3-Second New Music Quiz

Here’s a “3-second” quiz for you composers and new music enthusiasts out there. Identify fifteen 20th-century composers and works by listening to a 3-second excerpt. (Okay, some excerpts are more like 5 or 6 seconds, but who’s counting?) It’s indeed remarkable that some composers have so individual and unique a sound fingerprint that identification is possible in 3 seconds or less, even if the piece itself is an unfamiliar one. I suspect that some of these, then, will be fairly easy for those who are familiar with modern music. In fact, some excerpts come from iconic pieces that will be instantly recognizable. Others are more obscure and, therefore, much more difficult. It would make sense to assign more points to the more difficult ones, but for convenience sake, let’s just say 5 points for each composer, piece and movement (when applicable). 200 points are possible, though a score of 100 would itself be impressive. If you’re really good at this kind of thing, try guessing the year each composition was written (which is included in the “Piece” section). Better yet, don’t keep score and just play.

#1 Audio
(Highlight boxes below to reveal answers)

Composer Piece Movement
Pierre Boulez Le marteau sans maître (1955) 3. L’artisanat furieux

#2 Audio

Composer Piece
György Ligeti Artikulation (1958)

#3 Audio

Composer Piece Movement
John Adams Violin Concerto (1993) 3. Toccare

#4 Audio

Composer Piece Movement
Luciano Berio Sinfonia (1968-69) 2. O King

#5 Audio

Composer Piece
Arvo Pärt Beatus Petronius (1990)

#6 Audio

Composer Piece Movement
John Cage Sonatas and Interludes (1946-48) Sonata 1

#7 Audio

Composer Piece Movement
Igor Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements (1942-45) Movement 3

#8 Audio

Composer Piece Movement
Claude Debussy La Mer (1903-05) 2. Jeux de vagues

#9 Audio

Composer Piece Movement
George Crumb Makrokosmos I (1972) 8. The Magic Circle of Infinity

#10 Audio

Composer Piece Movement
Arnold Schoenberg Pierrot lunaire (1912) 20. Heimfahrt

#11 Audio

Composer Piece
Helmut Lachenmann Mouvement — vor der Erstarrung (1983-84)

#12 Audio

Composer Piece
Steve Reich Music for 18 Musicians (1974-76)

#13 Audio

Composer Piece Movement
Gerard Grisey Vortex Temporum (1994-96) 1. Interludio I

#14 Audio

Composer Piece
Morton Feldman Durations 1 (1960)

#15 Audio

Composer Piece Movement
Olivier Messiaen Turangalîla-Symphonie (1946-48) 2. Chant d’amour 1

One side note on the Stravinsky excerpt:
In his article “Stravinsky’s Orchestrational Style” (Juilliard Review, IV, No.2 (Spring 1957), pp.10-19), Jacob Druckman points to this precise gesture as bearing the quintessence of Stravinskian orchestration. He writes:

“The key to Stravinsky’s orchestral clarity lies in his ability to produce a sound which can probably best be illustrated by that of striking a bell. The original impact or ictus is sustained, not in its original quality, but by a purer and softer ringing of the original tone… In its manifestations it allows the most forceful forte to exist in a transparent texture; it allows incisive rhythmic emphasis of any notes in a given line, the delineation of contrapuntal entrances, even the addition of tiny excitements in an otherwise Mozartean accompaniment.

[Rehearsal 157] from Symphony in Three Movements illustrates the bell sound in its most obvious form. Imagine this sweep to a D major chord in the hands of another composer. With Wagner there would probably be a rush of strings and woodwinds to a solidly-based tutti; with Ravel, probably a sustained crescendo chord in horns and trombones over which the harp would sweep up to the D major tutti with strings divisi on every possible chord tone. Stravinsky chooses not harp, but piano and horns for the glissando. Besides being more incisive, the piano can be quickly dampened after the third beat, whereas the harp certainly could not execute an étouffé over three octaves. The horns, in order to accomplish the glissando, must force to the point where the high D will sound cuivré. Incidentally, the unison sound of high horns and piano is remarkably bell-like. The ictus is reinforced in the upper partials by the marcato flutes and piccolo in their most incisive range, and by the high pizzicato. The only sound that remains after the first striking of the chord is the clarion triad in the trumpets, piano [dynamic].(p. 11)


About Luke Dahn

Composer and music theorist Luke Dahn is Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Utah. He is also co-founder and artistic co-director of Ensemble Périphérie, and lives in Salt Lake City with his wife Yu Jueng and daughter Mae. http://www.lukedahn.net.
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