Avant-garde music

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"Avantgarde music" redirects here. For the record label, see Avantgarde Music.

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] It may be distinguished from experimental music by occupying an extreme position within a certain tradition, whereas "experimental music" lies outside tradition.[2] An alternative point of view includes a type of experimental music characterized by the rejection of tonality.[3]


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,[3][verification needed] while for Don Michael Randel and Edward Lowinsky, this period is thought to begin with Wagner[4] or Josquin des Prez,[5] respectively.

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.[3]


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 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 the label is not really appropriate for their later music.

Contemporary music[edit]

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.[6]

Popular music[edit]

"Avant-garde pop" and "avant-pop music" redirect here. For the artistic movement, see Avantpop (artistic movement).

The 1960s saw a wave of avant-garde experimentation in popular jazz, represented by artists such as Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.[7][8] Rock artists who have incorporated avant-garde elements into their music include Roxy Music,[9] Captain Beefheart,[10] the Velvet Underground,[11] and The Residents.[12] The New York Times and writer David Toop characterized the mid-1960s work of Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson as "avant-garde pop."[13][14] During the late 1970s, post-punk artists rejected traditional rock sensibilities in favor of an avant-garde aesthetic.[15] The Star Tribune's Michael Anthony names performance artist Laurie Anderson the "creator of avant-pop music".[16] Other artists described "avant-pop" include singers Grace Jones,[17] Björk,[18] and Róisín Murphy.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Avant-Garde Music". AllMusic. 
  2. ^ David Nicholls, American Experimental Music, 1890–1940 (Cambridge [England] and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990): 318.
  3. ^ a b c 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
  4. ^ Don Michael Randel, "Modernism", The Harvard Dictionary of Music, fourth edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003). ISBN 9780674011632.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002): xiii–xiv. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.
  7. ^ Anon. Avant-Garde Jazz. AllMusic.com, n.d.
  8. ^ Michael West (April 3, 2015). "In the year jazz went avant-garde, Ramsey Lewis went pop with a bang". The Washington Post. 
  9. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "Roxy Music". AllMusic. [full citation needed]
  10. ^ The Independent[full citation needed]
  11. ^ Jon Dolan (October 27, 2013). "Lou Reed, Velvet Underground Leader and Rock Pioneer, Dead at 71". Rolling Stone. 
  12. ^ Rolling Stone
  13. ^ David Toop (1995). Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds. London: Serpent's Tail. p. 114. ISBN 9781852423827. 
  14. ^ Peter Ames Carlin (March 25, 2001). "MUSIC; A Rock Utopian Still Chasing An American Dream". The New York Times. 
  15. ^ Bannister, Matthew (2007). White Boys, White Noise: Masculinities and 1980s Indie Guitar Rock. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-7546-8803-7. 
  16. ^ Michael Anthony (March 22, 2016). "Laurie Anderson, More Than 'Just a Storyteller'". Star Tribune. 
  17. ^ Justin Joffe (June 2, 2015). "AFROPUNK Announces Lineup, New Paid Ticket System". The Observer. 
  18. ^ Electronic Beats[full citation needed]
  19. ^ Idolator[full citation needed]

Further reading[edit]