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Classical to the Post-Modern Eras Essay

In this essay, I’m going to trace the development of Classical Music from the late 1750s to the Post-Modern era in the 2000s and provide a brief history of music, and how they link together to form what we have today. There are many preconceptions of what the history of music is. Some people think it is mainly a biography of composer’s lives, but they are wrong. The history of music is primarily the history of musical style. In order to appreciate this, it is essential to become acquainted with the different sounds and to hear them in their contexts.

Fashions in history change with the generations, like fashions in musical tastes. Lets first start with the classical music, Classical is an era; it is from about 1730 to just after 1800. A few people who contributed to the music in the Classical era are: Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Classical period focused on the opposite types of sounds- music during that period was orderly, uncluttered, well planned and precise. Music was expected to be technically pleasing and grounded in certain traditions and styles that had been approved by the public, often quite formal.

Composers were seen as workers who were hired to write music that would please their employer (Sagebiel). The classical period of music combined harmony, melody, rhythm, and orchestration more effectively than earlier periods of music. The classical period is best known for the symphony, a form of a large orchestral ensemble. The symphonic pieces generally had three movements, the sonata, the minuet and the finale. Building of the achievements of earlier composers, Haydn, and Mozart brought the symphony to its peak in the last twenty years of the 18th century.

Haydn excelled in rhythmic drive and development of theme-based music (Bishop 325). Mozart also added to the symphony by contrasting memorable lyric themes in full sounding orchestral settings. There are many styles of music within classical music, including symphony, opera, choral works, chamber music, Gregorian chant, the madrigal, and the Mass. A Classical composition will fluctuate in mood. Not only there are contrasting themes within a movement, but there also may be striking contrasts even within (Vardy).

In Classical music, there is a flexibility of rhythm. A classical composition has a wealth of rhythmic patterns. Classical music is basically homophonic. However, texture is treated as flexibly as rhythm. Classical melodies are among the most tuneful and easy to remember. The Classical composers’ interest in expressing shades of emotion led to the widespread use of gradual dynamic change – crescendo (gradually getting louder) and diminuendo ( gradually getting softer). By varying the finger pressure on the keys, a pianist can play more loudly or softly.

Classical works show a great deal of musical sophistication and use development, key changes, variation, musical phrases of varying lengths, counterpoint, polyphony and advanced harmony development. It uses very specific instruments, most markedly those invented before mid-10th century and adopted in the 18th and 19th centuries, such as instruments like violin, cello, viola, woodwind instruments, brass instruments and other instruments in the orchestra and solo instruments such as piano, harpsichord, organ and guitar.

The classical period had a musical style that was consistent, which means that if you were a composer in this time period; you knew what was expected of you. Haydn had a huge influence on the development if Classical music and so did Beethoven but he chose to focus on a more romantic style which had a simple chord structure. This brings us to the Romantic era; The Romantic music period began in 1825 and ran until 1900.

Several historical themes were at work during this period, including the increasing role of science as a worldview, the rise of nationalism in Europe, and a growing appreciation for the arts. The style of the Romantic music period is generally characterized by a wider range of dynamics, a greater variety of instruments, more dramatic melodies, more extreme tempos, fuller harmonies, and expanded formal structures within the compositions. Some of the most famous composers of all time lived and worked during the Romantic music era.

Schubert, Chopin, Wagner, Brahms, and Mahler are among the most recognizable names. The transition from nineteenth-century Romanticism to twentieth-century Modernism is perhaps one of the big points in music history. Because the speed of twentieth-century innovation in all areas has been so accelerated, music has also moved from one new idea to another with such speed that no previous era can be compared to. Technology and scientific discovery are probably the basic influences on musical creativity and production.

Dissonance became very important and in fact most of the pieces are made up of dissonant chords (Palisca). During the Modern era, many new musical techniques emerged. They were seen in melody , harmony , rhythm, meter, texture, tonality, and sonority . It is important to note that during the twentieth century not all changes in music were a revolution or a return to old ideals. Contrapuntal textures in music dominate the Modern era. While, homophonic textures are present, it is to a lesser degree and with less importance.

During the 20th century, tone color has become a more important element of music then it was ever before. It has a major role which is creating variety, continuity and mood. Consonance is no longer in use in the 20th century. 20th century music sound fantasy like, distant and mystifying. Chords are never as fundamental as it is in previous centuries. Poly chords are created by placing one traditional chord over another. The rhythmic vocabulary of the 20th century was expanded with increased emphasis on irregularity and unpredictability. The Melody was very elusive.

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