Not too long ago, one of my friends asked me to recommend some classical music that “wasn’t puppies and rainbows.” Inspired by this little interaction (and feeling a little huffy that the Bartók I sent in response was too much to handle) I wanted to share some of my favorite 20th century works, an era notorious in my theory classes for its “dark” qualities.
String Quartet No. 8: III. Allegretto
Shostakovich dedicated this string quartet to the victims of totalitarianism in Russia. As with much of his music, it’s both beautiful and grotesque. Performed by the Kronos Quartet.
Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring): Act II – “Cercles Mystérieux des Adolescentes” and “Glorification de l'Elue”
The Rite of Spring is a ballet about a primitive ritual, in which a young girl dances herself to death in sacrifice. It’s a staple of 20th century music, and caused a riot on its opening night in 1913.
String Quartet No. 4: I. Allegro
We studied this quartet in my third year of college, as an example of arch form and a different way to approach tonality. Performed by the Takács Quartet.
Pierrot Lunaire (Moonstruck Pierre): Part II - VIII. Die Nacht
Performed by Christine Schäfer.
Black Angels: I. Departure
Crumb composed Black Angels for electric string quartet, influenced by the Vietnam War. The opening part is called “Threnody I: Night of the Electric Insects.” Performed by the Kronos Quartet.