Avant-garde music is music that is considered to be at the forefront of experimentation or innovation in its field, with the term “avant-garde” implying a critique of existing aesthetic conventions, rejection of the status quo in favor of unique or original elements, and the idea of deliberately challenging or alienating audiences.
Avant-garde music may be distinguished from experimental music by the way it adopts an extreme position within a certain tradition, whereas “experimental music” lies outside tradition. 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, but others disagree. For example, Ryan Minor writes that this period began with the work of Richard Wagner, whereas Edward Lowinsky cites Josquin des Prez. The term may also be used to refer to any 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. A commonly cited example of avant-garde music is John Cage’s 4’33″(1952), a piece which instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s) during its entire duration.
Although some modernist music is also avant-garde, a distinction can be made between the two categories. According to scholar Larry Sitsky, 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 Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, George Antheil and Claude Debussy 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 Sitsky does not consider the label appropriate for their later music. For example, modernists of the post–World War II period, such as Milton Babbitt, Luciano Berio, Elliott Carter, György Ligeti, and Witold Lutosławski, never conceived their music for the purpose of goading an audience and cannot, therefore, be classified as avant-garde. Composers such as John Cage and Harry Partch, on the contrary,
Artist and Bands
The Velvet Underground
La Monte Young