Initiated in 1946 by Wolfgang Steinecke, the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, Darmstadt (Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music), held annually until 1970 and subsequently every two years, encompass both the teaching of composition and interpretation and include premières of new works. After Steinecke's death in 1961, the courses were run by Ernst Thomas (1962–81), Friedrich Ferdinand Hommel (de) (1981–94), Solf Schaefer (1995–2009), and Thomas Schäfer (2009-). Thanks to these courses, Darmstadt is now a major centre of modern music, particularly for German composers.
Many distinguished lecturers appeared at Darmstadt. Amongst them are Theodor W. Adorno, Milton Babbitt, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Christoph Caskel (de), Morton Feldman, Wolfgang Fortner, Severino Gazzelloni, Alois Hába, Hans Werner Henze, Hermann Heiss, Lejaren Hiller, Rudolf Kolisch, Aloys Kontarsky, Ernst Krenek, René Leibowitz, György Ligeti, Bruno Maderna, Olivier Messiaen, Luigi Nono, Siegfried Palm, Henri Pousseur, Heinz Rehfuss, Wolfgang Rihm, Hermann Scherchen, Eduard Steuermann, Karlheinz Stockhausen, David Tudor, Edgard Varèse, Friedrich Wildgans (de), and Iannis Xenakis (Thomas and Schlüter 2001). However, according to one source, although Messiaen paid "a brief visit" to the courses in 1949, "he neither taught students nor lectured" there (Iddon 2013, 31).
During the late 1950s and early 1960s the courses were charged with a perceived lack of interest on the part of some of its zealot followers in any music not matching the uncompromisingly modern views of Pierre Boulez—the "party subservience" of the "clique orthodoxy" of a "sect", in the words of Dr. Kurt Honolka, written in 1962 in an effort to "make the public believe that the most advanced music of the day was no more than a fancy cooked up by a bunch of aberrant conspirators conniving at war against music proper" (Boehmer 1987, 43). This led to the use of the phrase 'Darmstadt School' (coined originally in 1957 by Luigi Nono (1975, 30) to describe the serial music being written at that time by himself and composers such as Boulez, Maderna, Stockhausen, Berio, and Pousseur) as a pejorative term, implying a "mathematical," rule-based music.
- Boehmer, Konrad. 1987. “The Sanctification of Misapprehension into a Doctrine: Darmstadt Epigones and Xenophobes”. English translation by Sonia Prescod Jokel. Key Notes 24:43–47.
- Iddon, Martin. 2013. New Music at Darmstadt: Nono, Stockhausen, Cage, and Boulez. Music since 1900. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-03329-0.
- Nono, Luigi. 1975. Texte, Studien zu seiner Musik. Edited by J. Stenzl. Zürich and Freiburg im Breisgau: Atlantis.
- Thomas, Ernst, and Wilhelm Schlüter. 2001. "Darmstadt". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition,eited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Attinello, Paul, Christopher Fox, and Martin Iddon (eds.). 2007. Other Darmstadts. Contemporary Music Review 26, no. 1 [thematic issue].
- Borio, Gianmario, and Hermann Danuser. 1997. Im Zenit der Moderne. Die Internationalen Ferienkurse für Neue Musik Darmstadt 1946-1966. Geschichte und Dokumentation. 4 vols. Rombach Wissenschaft: Reihe Musicae 2. Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach. ISBN 3-7930-9138-4.
- Donin, Nicolas, and Jonathan Goldman. 2005. Souvenirs de Darmstadt: Retour sur la musique contemporaine du dernier demi-siècle Circuit 15, no. 3 [thematic issue].
- Döring, Gerd. 2008. "Experimentelle Klangbastler: 44. Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt". Allgemeine Zeitung (25 July).