I began this book -- before arriving at the beginning now beginning -- as a simple updating of my Modern Music, which I had finished in 1979. But the infant with whom that earlier survey had, to quote from its dedication, 'a race to delivery', is now nearing manhood, and a comparable change seemed to be demanded of the book -- demanded by the last fifteen years of composition, by the progress of scholarship, and by the altered view of distance.
The original Modern Music, with a title that seemed either quaint or defensive in a world waking to postmodernism, viewed the period since 1945 as divided into two phases. One, lasting until around 1960, was governed by hopes for a constant progressive change in the nature of music, in the routines of composing, and in music's place within society. Because those hopes were widely shared, they encouraged an uncommon profusion of alliances -- an urge that may have been intensified by the fact that so many of the leading composers of these years were men (rarely women) who were in their twenties, and therefore susceptible to fantasies of group identity. And because the hopes sometimes seemed more important than the music -- as if what was written could only be a sketch towards some grand future project -- they also generated a quite unusual quantity of verbal justification, in the form of analytical articles, treatises of composition, declarations of aesthetic intent, and polemical counterblasts. It was a time of vigorous bonding, fierce denunciation and conspicuous theorizing (there are close parallels with what was going on within the left-wing politics of the time). Only the energy of reconstruction -- the drive to build a better musical future, to reach new promised lands -- was beyond dispute. That energy, that drive, made the passage of time feel urgent and forward-moving, and something of the same dynamic was maintained when, as inevitably happened, the differences among composers began to overwhelm the mutualities, and the single history of the late 1940s and 1950s was succeeded in the next two decades by a knotted web of arrows -- a web which the second part of Modern Music tried to expose in a sequence of traverses rather than a solitary narrative line.
This new version of the book maintains the earlier two-part structure, and adds to it a third part concerning music since the late 1970s. The three parts cover roughly equal periods of time, but not at equal length, for various reasons. With the passage of time, music grows, enriched by performance, by interpretation, by the effect it has on subsequent music: the music of the late 1940s and 1950s thereby commands more attention here than the spring grass of the 1990s. Also, that immediate postwar music is unusually big in its achievements, deep in its questions, and long in its implications. Just as a book on the music of the first half of the nineteenth century would have to give disproportionate weight to the period up to 1828, so this one is bottom-heavy. Reasons of convenience, too, have sometimes pulled later