In the noisiest century in history, the American avant-garde master Morton Feldman wrote music that trembled at the edge of silence.

  UC-Berkeley Chamber Chorus; David Abel, viola; William Winant, percussion. (New Albion NA039)

5. Steve Reich

Steve Reich's 'Music for 18 Musicians'
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  • "Section VI"
  • Album: Music for 18 Musicians
  • Artist: Steve Reich & Ensemble Modern
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2007
 

The minimalist masterpiece hypnotized the likes of Brian Eno and David Bowie when it first appeared in 1976, and rock fans have been falling for it ever since.

 Steve Reich Ensemble (Nonesuch 79448)

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Le Sacre du Printemps [Hybrid SACD]

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  • Album: Le Sacre du Printemps [Hybrid SACD]
  • Artist: Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • Released: 2006
 

Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time; Bartók: Contrasts

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  • Album: Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time; Bartók: Contrasts
  • Artist: Various
  • Label: Delos
  • Released: 1986
 

Morton Feldman: Rothko Chapel; Why Patterns?

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  • Album: Morton Feldman: Rothko Chapel; Why Patterns?
  • Artist: Various
  • Label: New Albion
  • Released: 1991
 

Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians

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  • Album: Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians
  • Artist: Steve Reich
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 1998
 

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