Classical Check-Up – 1952

1952 was the year that serialism — an experimental technique spearheaded by the avant-garde teachings of the Darmstadt School — began to take shape. The genre deconstructed high modernism into a mathematical formula based on tone rows and chromatic theory. Though there would be far better serialist music to come later in the decade, 1952 offered a vivid look into classical music’s extreme far-left philosophy.

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Artist: John Cage

Genre: Experimental

Grade: A

The funniest musical joke ever composed. If you don’t quite understand it, simply watch a live performance. With this “composition,” John Cage essentially ended postmodernism before it could even begin — the be-all, end-all minimalist point-of-no-return.

Anything can be music. Even nothing. For 4 minutes 33 seconds, at least.

Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 22

Artist: Alberto Ginastera

Genre: Avant-Garde Classical

Grade: A-

Alberto Ginastera (the “Argentine Bartók”) was no doubt a huge inspiration upon prog-rock keyboardist Keith Emerson. There’s even a cover version of a Ginastera piano concerto on ELP’s 1973 LP, Brain Salad Surgery. My advice to any lover of music would be to ignore the pretentious art-rockers and go straight to the source — Ginastera was one of South American music’s premier exports.


Artist: Sergei Prokofiev

Genre: Neoclassical

Grade: A-

As far as final masterpieces go, Prokofiev’s concerto for cello and orchestra (along with his Symphony No. 7) is a proper swansong. It wasn’t until early in the second movement that I became fully enveloped by the piece, but it quickly put me under its spell after that. Late-period Prokofiev never disappoints.


Artist: Karlheinz Stockhausen

Genre: Serialism

Grade: A-

Pointilist serialist modernist songform by a young Darmstadt vanguard. The score calls for an oboist, bass clarinetist, pianist and a handful of percussionists.

A young Karlheinz Stockhausen experiments with electronic sound. (Photo from

Symphony No. 7

Artist: Henry Cowell

Genre: Neoclassical

Grade: B+

The second movement of Henry Cowell’s Seventh Symphony has an interesting impressionistic rhythm, achieving the dreamlike state (minus the cacophony) of his early solo piano work. The rest of the symphony, however, finds Cowell at his most average. He is only compelling when actively pushing boundaries.


Artist: Gail Kubik

Genre: Avant-Garde Classical

Grade: B+

Despite being complex, modernist, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, etc., Gail Kubik’s Symphony Concertante seems to go nowhere. Nevertheless, the second movement (subtitled “Quietly”) unlocks a rare ambient majesty.

Due Pezzi

Artist: Luciano Berio

Genre: Serialism

Grade: B

A major composer of Italian experimental music during the postwar era, Luciano Berio was one of serialism’s most radical figures. Nevertheless, “Due Pezzi” is uncharacteristically “safe,” especially by Berio’s standards.

Espana en el Corazon

Artist: Luigi Nono

Genre: Serialism

Grade: B

The other major composer of Italian experimental music during the postwar era, Luigi Nono also was one of serialism’s most radical figures. Nevertheless, “España en el Corazón” is a little too radical, even by Nono’s standards.

Classical Check-Up – 1952

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