7 Radical Innovations of Twentieth Century Harmony: A Comprehensive Review


The term twentieth century harmony is symbolic of a musical revolution that marked a period of extraordinary metamorphosis and pioneering novelties. This epoch saw an impressive deviation from conventional harmonic patterns, venturing into uncharted, experimental techniques that defied established principles and reinvented the auditory environment.

Chapter 1: The Initiation of a Revolutionary Musical Phase

The inception of the twentieth century signified the beginning of a revolutionary phase that was destined to instigate substantial alterations in the musical domain. Established harmonic concepts were being questioned and reconstructed.

The Progression of Harmonic Dialect

The harmonic dialect of the twentieth century is distinguished by its vast diversity and intricacy. Composers ventured into novel tonal realms, liberating themselves from the limitations of customary Western harmony. The adoption of polytonality and atonality became widespread, introducing an entirely new facet to musical composition.

The Introduction of Serialism

A landmark development in twentieth-century harmony was the introduction of serialism. This technique entailed the systematic employment of a sequence or row of tones, offering a compositional structure that was both stringent and adaptable.

Chapter 2: Architects of Twentieth Century Harmony

Several composers played instrumental roles in molding the harmonic landscape of the twentieth century, pushing limits and challenging traditions.

Igor Stravinsky: The Revolutionary

Igor Stravinsky, with works such as The Rite of Spring, revolutionized harmony by incorporating polytonality and dissonance. His innovative use of rhythm and meter further intensified his unique harmonic dialect.

Arnold Schoenberg: The Visionary

Arnold Schoenberg’s contribution to twentieth-century harmony is monumental. He pioneered the twelve-tone technique, a form of serialism that bestowed equal significance to all twelve tones of the chromatic scale.

Chapter 3: Delving into Harmonic Techniques

The twentieth century heralded the emergence of several innovative harmonic techniques that considerably expanded the expressive scope of music.

Augmented Harmonic Constructs

Composers initiated the usage of extended chords, introducing new complexities to their harmonic dialect. These included ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths, creating a more intricate, rich sound.

Modal Harmony

Modal harmony, derived from ancient church modes, also garnered attention in the twentieth century. This method offered an alternative to traditional major-minor tonality, presenting a novel array of harmonic hues.

twentieth century harmony

Chapter 4: The Heritage of Twentieth Century Harmony

The heritage of twentieth-century harmony continues to echo in modern music. Its influence is visible across genres, from classical and jazz to pop and rock.

Influence on Jazz Harmony

The harmonic novelties of the twentieth century significantly influenced jazz. Extended chords, modal harmony, and polytonality are fundamental to the progression of jazz harmony.

Impact on Contemporary Classical Music

Modern classical music is heavily indebted to the harmonic explorations of the twentieth century. Composers persistently utilize techniques such as serialism and atonality, pushing the limits of harmonic dialect.


The twentieth century harmony symbolizes a landmark in musical history, a time of radical novelty that permanently transformed our comprehension of harmony. Its heritage continues to motivate and challenge composers, shaping the sonic landscapes of today and tomorrow.

Essential concepts of harmony in music theory can further elucidate this topic.
Wikipedia offers more insights into this fascinating era of music.

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