A Short History of Classical Music



Interested in popular music but not in classical? Still, if you are a music fan, it might be interesting to delve back to the times when music began. For all you know, it could provide a boost of inspiration if you are a songwriter or composer. We will take a look at the brief history of classical music in this post. In case you didn’t know, classical music has influenced pop musicians like Lady Gaga, The Beatles and Queen. Maybe it could be a source influence for your music too.


Music in the Dark Ages (400 to 1400 A.D.)


Classical music began in the church in the form of Gregorian chant. Music in the middle ages was primarily religious and chant-like. Gregorian chant is also termed monophonic music, which consists mostly of the melody with no accompaniment. Gregorian music is named after Pope Gregory I.


Renaissance Music (1400 to 1600 A.D.)


Two or more musical voices, known as polyphony were added to the chant. Music at this time was written for specific instruments for accompaniment and to entertain nobility at ballroom dances. The recorder, the ancestor of the flute and piccolo became a popular instrument along with the lute, a precursor of the guitar.


Baroque Music (1600 to 1750 A.D.)


The next music period after the Renaissance is the Baroque. Baroque means extravagant, complex and ornamental. This was the period where costumes of the day include wigs, decorative coats and lace. Baroque music reflects this period of extravagance.

Simplicity in music was replaced by complex harmonic textures. Frequent harmonic changes, including counterpoint, which refers to two or three melodies played at the same time became prominent. Polyphony was further enhanced. A melodic line would be picked up and then echoed in turn by each instrument in the orchestra known as a “round”, when used in vocal arrangements.

New forms of music such as toccatas, fugues, suites, preludes, themes and variations also became prominent during the Baroque. The concerto emerged during this period and was written in contrasting sections called movements and usually featured a soloist. The most famous concerto during this time is Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”.

The Classical Period (1750 to 1820 A.D.)


In the Classical period, musicians had more freedom to write the music they wanted, as long as it appealed to the public. This was due to the emergence of public concerts and performances. Musicians were no longer restricted to writing for the nobility.


The ornamental, over-the-top Baroque style of music fell out of favour and this was reflected in the titles of the music. Compositions began having more down-to-earth titles such as “Piano Concerto No. 9” instead of “The Four Seasons”.


Musical forms such as minuets, rondos, symphonies and sonatas made their way to music in the Classical period. Harmony continued to include polyphonic elements. Harmony was a predominantly single-line melody with accompaniment. The pianoforte was the major innovation in the instrumentation of the time. Pianoforte literally means soft-loud and Classical music compositions contained soft and loud passages, making them more dynamic compared to earlier periods.


The Romantic Period (1820 to 1900 A.D.)


While music in the Classical period was balanced and refined, the Romantic period was marked by its expressiveness. Conventions regarding music, such as length, the number of movements, and instrumentation of a piece were abandoned in place of expressive and experimentation. This led to new forms such as etudes, variations and character pieces.


Rhythm became more complex and syncopation was used. Melodies became songlike and expressive through the use of varied phrase lengths, more dynamic volume and tempos. Rich textures and full chords in music composition became popular.


The piano gained prominence as a musical instrument and was used in most compositions including nocturnes, impromptu and etudes.


Modern Classical Music Period (1900 Onwards)


Musicians became experimental in their performance and composition of modern classical music. One such musical performance saw a musician performing on the piano, without playing a note. The audience became impatient and their coughs and shuffles became the “music”, without their realising it.


20th-century classical music also saw the importance of a tonal centre diminish with increasing dissonance, along with the use of chromatic, pentatonic and modal scales. Pianos are still used in modern music but have been replaced in popular music by synthesizers and electronic keyboards.


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