Classical music is also commonly known as art music – music with high aesthetic value. It is produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both religious and secular music. Here are the different styles and forms. Enjoy!
Medieval music was both sacred and secular. It consisted of songs, instrumental pieces, and liturgical music from about 500 A.D. to 1400. This era began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century and ended sometime in the early fifteenth century. During the earlier medieval period, the liturgical genre, predominantly Gregorian chant, consisting of a single line of vocal melody, was monophonic and unaccompanied in free rhythm. By the end of the thirteenth century, the genre expanded to include secular topics, such as courtly love.
Renaissance music is vocal and instrumental music written and performed in Europe during the Renaissance era. Music during this period were for worship purposes in both the Catholic and burgeoning Protestant Churches. They were also dance music and music for entertainment and edification of the courts and courtly lives. It was based on modes and were richer in texture in four or more parts, compared to Medieval music. Music during this period placed great emphasis on harmony and the flow of chords progressions.
Baroque music is a period or style of Western art music composed from approximately 1600 to 1750. Baroque music had long, flowing melodic lines and used lots of ornamentation such as trills and turns. It had contrapuntal texture where two or more melodic lines were combined and there was terraced dynamics, sometimes creating an echo effect.
These are the instruments used during this period:
- strings – violins, violas, cellos and double basses.
- woodwind – recorders or wooden flutes, oboes and bassoon.
- brass – sometimes trumpets and/or horns (without valves)
- timpani (kettledrums)
- continuo – harpsichord or organ.
It was during the 17th Century that the system of modes were replaced by the major/minor key system. Binary form was also created and gained popularity during this period. Other new forms and designs were Opera, Sonata, Oratorio, Suite, Fugue and Concerto.
Orchestra started to take shape during this period, mainly in the strings, and the violins became the dominant instrument, and most important in orchestras.
Beautiful Baroque Piano Pieces (Four Hands Duets)
Music during this period emphasised on elegance and balance and had mainly simple diatonic harmony. Works were well-balanced, with simple melodies, supported by subordinate harmonies. There were significant uses of chords and homophonic with counterpoints. There was also a diverse range of mood and emotional expressions.
Romantic Period (1830-1900)
Romantic period was prominent in Europe around 1830 to 1900. The word romanticism was coined in England and was used to describe new ideas in painting and literature. This word was later adopted by musicians to describe the changes in musical style.
Beethoven pioneered Romanticism and expanded previously strict formulas for symphonies and sonatas and introduced a whole new approach to music. Music became expressive, often revealing the composers’ innermost thoughts and feelings about the different aspects of life. There were many expansive symphonies, virtuoso pianists, dramatic operas and passionate works which were greatly inspired by art and literature. Many revolved round these themes:
Example: Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ (Symphony No. 6) describes the beauty and scenes of countryside, presenting visuals of ripples on a creek, birds tweeting in the air and then the arrival of a storm. It described the full beauty of nature and suggesting man’s interference with ecosystems and there was a call for action.
- Dreams/fairy tales/supernatural/magic
Example: Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune was inspired by Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem of the same title. The poem was about a mythical creature which was half a man and half a goat which drifted off to sleep in a hot summer afternoon in the woods. It dreamt of female spirits (nymphs and naiads) and the music it played on a reed pipe was an expression of his lust and enchantment for the female spirits.
Example: Liszt’s Liebestraum (Dreams of Love) No.3 in A flat consists of three songs depicting three different types of love (religious, lustful, and unconditional).
Romantic Piano Solos
Piano solo is a musical composition written solely for piano, unlike piano concerto which is also a solo composition but accompanied by an orchestra or a large ensemble.
20th-Century Period (1901-2000)
20th-century classical music describes art music that was written from 1901 to 2000) Musical style during this period was very different from the previous periods. Rhythm was complex, individual rhythms were used, and new rhythms and meters were common such as polyrhythms and polymeters. Melodies were often fragmented, dissonant and experimental.
These are some of the most celebrated and influential 20th-Century classical composers that everyone should know:
- Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
Igor Stravinsky was a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor. His three ballets rose to fame in the early 1900s, including the controversial ‘The Rite of Spring’.
What force is more potent than love?Stravinsky
Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.
A good composer does not imitate; he steals.
- Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)
Arnold Schoenberg or Schönberg was an Austrian-born composer, music theorist, teacher, writer, and painter. He created new methods of musical composition involving atonality, namely serialism and the 12-tone row.
Rests always sound well.Schönberg
Music is only understood when one goes away singing it and only loved when one falls asleep with it in one’s head, and finds it still there on waking up the next morning.
- Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)
Benjamin Britten was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces.
The old idea of a composer suddenly having a terrific idea and sitting up all night to write it is nonsense. Nighttime is for sleeping.
It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.Benjamin Britten
- Aaron Copland (1900–1990)
Aaron Copland was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later a conductor of his own and other American music. Copland was referred to by his peers and critics as “the Dean of American Composers”.
Some of his most well-known pieces include Piano Variations (1930), The Dance Symphony (1930), El Salon Mexico (1935), A Lincoln Portrait (1942) and Fanfare for the Common Man (1942).
As long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning.Aaron Copland
To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.
A melody is not merely something you can hum.
- Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953)
Sergei Prokofiev was a Russian Soviet composer, pianist and conductor. He was known for being slightly eccentric, a little romantic, quite avant-garde, and extremely gifted . He composed all kinds of pieces in a wide variety of musical genres ranging from symphonies to piano sonatas to ballets.
I have never doubted the importance of melody. I like melody very much, and I consider it the most important element in music, and I labour many years on the improvement of its quality in my compositions.
In my view, the composer just as the poet, the sculptor or the painter, is in duty bound to serve Man, the people. He must beautify life and defend it. He must be a citizen first and foremost, so that his art might consciously extol human life and lead man to a radiant future.Prokofiev
- Dmitri Shostaqkovich (1906-1975)
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a Russian composer and pianist. He was renowned for his unique harmonic language displayed in his 15 symphoonies, numerous chamber works and concerti. Many of them were written under the pressures of government-imposed standards of Soviet art.
When I hear about someone else’s pain, I feel pain too. I feel pain for everything – for people and animals.
Art destroys silenceDmitri Shostaqkovich
- Béla Bartók (1881–1945)
Béla Bartók was a Hungarian composer, pianist, teacher and ethnomusicologist. (An ethnomusicologist is someone who studies the music of the world. Ethnomusicology involves skills from a multitude of disciplines like cultural anthropology, psychology, folklore and conventional musicology.) He was noted for the Hungarian flavour of his major musical works, which include orchestral works, string quartets, piano solos, several stage works, a cantata, and a number of settings of folk songs for voice and piano.
I cannot conceive of music that expresses absolutely nothing.
Competitions are for horses, not artists.Béla Bartók
- Charles Ives (1874-1954)
Charles Ives was an American modernist composer. His career and dedication to music began when he started playing drums in his father’s band at a young age. Ives published a large collection of songs, many of which had piano parts. He composed two string quartets, many works of chamber music and he is now best known for his orchestral music.
You cannot set art off in a corner and hope for it to have vitality, reality, and substance.Charles Ives
There can be nothing exclusive about substantial art. It comes directly out of the heart of the experience of life and thinking about life and giving life.
- Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)
Joseph Maurice Ravel was a French composer, pianist and conductor. He is often associated with impressionism along with his elder contemporary Claude Debussy, although both composers rejected the term.
The only love affair I have ever had was with music.Ravel
Music, I feel, must be emotional first and intellectual second.
- George Gershwin (1898–1937)
George Gershwin was an Amercian composer and pianist whose compositions spanned both popular and classical genres.
Life is a lot like iazz…it’s best when you improvise.Gershwin
True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time.
- John Cage (1912–1992)
John Milton Cage was an American composer, music theorist, artist, and philosopher. He was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde musician who was into electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments.
I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.John Cage
I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry as I need it.
- Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
Ralph Vaughan Williams was best known for reviving the Tudor style and folk traditions in English music. His works include operas, ballets, chamber music, secular and religious vocal pieces and orchestral compositions including nine symphonies, written over sixty years. He was noted for his expressive style, from stormy and impassioned to tranquil, from mysterious to exuberant, as exemplified in his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1909) and The Lark Ascending (1914).
Music is the reaching out towards the utmost realities by means of ordered soundRalph Vaughan Williams
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)
Rachmaninoff was a brilliant Russian pianist, conductor and composer who amazed his teachers with his jaw-dropping ability as a pianist and composer. He created a storm with his First Piano Concerto when he was just 18.
Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.
The new kind of music seems to create not from the heart but from the head. Its composers think rather than feel.Rachmaninoff
The best animations of all time that turned classical pieces alive.