Introduction to Classical Music/History

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There are a few major time periods and styles in classical music, some of which overlap.


Baroque music describes an era and a set of styles of European classical music which were in widespread use between approximately 1600 and 1750. This era is said to begin in music after the Renaissance and was followed by the Classical music era. The original meaning of "baroque" is "misshapen pearl", a fitting characterization of the architecture of this period; later, the name came to be applied also to its music. Baroque music forms a major portion of the classical music canon, being widely studied, performed, and listened to. It is associated with composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, and Johann Sebastian Bach. The baroque period saw the development of functional tonality. During the period composers and performers used more elaborate musical ornamentation; made changes in musical notation, and developed new instrumental playing techniques. Baroque music expanded the size, range and complexity of instrumental performance, and also established opera as a musical genre. Many musical terms and concepts from this era are still in use today.


Classical music is a broad term that usually refers to music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 9th century to present times. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common practice period.European classical music is largely distinguished from many other non-European and popular musical forms by its system of staff notation, in use since about the 16th century. Western staff notation is used by composers to give performers the pitch, speed, meter, individual rhythms and exact executions of pieces of music. This leaves less room for practices, such as improvisation and ad libitum ornamentation, that are frequently heard in non-European art music. The public taste for and appreciation of formal music of this type was especially less in the late 1900s in the United States and United Kingdom. The term "classical music" did not appear until the early 19th century, in an attempt to "canonize" the period from Johann Sebastian Bach to Beethoven as a golden age of music. The earliest reference to "classical music" recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary is from about 1836.


Romantic music is a musicological term referring to a particular period, theory, compositional practice, and canon in European music history from about 1815 to 1910. It should be noted that "romantic music" and the polyseme phrase "Romantic music" have two different meanings. The first, "romantic music", is commonly used to indicate any kind of music which supposedly expresses or encourages intimate personal attraction, attachment, or "love". Only a minor part of "romantic" music is "Romantic", and vice-versa. Romantic music as a movement refers to the expression and expansion of musical ideas established in earlier periods, such as the classical period. Romanticism does not necessarily apply to romantic love, but that theme was prevalent in many works composed during this time period.

More appropriately, Romanticism describes the expansion of formal structures within a composition, making the pieces more passionate and expressive. Because of the expansion of form (those elements pertaining to form, key, instrumentation and the likes) within a typical composition, it became easier to identify an artist based on the work. For example, Beethoven favored a smooth transition from the 3rd to 4th movement in his symphonies, and thus his pieces are more distinguishable. Overall, composers during this time expanded on formal ideas in a new and exciting way.The era of Romantic music is defined in this article as the period of European classical music that runs roughly from 1820 to 1910, as well as music written according to the norms and styles of that period. The Romantic period was preceded by the Classical period, and was followed by the Modernist period. Romantic music is related to Romanticism in literature, visual arts, and philosophy, though the conventional time periods used in musicology are very different from their counterparts in the other arts, which define the Romantic period as running from the 1780s to the 1840s. Romantic music struggled to increase emotional expression and power to describe deeper life truths, while preserving or even extending the formal structures from the classical period.


By the beginning of the 20th century, modern composers of classical music were experimenting with an increasingly dissonant pitch language, which sometimes yielded atonal pieces. Following World War I, as a backlash against what they saw as the excesses of Romanticism, composers adopted a neoclassic style, which sought to recapture the elegance and emotional distance of the classical era. After World War II, modernist music and composers sought to achieve greater levels of control in their composition process (such as through the use of the twelve tone technique and later total serialism). At the same time, composers also experimented with means of abdicating control, exploring indeterminacy or aleatoric processes in smaller or larger degrees. Technological advances led to the birth of electronic music. Experimentation with tape loops and repetitive textures contributed to the creation of minimalism. Other composers started exploring the theatrical potential of the musical performance (such as performance art, mixed media, and fluxus).

Many of the key figures of the high modern movement are alive, and there are also still many active composers (such as Elliott Carter and Lukas Foss), performers, and listeners who continue to advance the ideas and forms of Modernism. Serialism is one of the most important post-war movements among the high modernist schools. Serialism, more specifically named "integral" or "compound" serialism, was led by composers such as Pierre Boulez, Bruno Maderna, Luigi Nono, and Karlheinz Stockhausen in Europe, and by Milton Babbitt, Donald Martino, and Charles Wuorinen in America. Some of their compositions use an ordered set or several such sets, which may be the basis for the whole composition, while others use "unordered" sets for the same purpose. The term is also often used for dodecaphony, or twelve-tone technique, which is alternatively regarded as the model for integral serialism. Active modernist composers include Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Thomas Adès, Magnus Lindberg and Gunther Schuller.