top of page

Nothing New Under The Sun – Modern Music from the Past

Updated: May 4, 2021

Five Pieces of "Old" Music that Sound "New"

Where Old Meets New
Where Old Meets New
"What has been is what will be, what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun."

– Ecclesiastes 1:9

With recent technological innovations like high-speed rail or electric cars and smartphones or drones, we may think we live in a very different world than those who lived in earlier centuries. We may think that we invent and understand ideas in a different way than those of the past. However, may creative ideas that we consider "modern" or "contemporary" were thought about and experimented with by composers in the past. The era that we consider "modern" in music may have begun around 1900 with musical experiments by composers like Impressionists like Maurice Ravel (March 7, 1875 – December 28, 1937),

Satie, Moulin de la Galette ("The Bohemian"), Ramon Casas, (1891)
Satie (1891) by Ramon Casas

Claude Debussy (Aug. 22, 1862 – March 25, 1918), and Erik Satie (May 17, 1866 – July 1, 1925) [pictured as the model of the modern "bohemian"artist in the painting to the right, Satie, Moulin de la Galette ("The Bohemian") (1891) by Spanish Modernist Ramon Casas (Jan. 4, 1866 – Feb. 29, 1932] or atonal pioneer Arnold Schönberg (Sept. 13, 1874 – July 13, 1951) and his students Alban Berg (Feb. 9, 1885 – Dec. 24, 1935) and Anton Webern (Dec. 3, 1883 – Sept.15, 1945).

We consider the time before 1900 going back to the Baroque, the common-practice period (1650 – 1900) in music. This is when what we consider standard Music Theory became dominant in Western music. The ideas of major and minor scales and triadic chords were "discovered" and mastered during this period. However, composers hundreds of years before them we taking creative leaps and making musical risks. Before the common practice period composers were busy experimenting with meter and scales. Even creating polyphony having singers simply before more than one song at the same time. (I discuss this a bit in the article, The Four Types of Texture in Music.)

In this post, we will explore five works of music written well-before 1900 that still sound "modern" to us today.

Giovanni Valentini's Sonata a5 in G minor (1609)