Classical Music

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Classical Music


Music is found in every known culture, past and present, varying wildly between times and places. Since all people of the world, including the most isolated tribal groups, have a form of music, it may be concluded that music is likely to have been present in the ancestral population prior to the dispersal of humans around the world. Consequently music may have been in existence for at least 50,000 years and the first music may have been invented in Africa and then evolved to become a fundamental constituent of human life. The music of the Classical period is characterized by homophonic texture, or an obvious melody with accompaniment. These new melodies tended to be almost voice-like and singable, allowing composers to actually replace singers as the focus of the music. Instrumental music therefore quickly replaced opera and other sung forms (such asoratorio) as the favorite of the musical audience and the epitome of great composition. However, opera did not disappear: during the classical period, several composers began producing operas for the general public in their native languages (previous operas were generally in Italian).

Along with the gradual displacement of the voice in favor of stronger, clearer melodies, counterpoint also typically became a decorative flourish, often used near the end of a work or for a single movement. In its stead, simple patterns, such as arpeggios and, in piano music, Alberti bass (an accompaniment with a repeated pattern typically in the left hand), were used to liven the movement of the piece without creating a confusing additional voice. The now-popular instrumental music was dominated by several well-defined forms: the sonata, the symphony, and the concerto, though none of these were specifically defined or taught at the time as they are now in music theory. All three derive from sonata form, which is both the overlying form of an entire work and the structure of a single movement.

Sonata form matured during the Classical era to become the primary form of instrumental compositions throughout the 19th century. The early Classical period was ushered in by the Mannheim School, which included such composers as Johann Stamitz, Franz Xaver Richter, Carl Stamitz, andChristian Cannabich. It exerted a profound influence on Joseph Haydn and, through him, on all subsequent European music. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the central figure of the Classical period, and his phenomenal and varied output in all genres defines our perception of the period. Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert were transitional composers, leading into the Romantic period, with their expansion of existing genres, forms, and even functions of music.


•When we explore Medieval music, we are dealing with the longest and most distant period of musical history. It includes the Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant is monophonic, meaning music that consists of only one melodic line without accompaniment. Polyphony, music where two or more melodic lines are heard simultaneously, did not exist (or was not knotted) until the 11th century. Unlike chant, polyphony required the participation of a composer to combine the melodic lines in a pleasing manner.


•In the mid-1500s, a prominent bishop commented that music composed for the church should reflect the meaning of the words so that the listeners would be moved to piety. This concept seems like a no-brainer today, but it was a fairly new idea at the time. To suggest that Medieval composers had no desire to write “expressive” music would be unfair. But, it was the rediscovery of ancient Greek ideals in the Renaissance that inspired many musicians to explore the eloquent possibilities of their art. •The increased value of individualism in the Renaissance is reflected by the changing role of the composer in society. Unlike most of their Medieval predecessors, the great masters of the Renaissance were revered in their own lifetimes. •Sacred music was still predominant, though secular music became more prevalent and more sophisticated. The repertory of instrumental music also began to expand significantly. New instruments were invented, including the clavichord and virginal (both keyboard instruments) and many existing instruments were improved.

Baroque (1600-1750)

•Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Johann Pachelbel, Antonio Vivaldi •Baroque music is often highly ornate, colorful and richly textured when compared with its predecessors. Opera was born at what is considered to be the very beginning of the Baroque era, around 1600. •Music’s ability to express human emotions and depict natural phenomenon was explored throughout the Baroque period. •Although imitative polyphony remained fundamental to musical composition, homophonic writing became increasingly important. Homophonic music features a clear distinction between the melody line and an subsidiary accompaniment part.

•The orchestra evolved during the early Baroque, starting as an “accompanist” for operatic and vocal music. By the mid-1600s the orchestra had a life of its own. The concerto was a favorite Baroque form that featured a solo instrumentalist (or small ensemble of soloists) playing “against” the orchestra, creating interesting contrasts of volume and texture. •Many Baroque composers were also virtuoso performers. For example, Archangelo Corelli was famous for his violin playing and Johann Sebastian Bach was famous for his keyboard skills. The highly ornamented quality of Baroque melody lent itself perfectly to such displays of musical dexterity.

Classical (1750-1820)

•Johann Christian Bach, Ledwig van Beethoven, Franz Joseph haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus •The word Classical has strong connotations, conjuring up the art and philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome along with their ideals of balance, proportion and disciplined expression. The late Baroque style was polyphonically complex and melodically ornate. The composers of the early Classical period changed direction, writing music that was much simpler in texture. •Homophony–music in which melody and accompaniment are distinct–dominated the Classical style, and new forms of composition were developed to accommodate the transformation. Sonata form is by far the most important of these forms, and one that continued to evolve throughout the Classical period.

Although Baroque composers also wrote pieces called sonatas, the Classical sonata was quite different. •One of the most important developments of the Classical period is the growth of the public concert. Although the aristocracy would continue to play a significant role in musical life, it was now possible for composers to survive without being the employee of one person or family. This also meant that concerts were no longer limited to palace drawing rooms. Composers started organizing concerts featuring their own music, and often attracted large audiences.

The increasing popularity of the public concert had a strong impact on the growth of the orchestra. Although chamber music and solo works were played in the home or other intimate settings, orchestral concerts seemed to be naturally designed for big public spaces. As a result, symphonic music (including opera and oratorio) became more extroverted in character. Composers gradually expanded the size of the orchestra to accommodate this expanded musical vision.

Romantic (1820-1915)

Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Frederic Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky •Romanticism implies fantasy, spontaneity and sensuality. •The Classical period focused on structural clarity and emotional restraint. Classical music was expressive, but not so passionate that it could overwhelm a work’s equilibrium. Beethoven who was in some ways responsible for igniting the flame of romanticism, always struggled (sometimes unsuccessfully) to maintain that balance. Many composers of the Romantic period followed Beethoven’s model and found their own balance between emotional intensity and Classical form. Others reveled in the new atmosphere of artistic freedom and created music whose structure was designed to support its emotional surges. Musical story-telling became important, and not just in opera, but in “pure” instrumental music as well. The tone-poem is a particularly Romantic invention, as it was an orchestral work whose structure was entirely dependent on the scene being depicted or the story being told.

•Color was another important feature of Romantic music. New instruments were added to the orchestra and composers experimented with ways to get new sounds from existing instruments. A large palette of musical colors was necessary to depict the exotic scenes that became so popular. •In addition to seeking out the sights and sounds of other places, composers began exploring the music of their native countries. Nationalism became a driving force in the late Romantic period and composers wanted their music to express their cultural identity. This desire was particularly intense in Russia and Eastern Europe, where elements of folk music were incorporated into symphonies, tone-poems and other “Classical” forms.

•The Romantic period was the heyday of the virtuoso. Exceptionally gifted performers–and particularly pianists, violinists, and singers–became enormously popular. Liszt, the great Hungarian pianist/composer, reportedly played with such passion and intensity that women in the audience would faint. Since, like Liszt, most composers were also virtuoso performers, it was inevitable that the music they wrote would be extremely challenging to play. •The Romantic period witnessed an unprecedented glorification of the artist–whether musician, poet or painter–that has had a powerful impact on our own culture.

Modern (ca, 1915-Present)
Aaron Copland, George Gershwin

•The late Romantic period featured its own extremes: sprawling symphonies and tone-poems overflowing with music that seemed to stretch harmony and melody to their limits. It is certainly possible to view some early 20th century music as an extension of the late Romantic style, but a great deal of it can also be interpreted as a reaction against that style. •20th century music is a series of “isms” and “neo-isms.” The primal energy of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring has been called neo-Primitivism. The intensely emotional tone of Schönberg’s early music has been labeled Expressionism. The return to clearly structured forms and textures has been dubbed neo-Classicism.

These terms have been employed in an attempt to organize the diversity of styles running through the 20th century. •Nationalism continued to be a strong musical influence in the first half of the century. The study of folk songs enriched the music of numerous composers, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams (England), Bela Bartok (Hungary), Heitor Villa Lobos (Brazil) and Aaron Copland (USA). Jazz and popular musical styles have also been tremendously influential on “classical” composers from both the United States and Europe. •Technology has played a increasingly important role in the development of 20th century music. Composers have used recording tape as a compositional tool (such as Steve Reich’s Violin Phase). Electronically generated sounds have been used both on their own and in combination with traditional

•instruments. More recently, computer technology has been used in a variety of ways, including manipulating the performance of instruments in real time.


Given the extremely broad variety of forms, styles, genres, and historical periods generally perceived as being described by the term “classical music,” it is difficult to list characteristics that can be attributed to all works of that type. Vague descriptions are plentiful, such as describing classical music as anything that “lasts a long time,” a statement made rather moot when one considers contemporary composers who are described as classical; or music that has certain instruments like violins, which are also found in other genres. However, there are characteristics that classical music contains that few or no other genres of music contain.


The most outstanding characteristic of classical music is that the repertoire tends to be written down in musical notation, creating a musical part or score. This score typically determines details of rhythm, pitch, and, where two or more musicians (whether singers or instrumentalists) are involved, how the various parts are coordinated. The written quality of the music has, in addition to preserving the works, enabled a high level of complexity within them: Bach’s fugues, for instance, achieve a remarkable marriage of boldly distinctive melodic lines weaving in counterpoint yet creating a coherent harmonic logic that would be impossible in the heat of live improvisation.


The instruments used in most classical music were largely invented before the mid-19th century (often much earlier), and codified in the 18th and 19th centuries. They consist of the instruments found in an orchestra, together with a few other solo instruments (such as thepiano, harpsichord, and organ). The symphony orchestra is the most widely known medium for classical music. The orchestra includes members of the string, woodwind, brass, and percussion families. Electric instruments such as the electric guitar appear occasionally in the classical music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Both classical and popular musicians have experimented in recent decades with electronic instruments such as the synthesizer, electric and digital techniques such as the use of sampled or computer-generated sounds, and the sounds of instruments from other cultures such as thegamelan.

None of the bass instruments existed until the Renaissance. In Medieval music, instruments are divided in two categories: loud instruments for use outdoors or in church, and quieter instruments for indoor use. The Baroque orchestra consisted of flutes, oboes, horns and violins, occasionally with trumpets and timpani. Many instruments today associated with popular music filled important roles in early classical music, such as bagpipes, vihuelas, hurdy-gurdies, and some woodwind instruments.

On the other hand, instruments such as the acoustic guitar, once associated mainly with popular music, gained prominence in classical music in the 19th and 20th centuries. While equal temperament became gradually accepted as the dominant musical temperament during the 18th century, different historical temperaments are often used for music from earlier periods. For instance, music of the English Renaissance is often performed in meantone temperament. Keyboards almost all share a common layout (often called the piano keyboard).


Whereas most popular styles lend themselves to the song form, classical music has been noted for its development of highly sophisticated forms of instrumental music:[11] these include the concerto, symphony, sonata, suite, étude, symphonic poem, and others. Classical composers often aspire to imbue their music with a very complex relationship between its affective (emotional) content and the intellectual means by which it is achieved. Many of the most esteemed works of classical music make use of musical development, the process by which a musical idea or motif is repeated in different contexts or in altered form. The sonata form andfugue employ rigorous forms of musical development. The other notable form in classical music is opera.

Technical execution

Along with a desire for composers to attain high technical achievement in writing their music, performers of classical music are faced with similar goals of technical mastery, as demonstrated by the proportionately high amount of schooling and private study most successful classical musicians have had when compared to “popular” genre musicians, and the large number of secondary schools, including conservatories, dedicated to the study of classical music. The only other genre in the Western world with comparable secondary education opportunities is jazz.


Professional performance of classical music repertoire demands a significant level of proficiency in sight-reading and ensemble playing, thorough understanding of tonal and harmonic principles, knowledge of performance practice, and a familiarity with the style/musical idiom inherent to a given period, composer or musical work are among the most essential of skills for the classically trained musician.

Works of classical repertoire often exhibit artistic complexity through the use of counterpoint, thematic development, phrasing, harmonization, modulation (change of key), texture, and, of course,musical form itself. Larger-scale compositional forms (such as that of the symphony, concerto, opera or oratorio, for example) usually represent a hierarchy of smaller units consisting of phrases,periods, sections, and movements. Musical analysis of a composition aims at achieving greater understanding of it, leading to more meaningful hearing and a greater appreciation of the composer’s style. Society

Classical music regularly features as background music for movies, television programmes, advertisements and events. Nessun dorma from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot for example was the theme tune for the 1990 FIFA World Cup.

Relation to Education

Throughout history, parents have often made sure that their children receive classical music training from a young age.Some parents pursue music lessons for their children for social reasons or in an effort to instill a sense of self-discipline. Some believe that knowledge of important works of classical music is part of a good general education. During the 1990s, several research papers and popular books wrote on what came to be called the
“Mozart effect”: an observed temporary, small elevation of scores on certain tests as a result of listening to Mozart’s works. The approach has been popularized in a book by Don Campbell, and is based on an experiment published in Nature suggesting that listening to Mozart temporarily boosted students’ IQ by 8 to 9 points This popularized version of the theory was expressed succinctly by a New York Times music columnist: “researchers… have determined that listening to Mozart actually makes you smarter.

“Promoters marketed CDs claimed to induce the effect. Florida passed a law requiring toddlers in state-run schools to listen to classical music every day, and in 1998 the governor of Georgia budgeted $105,000 per year to provide every child born in Georgia with a tape or CD of classical music. In 1996–1997, a research study was conducted on a large population of middle age students in the Cherry Creek School District in Denver, Colorado, USA. The study showed that students who actively listen to classical music before studying had higher academic scores. The research further indicated that students who listened to the music prior to an examination also had positively elevated achievement scores.

Students who listened to rock-and-roll or country had moderately lower scores. The study further indicated that students who used classical during the course of study had a significant leap in their academic performance; whereas, those who listened to other types of music had significantly lowered academic scores. The research was conducted over several schools within the Cherry Creek School District and was conducted through University of Colorado. This study is reflective of several recent studies (i.e. Mike Manthei and Steve N. Kelly of the University of Nebraska at Omaha; Donald A. Hodges and Debra S. O’Connell of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; etc.) and others who has significant results through the discourse of their work.


Personally, I listen to classical music and this is my topic for my ongoing thesis, listening to classical music somehow brings you back to old times, helps me to appreciate art and improves my cognition.

Classical music is a music that never gets old, a gift that we, the new generation must take care of.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 2 November 2016

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