This article is about Western art music to the present.
For Western art music from 1750 to 1820, see Classical period (music).
For other "classical" and art music traditions, see List of classical and art music traditions.
For the magazine, see Classical Music (magazine).
While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820 (the Classical period), this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods.
The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1650 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period.
Catholic monks developed the first forms of modern European musical notation in order to standardize liturgy throughout the worldwide Church.
Western staff notation is used by composers to indicate to the performer the pitches and durations for a piece of music.
In contrast to most popular styles that adopted the song (strophic) form or a derivation of this form, classical music has been noted for its development of highly sophisticated forms of instrumental music such as the symphony, concerto, fugue, sonata, and mixed vocal and instrumental styles such as opera, cantata, and mass.
Alongside traditional musical attributes, Classical music is conscientious about drawing from and re-purposing its formal and social tradition with forms such as the Mass evolving and communicating through over a thousand years.
The earliest reference to "classical music" recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary is from about 1829.
The major time divisions of Western art music are as follows:
- Ancient music period, before 500 AD
- Early music period, which includes
- Medieval era (500–1420) including
- Renaissance era (1400–1600)
- Common-practice period, which includes
- Baroque era (1600–1750)
- Galant music era (1720s–1770s)
- Classical era (1750–1820)
- Romantic era (c.1800–1910)
- Late 19th-century to 20th- and 21st-centuries (1890–present) which includes:
- Modernist era (1890–1975) that overlaps from the late-19th century
- Impressionism (1890–1925) that also overlaps from the late-19th century
- Expressionism (1900–1930)
- Neoclassicism (1920–1950), predominantly in the inter-war period
- Postmodern era/Contemporary (1950–present)
Given the wide range of styles in European classical music, from Medieval plainchant sung by monks to Classical and Romantic symphonies for orchestra from the 1700s and 1800s to avant-garde atonal compositions from the 1900s, it is difficult to list characteristics that can be attributed to all works of that type.
Nonetheless, a universal characteristic of classical music written since the late 13th century is the invariable appliance of a standardized system of precise mensural notation (which evolved into modern bar notation after 1600) for all compositions and their accurate performance.
Another is the creation and development of complex pieces of solo instrumental works (e.g., the fugue).
Classical music is also noted for its use of sophisticated vocal/instrumental forms, such as opera.
In opera, vocal soloists and choirs perform staged dramatic works with an orchestra providing accompaniment.
Longer instrumental works are often divided into self-contained pieces, called movements, often with contrasting characters or moods.
For instance, symphonies written during the Classical period are usually divided into four movements:
- an opening Allegro in sonata form,
- a slow movement,
- a minuet or scherzo (in a triple metre, such as 4), and
- a final Allegro.
Performers who have studied classical music extensively are said to be "classically trained".
This training may come from private lessons from instrument or voice teachers or from completion of a formal program offered by a Conservatory, college or university, such as a Bachelor of Music or Master of Music degree (which includes individual lessons from professors).
In classical music, "...extensive formal music education and training, often to postgraduate [Master's degree] level" is required.
Performance of classical music repertoire requires a proficiency in sight-reading and ensemble playing, harmonic principles, strong ear training (to correct and adjust pitches by ear), knowledge of performance practice (e.g., Baroque ornamentation), and a familiarity with the style/musical idiom expected for a given composer or musical work (e.g., a Brahms symphony or a Mozart concerto).
The key characteristic of European classical music that distinguishes it from popular music and folk 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 enabled a high level of complexity within them: fugues, for instance, achieve a remarkable marriage of boldly distinctive melodic lines weaving in counterpoint yet creating a coherent harmonic logic.
The use of written notation also preserves a record of the works and enables Classical musicians to perform music from many centuries ago.
Although Classical music in the 2000s has lost most of its tradition for musical improvisation, from the Baroque era to the Romantic era, there are examples of performers who could improvise in the style of their era.
In the Baroque era, organ performers would improvise preludes, keyboard performers playing harpsichord would improvise chords from the figured bass symbols beneath the bass notes of the basso continuo part and both vocal and instrumental performers would improvise musical ornaments.
Johann Sebastian Bach was particularly noted for his complex improvisations.
During the Classical era, the composer-performer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was noted for his ability to improvise melodies in different styles.
During the Classical era, some virtuoso soloists would improvise the cadenza sections of a concerto.
During the Romantic era, Ludwig van Beethoven would improvise at the piano.
Instrumentation and vocal practices
The instruments currently used in most classical music were largely invented before the mid-19th century (often much earlier) and systematized in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The concert band consists of members of the woodwind, brass, and percussion families.
It generally has a larger variety and number of woodwind and brass instruments than the orchestra but does not have a string section.
However, many concert bands use a double bass.
The vocal practices changed over the classical period, from the single line monophonic Gregorian chant done by monks in the Medieval period to the complex, polyphonic choral works of the Renaissance and subsequent periods, which used multiple independent vocal melodies at the same time.
Main article: History of music
The major time divisions of classical music up to 1900 are the Early music period, which includes Medieval (500–1400) and Renaissance (1400–1600) eras, and the Common practice period, which includes the Baroque (1600–1750), Classical (1750–1820), and Romantic (1810–1910) eras.
The current period encompasses the 20th century and the 21st-century to date and includes the Modernist musical era and the Contemporary or Postmodern musical era, the dates of which are often disputed.
The dates are generalizations, since the periods and eras overlap and the categories are somewhat arbitrary, to the point that some authorities reverse terminologies and refer to a common practice "era" comprising baroque, classical, and romantic "periods".
Beethoven, who is often described as a founder of the Romantic era, and Brahms, who is classified as Romantic, also used counterpoint and fugue, but the romantic and sometimes yearning qualities of their music define their era.
The prefix neo- is used to describe a 19th-, 20th-, or 21st-century composition written in the style of an earlier era, such as Classical or Romantic.
Main article: Ancient music
Burgh (2006), suggests that the roots of Western classical music ultimately lie in ancient Egyptian art music via cheironomy and the ancient Egyptian orchestra, which dates to 2695 BC.
Main article: Medieval music
See also: List of medieval composers
The Medieval era includes music from after the fall of Rome to about 1400.
Catholic monks developed the first forms of modern European musical notation in order to standardize liturgy throughout the worldwide Church.
Many of the instruments used to perform medieval music still exist, but in different forms.
Medieval instruments in Europe had most commonly been used singly, often self accompanied with a drone note, or occasionally in parts.
From at least as early as the 13th century through the 15th century there was a division of instruments into haut (loud, shrill, outdoor instruments) and bas (quieter, more intimate instruments).
Main article: Renaissance music
See also: List of Renaissance composers
The Renaissance era was from 1400 to 1600.
Social dancing became more widespread, so musical forms appropriate to accompanying dance began to standardize.
This invention made possible the separation of the composition of a piece of music from its transmission; without written music, transmission was oral, and subject to change every time it was transmitted.
With a musical score, a work of music could be performed without the composer's presence.
The invention of the movable-type printing press in the 15th century had far-reaching consequences on the preservation and transmission of music.
Many instruments originated during the Renaissance; others were variations of, or improvements upon, instruments that had existed previously.
Some have survived to the present day; others have disappeared, only to be re-created in order to perform music on period instruments.
As in the modern day, instruments may be classified as brass, strings, percussion, and woodwind.
Brass instruments in the Renaissance were traditionally played by professionals who were members of Guilds and they included the slide trumpet, the wooden cornet, the valveless trumpet and the sackbut.
Simple pipe organs existed, but were largely confined to churches, although there were portable varieties.
Printing enabled the standardization of descriptions and specifications of instruments, as well as instruction in their use.
Vocal music in the Renaissance is noted for the flourishing of an increasingly elaborate polyphonic style.
The principal liturgical forms which endured throughout the entire Renaissance period were masses and motets, with some other developments towards the end, especially as composers of sacred music began to adopt secular forms (such as the madrigal) for their own designs.
He also composed Euridice, the first opera to have survived to the present day.
Notable Renaissance composers include Josquin des Prez, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, John Dunstaple, Johannes Ockeghem, Orlande de Lassus, Guillaume Du Fay, Gilles Binchois, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Giovanni Gabrieli, Carlo Gesualdo, John Dowland, Jacob Obrecht, Adrian Willaert, Jacques Arcadelt, and Cipriano de Rore.
The term usually spans roughly two-and-a-half centuries, encompassing the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods.
Main article: Baroque music
See also: List of Baroque composers
Music became more complex in comparison with the simple songs of all previous periods.
Vocalists for the first time began adding extra notes to the music.
The theories surrounding equal temperament began to be put in wider practice, especially as it enabled a wider range of chromatic possibilities in hard-to-tune keyboard instruments.
Although J.S. did not use equal temperament, as a modern piano is generally tuned, changes in the temperaments from the Bachmeantone system, common at the time, to various temperaments that made modulation between all keys musically acceptable, made possible his Well-Tempered Clavier.
Main article: Romantic music
See also: List of Romantic-era composers
The music of the Romantic era, from roughly the first decade of the 19th century to the early 20th century, was characterized by increased attention to an extended melodic line, as well as expressive and emotional elements, paralleling romanticism in other art forms.
Musical forms began to break from the Classical era forms (even as those were being codified), with free-form pieces like nocturnes, fantasias, and preludes being written where accepted ideas about the exposition and development of themes were ignored or minimized.
The music became more chromatic, dissonant, and tonally colorful, with tensions (with respect to accepted norms of the older forms) about key signatures increasing.
In the 19th century, musical institutions emerged from the control of wealthy patrons, as composers and musicians could construct lives independent of the nobility.
Increasing interest in music by the growing middle classes throughout western Europe spurred the creation of organizations for the teaching, performance, and preservation of music.
The piano, which achieved its modern construction in this era (in part due to industrial advances in metallurgy) became widely popular with the middle class, whose demands for the instrument spurred many piano builders.
Many symphony orchestras date their founding to this era.
European cultural ideas and institutions began to follow colonial expansion into other parts of the world.
There was also a rise, especially toward the end of the era, of nationalism in music (echoing, in some cases, political sentiments of the time), as composers such as Edvard Grieg, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Antonín Dvořák echoed traditional music of their homelands in their compositions.
In the Romantic era, the modern piano, with a more powerful, sustained tone and a wider range took over from the more delicate-sounding fortepiano.
In the orchestra, the existing Classical instruments and sections were retained (string section, woodwinds, brass, and percussion), but these sections were typically expanded to make a fuller, bigger sound.
For example, while a Baroque orchestra may have had two double bass players, a Romantic orchestra could have as many as ten.
"As music grew more expressive, the standard orchestral palette just wasn't rich enough for many Romantic composers."
The families of instruments used, especially in orchestras, grew larger; a process that climaxed in the early 20th century with very large orchestras used by late romantic and modernist composers.
A wider array of percussion instruments began to appear.
Brass instruments took on larger roles, as the introduction of rotary valves made it possible for them to play a wider range of notes.
The size of the orchestra (typically around 40 in the Classical era) grew to be over 100.
New woodwind instruments were added, such as the contrabassoon, bass clarinet and piccolo and new percussion instruments were added, including xylophones, snare drums, celestas (a bell-like keyboard instrument), bells, and triangles, large orchestral harps, and even wind machines for sound effects.
Saxophones appear in some scores from the late 19th century onwards, usually featured as a solo instrument rather than as in integral part of the orchestra.
It also has a prominent role in Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. and is also used in several late romantic and modernist works by Richard Strauss, 7 in E MajorBéla Bartók, and others Cornets appear regularly in 19th century scores, alongside trumpets which were regarded as less agile, at least until the end of the century.
Prominent composers of this era include Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Frédéric Chopin, Hector Berlioz, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Edvard Grieg, and Johann Strauss II.
20th and 21st centuries
Main article: Modernism (music)
Encompassing a wide variety of post-Romantic styles, modernist classical music includes late romantic, impressionist, expressionist, and neoclassical styles of composition.
Modernism marked an era when many composers rejected certain values of the common practice period, such as traditional tonality, melody, instrumentation, and structure.
Some music historians regard musical modernism as an era extending from about 1890 to 1930.
Others consider that modernism ended with one or the other of the two world wars.
Still other authorities claim that modernism is not associated with any historical era, but rather is "an attitude of the composer; a living construct that can evolve with the times".
Despite its decline in the last third of the 20th century, there remained at the end of the century an active core of composers who continued to advance the ideas and forms of modernism, such as Pierre Boulez, Pauline Oliveros, Toru Takemitsu, George Benjamin, Jacob Druckman, Brian Ferneyhough, George Perle, Wolfgang Rihm, Richard Wernick, Richard Wilson, and Ralph Shapey.
It was a period of diverse reactions in challenging and reinterpreting older categories of music, innovations that lead to new ways of organizing and approaching harmonic, melodic, sonic, and rhythmic aspects of music, and changes in aesthetic worldviews in close relation to the larger identifiable period of modernism in the arts of the time.
The operative word most associated with it is "innovation".
Its leading feature is a "linguistic plurality", which is to say that no single music genre ever assumed a dominant position.
The orchestra continued to grow in size during the early years modernist era, peaking in the first two decades of the 20th century.
Saxophones that appeared only rarely during the 19th century became more commonly used as supplementary instruments, but never became core members of the orchestra.
While appearing only as featured solo instruments in some works, for example Maurice Ravel's orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, the saxophone is included in other works such as Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Suites 1 and 2 and many other works as a member of the orchestral ensemble.
In some compositions such as Ravel's Boléro, two or more saxophones of different sizes are used to create an entire section like the other sections of the orchestra.
Prominent composers of the early 20th century include Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Arnold Schoenberg, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Cécile Chaminade, Paul Hindemith, Aram Khachaturian, George Gershwin, Amy Beach, Béla Bartók, and Dmitri Shostakovich, along with the aforementioned Mahler and Strauss as transitional figures who carried over from the 19th century.
Postmodern music is a period of music that began as early as 1930 according to some authorities.
Some other authorities have more or less equated postmodern music with the "contemporary music" composed well after 1930, from the late 20th century through to the early 21st century.
Some of the diverse movements of the postmodern/contemporary era include the neoromantic, neomedieval, minimalist, and post minimalist.
Contemporary classical music at the beginning of the 21st century was often considered to include all post-1945 musical forms.
A generation later, this term now properly refers to the music of today written by composers who are still alive; music that came into prominence in the mid-1970s.
Timeline of composers
Women in classical music
See also: Women in classical music
Main article: Women in music
Almost all of the composers who are described in music textbooks on classical music and whose works are widely performed as part of the standard concert repertoire are male composers, even though there has been a large number of women composers throughout the classical music period.
Citron "examines the practices and attitudes that have led to the exclusion of women composers from the received 'canon' of performed musical works".
She argues that in the 1800s, women composers typically wrote art songs for performance in small recitals rather than symphonies intended for performance with an orchestra in a large hall, with the latter works being seen as the most important genre for composers; since women composers did not write many symphonies, they were deemed not to be notable as composers.
Abbey Philips states that "[d]uring the 20th century the women who were composing/playing gained far less attention than their male counterparts."
Historically, major professional orchestras have been mostly or entirely composed of musicians who are men.
The last major orchestra to appoint a woman to a permanent position was the Berlin Philharmonic.
As late as February 1996, the Vienna Philharmonic's principal flute, Dieter Flury, told Westdeutscher Rundfunk that accepting women would be "gambling with the emotional unity (emotionelle Geschlossenheit) that this organism currently has".
In April 1996, the orchestra's press secretary wrote that "compensating for the expected leaves of absence" of maternity leave would be a problem.
Finally, "after being held up to increasing ridicule even in socially conservative Austria, members of the orchestra gathered [on 28 February 1997] in an extraordinary meeting on the eve of their departure and agreed to admit a woman, Anna Lelkes, as harpist."
As of 2013, the orchestra has six female members; one of them, violinist Albena Danailova became one of the orchestra's concertmasters in 2008, the first woman to hold that position.
In 2012, women still made up just 6% of the orchestra's membership.
In 2013, an article in Mother Jones stated that while "[m]any prestigious orchestras have significant female membership—women outnumber men in the New York Philharmonic's violin section—and several renowned ensembles, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, and the Minnesota Symphony, are led by women violinists," the double bass, brass, and percussion sections of major orchestras "...are still predominantly male".
A 2014 BBC article stated that the "...introduction of 'blind' auditions, where a prospective instrumentalist performs behind a screen so that the judging panel can exercise no gender or racial prejudice, has seen the gender balance of traditionally male-dominated symphony orchestras gradually shift."
Relationship to other music traditions
Classical music has often incorporated elements or material from popular music of the composer's time.
Examples include occasional music such as Brahms' use of student drinking songs in his Academic Festival Overture, genres exemplified by Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, and the influence of jazz on early and mid-20th-century composers including Maurice Ravel, exemplified by the movement entitled "Blues" in his sonata for violin and piano.
Numerous examples show influence in the opposite direction, including popular songs based on classical music, the use to which Pachelbel's Canon has been put since the 1970s, and the musical crossover phenomenon, where classical musicians have achieved success in the popular music arena.
Composers of classical music have often made use of folk music (music created by musicians who are commonly not classically trained, often from a purely oral tradition).
Some composers, like Dvořák and Smetana, have used folk themes to impart a nationalist flavor to their work, while others like Bartók have used specific themes lifted whole from their folk-music origins.
Certain staples of classical music are often used commercially (either in advertising or in movie soundtracks).
In television commercials, several passages have become clichéd, particularly the opening of Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra (made famous in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey) and the opening section "O Fortuna" of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana; other examples include the "Dies irae" from the Verdi Requiem, Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt, the opening bars of Beethoven's Symphony No. , 5Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walküre, Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee", and excerpts of Aaron Copland's Rodeo.
Several works from the Golden Age of Animation matched the action to classical music.
Similarly, movies and television often revert to standard, clichéd excerpts of classical music to convey refinement or opulence: some of the most-often heard pieces in this category include Bach´s Cello Suite No. , 1Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain (as orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov), and Rossini's "William Tell Overture".
Shawn Vancour argues that the commercialization of classical music in the early 20th century may have harmed the music industry through inadequate representation.
Main article: Music 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.
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.
One of the co-authors of the original studies of the Mozart effect commented "I don't think it can hurt.
I'm all for exposing children to wonderful cultural experiences.
But I do think the money could be better spent on music education programs."
In 1996/97, a research study was conducted on a population of preschool through college students in the Cherry Creek School District in Denver, Colorado, US.
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.
The study further indicated that students who used classical music 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 the 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) and others.
- American classical music
- Andalusian classical music
- Australian classical music
- Canadian classical music
- Carnatic music
- French classical music
- Hindustani classical music
- Indian classical music
- Italian classical music
- Ottoman classical music
- Persian traditional music
- Russian classical music
- Classical music of the United Kingdom
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical music.