I quote uses of 'angular' and 'angularity' in The Rough Guide to Classical Music (2010 5 ed).

Some uses of 'angular'

p. 286 Bottom, Right Column

Korngold’s Symphony (1952) is the most uncompromisingly modern of all his works, more angular than his earlier compositions, yet no less enjoyable.

p. 379 Bottom, Right Column

Symphony No. 4 –

The Inextinguishable The idea of the life force is at the heart of the third symphony and the same is true for Symphony No. 4 – The Inextinguishable (1914–16). Its title was explained by the composer as an attempt “… to indicate in one word what only music has the power to express in full: the elemental Will of Life. Music is Life and, like it, inextinguishable.” Written when Nielsen’s marriage was floundering and shortly after his resignation from the Copenhagen Opera, this symphony abounds in conflict and contradiction. Its opening is frenetic, with percussion, strings and wind seeming to vie with each other in clamorous discourse before giving way to an ardent, affirmative melody in the clarinets. The brief second movement suggests the carefree sounds of a village wind band, but the slow movement – with its angular string lines – is unremittingly bleak. The finale culminates in a musical battle between two sets of spatially separated timpani, a battle that is only

p. 380

resolved by the recall of the lyrical melody from the first movement.

p. 492 Middle, Left Column

St Luke’s Passion

Scored for huge forces – three solo voices, narrator, three mixed choirs, boys’ choir and orchestra – the St Luke’s Passion was Penderecki’s most ambitious concert work up to the time of its composition (1962–66). Following on from the extreme expressionism of the early 1960s, the Passion marks a synthesis of avant-garde techniques with the great traditions of Western choral music – in particular the works of Bach, Palestrina and Gregorian chant. Commissioned to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Münster Cathedral, the work employs angular dissonances and some unconventional but dramatic effects (such as crowd noises), but communicates a genuinely devotional mood and tells its story with undeniable authority and intensity

p. 594 Middle, Left Column.

Amériques & Ionisation

Varèse’s search for new sonic possibilities was influenced by Luigi Russolo, the Italian Futurist who created noise machines and whose manifesto The Art of Noises proposed a new world of organized sound which simulated the disparate soundscape of modern urban life. In Amériques, premiered by members of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski, Varèse calls for nine percussionists including two sets of timpani, a siren and the roar of a lion (later changed to Ondes Martenot). It’s a work of raw rhythmic energy – with the occasional moment of lyrical repose – which evokes the brash, angular and violent sounds of the city. Varèse described it as being about “new worlds on earth, in the sky or in the minds of men” and it marks the beginning of his fascination with the expressive possibilities of percussion.

Uses of 'angularity'

p. 146 Middle, Right Column

Piano Music

As well as being a fine pianist, Copland the composer used the piano to work out his ideas: it’s not surprising, therefore, that throughout his career he wrote several pieces for the instrument which though not as well-known as his orchestral pieces are among his most challenging and original compositions. Both the Piano Variations (1931) and the Piano Sonata (1941) are uncompromisingly modernist works which owe something to both Prokofiev and Bartók in their percussiveness and angularity but which are also shot through with Copland’s characteristic “Americanisms” – sparse textures, widely spaced intervals, jazz-inspired rhythms. The Sonata is more epic in scope. Copland referred to it as grandiose, albeit “… a very dry and bare grandiosity, instead of the fat grandiosity of a big orchestral work …” There is also a definite sense of wartime anxiety in its restlessness, ominous hints of tolling bells and generally elegaic undertow.

p. 381 Bottom, Left Column.

Wind Concertos

After Nielsen had composed his Wind Quintet in 1922, he decided to write a concerto for each of the players who had first performed it. In the end, he completed only two before he died, but both are impressive compositions. The Flute Concerto is a predominantly high-spirited and lyrical work, and there is some highly beautiful writing within its single-movement structure. The Clarinet Concerto is in a different vein, with Nielsen embracing – or parodying – the unsentimental angularity of modernists like Stravinsky. It can be a little hard work in the hands of the wrong performers, but it is undoubtedly an exciting and unusual work.

  • 4
    All of this type of "writing about music is" smoke and mirrors. It means whatever they writer thought it meant. Possibly, putting together all your quotes it just means the writer doesn't like "modern music" very much.
    – user19146
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 7:13

3 Answers 3


It would seem fairly apparent from the context of some of the other words surrounding 'angular' et al, that it refers to dissonant musical phrases, and musical lines with larger jumps than is normal, rather than the smoother lines more often encountered in the more lyrical styles of music that are often more listenable. Instead of being gently soothed by such music, the author intimates that the listener will be pushed violently around sonically.


You can describe music as being angular when the line is not smooth and flowing, probably employing intervallic leaps. It can suggest a texture that is lean rather than full.


'Angular' is being used here as an antonym of 'smooth', 'melodic'.

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