I am not an expert in music in any sense of the word. I know what I like and I feel I have a fairly eclectic taste in music. The following list, in no particular order, is of ten people I consider to be the creative geniuses of the 20th Century.
1. Sergei Rachmaninoff — (1873 – 1928) Rachmaninoff is considered to be a romantic classicist. He is best known for his piano concertos, although he certain wrote many other forms of music. A friend of mine, who was once part of the Cleveland Philharmonic, said Rachmaninoff’s pieces can be extremely difficult to perform not only because of the complexity, but because the pianist involved is required to make reaches designed for Rachmaninoff’s large hands. If you have not, or do not know, if you have ever heard anything by him, I recommend you find his Piano concerto number 1 or his Piano rhapsody of a theme of Paganini. His pieces are frequently used in movies.
2. George Gershwin — (1898 – 1937) George Gershwin, and his brother Ira, are responsible for some of the most appealing early 20th century American music. Gershwin fancied himself a classical author although his music was much more suited for the Broadway play for which he wrote a number of scores. In the early 1930s Gershwin fulfilled his lifetime dream of writing an opera when he wrote “Porgy and Bess.” Rather than write in the classical form like Puccini and Mozart, Gershwin drew from early 20th century folk music of the south. Porgy and Bess, an American opera to be sure, is filled with a Delta Blues style of music. He also wrote a piano piece that is exception, A Rhapsody in Blue. If you listen to either of these piece I believe you will see what I found.
3. Eric Satie — (1866 – 1925) Eric Satie is a Frenchman who grew up in Normandy near the French coast. His music, primarily piano pieces, take on a beautiful haunting quality to them. His pieces are often used in movies when a pedantic or lonely mood needs to be set. Two of his most famous pieces are Gymnopedies no. 1 and Gnossienne no. 1. They are short but enormously beautiful.
4. Aaron Copeland — (1900 – 1990) Aaron Copeland is known as the dean of American Music. His music takes on a particularly American quality that has become to define a particular style of American Folk Music. His piece Appalachian Spring and Fanfare to the Common Man are known around the world, and frequently played at 4th of July celebrations, and other such gatherings.
5. John Philip Sousa — (1854 – 1932) Sousa is known for his patriotic marches. In the 1880s he lead the Marine Corps Band. Afterward he found he had an aptitude for composition and set about to write such well-known pieces as The Washington Post March, Stars and Stripes Forever, and other Patriotic pieces. He also invented an instrument called the Sousaphone, frequently mistaken as a tuba, an entirely different instrument.
6. Scott Joplin — (1867 – 1917) Scott Joplin helped create a new genre of music called “Ragtime.” The music is a takeoff of southern jazz. Joplin’s music was hugely popular in the first 20 years of the 20th Century and was the choice of music for the movie “The Sting.”
7. Jon Lennon — (1940 – 1980) Jon Lennon probably did more for rock and roll than any other single artist of the 20th Century. While other remarkable artists of the day, Elvis and his contemporaries, drew largely from other composers, Lennon almost exclusively wrote all the music he performed, both for himself and the Beatles. Lennon created a style and form that musicians have followed ever since.
8. Dave Brubeck (1920 – ) Brubeck is one of the 20th century’s best known jazz composers. Brubeck’s compositions proved so popular the one piece in particular, Take Five, was a hit on the pop charts. Brubeck himself was an accomplished pianist which set him apart from other jazz artists who were known from their abilities on the trumpet, drums, and trombone. One of his best compositions, in my opinion, is Blue Rondo a la Turk.
9. Hank Williams — (1923 – 1953) In his short life Hank Williams was known both for his composition and performance of country music. The Williams’ style has been on of the most often copied over the decades by such greats at Waylon Jennings, Charlie Rich, Tammy Wynette and other country greats.
10. Robert Johnson — (1911 – 1938) Robert Johnson could easily be my favorite of all these composers. Johnson is one of blues music favorite composers, who, if you are not a fan of the blues, you probably never heard of. Johnson compiled a total of 29 pieces in his short life, but his style is oft copied. To get a good sampling of Johnson’s music I highly recommend Eric Clapton’s recording, “Me and Mr. Johnson.”
11. Bob Dylan — (1941 – ) I know, I said a list of ten but a friend of mine has correctly pointed out that Dylan richly deserves to be in this list and I cannot disagree, so here he is. Dylan was the iconoclasts of musicians starting in the early 1960s. He wrote not only for himself but for other artists. His songs were embraced by a generation of anti-war people which Dylan states were not written as such, at least at first. His folk songs are ver different from any other written at the time. Songs such as Blowing in the Wind, Times They Are A-Changing, Positively 4th Street, Just Like a Woman, and many many other songs speak to his enormous talent.