Hey, this is my first attempt at a column and I'm not quite sure what the deal is with submitting and all that. I'm assuming you just post here, get feedback, and then post it on the site? I was originally intending to write one large article, but I thought it might be a little to big, what do you guys think? Here's what I got so far anyway:


When I first decided to start listening to classical music, I had a difficult time assimilating with it. All those composers with hundreds of works in different structures and time periods; it can be very overwhelming. You may want to try it out, but just don't know where to start. Or maybe you want to appreciate it, but can't make heads or tails of all these fugues, rondos or sonatas. Classical music demands knowledge of the genre to fully comprehend all of the ideas being presented. However, with just a little understanding, a whole new world is opened up. Classical music is very complex, but also emotionally resonant; it contains infinite lessons on music theory, but doesn't demand complete attention to enjoy. That's why I consider it to be the most pure form of music, and one of the most rewarding. After studying the following terms, you will have an understanding of the basics of classical music, and hopefully will come to love the art form as much as I have.

Part One - Types Of Classical Music: Keep in mind, these aren't concrete definitions and restrictions, but rather a way of conveniently generalizing and grouping like-minded composers.

Time Periods: Although these aren't considered specific "genres", each of the following time periods marked a change from the previous era. The similarities of style from composers in periods such as the Baroque era make it necessary to classify them as separate entities.

Early Music: This is a term encompassing almost all composed music before the 17th century. This includes music from the Middle Ages (such as Gregorian chants and troubadour songs) and the Renaissance. Major figures of this era were few, but include Hildegard of Bingen (12th century woman who composed beautiful chants), Guillaume de Machaut (14th century; introduced polyphony and rhythmic syncopation), and Josquin Desprez (15th and 16th century composer who mastered polyphonic writing).

Renaissance Music: From around 1400-1600, with Renaissance music came the development of polyphonic (multiple melodic lines) style that sprouted from the late Middle Ages. This also marked the burgeoning of instrumental music, which would provide the structural foundation of the next era, the Baroque. The front-runners of this time were Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (composer of some of the most moving church music of its time), Andrea and Giovanni Gabrielli (known for his development of acoustics and placement of instruments, and his extremely expressive works, respectively), and William Byrd (also a composer of sophisticated church music).

Baroque Music: This term deals with music from about 1600-1750. Some major characteristics of Baroque music include rhythmic motion, counterpoint and a single focus. Almost all pieces from this time have a constant flow, a steady motion all throughout. They will also include some form of counterpoint - usually consisting of at least two independent lines, where one will be imitated by the line that precedes it. Although this may seem like it limits the possibilities of the music, the way these lines overlap is very complicated, yet cohesive. You would be surprised how creatively composers use the counterpoint method, making a style hundreds of years old sound fresh and invigorating. Each work is generally comprised of a single melodic idea that is developed. Some notable composers of this era were Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi and Claudio Monteverdi.

Classical Music: Classical music is the generic term encompassing Western Art Music, but when spelled with a capital C, it refers to the time period from around 1750-1820. In Classical music, the idea of counterpoint was dropped in favor of a single melodic line supported by distinct harmony. Instead of one melodic idea, a contrast was introduced: A principle theme and a secondary theme. While Baroque music was often overblown or elaborate, Classical music showed restrained emotion, clarity and directness. Composers of this era include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, and early Beethoven.

Romantic Music: Coming to fruition at approximately 1815-1910, Romantic music emerged as a contrasting style to the Classical period that preceded it. Whereas Classicism displayed restraint and order, Romanticism demonstrated emotional extremes and unpredictability. The contrasting themes of the preceding era were intensified. Volume and tempo were taken to extremes, enhancing the expressive melodies and increasingly more challenging harmonies. Composers became undeterred by expected duration; some works were longer than any other instrumental pieces written before. From this period came the likes of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Johannes Brahms, Hector Berlioz, and Antonín Dvořák. Composers entering the 20th century that embraced this style are categorized as post- or late-Romanticism. Oftentimes, they express Romantic themes to an even greater and more complex degree. Examples of these people are Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Jean Sibelius.

20th Century Classical Music: Like Early Music, this is a very vague term. Unlike past periods, there are no defined set of guidelines; the music was all over the map. 20th Century Classical music includes (but is not limited to) the late-Romantic style, the resurrection of Classical ideas dubbed Neoclassicism, Impressionism, serialism, atonal music, and minimalism (more on some of these below). Since there are such a diverse set of styles, notable composers are covered in the next section.

Classical Styles: These are varying types of Western Art music that aren't tied down to a specific timeline.

Atonal Music: This is where the concept of traditional Western tonality and harmony are thrown out the window. Without specific keys (ex. C major) to guide a composer, the result is what the average ear, initially, would refer to as dissonance. However, atonality doesn't mean aural chaos. On the contrary, most atonalists follow certain rules. The most common set of these rules was first put to use by Arnold Schoenberg with his twelve-tone music (see serialism). Although many times, atonal music consists of awkward changes, dense chords and complex rhythms, atonality is not intrinsically "ugly." Much like an abstract painting, an atonal composition can be both a beautiful and meaningful listen.

Chamber Music: Generally, compositions that have from two to ten players (each having a separate part to play) are classified as chamber music. The name pertains to the small group of musicians that would perform at social gatherings in private rooms, or chambers. This style exists in contrast to the large orchestral sounds that many recall when "classical music" is mentioned. Those used to the bombastic sounds of a full orchestra may find it difficult to adapt the the intimate setting of a chamber group, but these works can be just as complex and rewarding. The quintessential chamber piece consist of a string quartet (two violins, viola and a cello) and usually has four movements. Haydn and Mozart used these simple settings as a launch pad for their extreme creativity. The first violin often directs the piece with melodic lines while the other others provide harmony, although many times a composer will take advantage of each instrument to provide interesting musical ideas. Other groupings of strings include the string trio (violin, viola, and cello; or two violins and cello), string quintet (two violins, two violas, and cello; or two violins, viola, and two cellos), and string sextet (pairs of each instrument). Many times, keyboard and wind instruments are added to the mix. These groupings also refer to the type of chamber music (ex. a string quartet plays string quartets, a piano trio plays piano trios).

Impressionism: Started as an art movement in France in the 1860s and the ideas bled out to the music scene towards the end of that century. As opposed to the Romantics who sought to expand traditional classical harmony, Impressionists looked to the Orient for the basis of their harmony. This created a foreign and exotic sound. Chords would not sound resolved to Western ears and the melodies were equally unpredictable. These Eastern touches created soft, eerie and hazy pieces; a lot more subtle than the Romantic ways of their contemporaries. The Impressionists were led by Claude Debussy.
Last edited by frippogenics at Dec 25, 2007,
Minimalism: This style began to take hold in the 1960's and stands on the opposite end of the spectrum from the complex, atonal works of serialism. The dissonant chords were replaced with simple, tonal ones. Melodic lines were direct and rhythm patterns were repetitive, creating a mesmerizing effect. Although some may accuse minimalism of being uninvolved, many deeply complex and beautiful pieces have evolved out of these modest musical ideas. The works of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams are some of the best examples of this style.

Serialism: This term refers to a specific branch of atonal music that was developed in the 1940s. Generally, a composer will set up a calculated series of the twelve tones of the Western chromatic scale. Chords and melodies are derived from systematic ways, ignoring traditional tonal rules of harmony. This method was developed in the 1920s by Arnold Schoenberg and he called it "twelve-tone music." This term is many times used interchangeably with serialism, although the latter can refer to other theories on how to make music. For example, oftentimes this technique is flushed out to an even greater extent, where the original series also determines rhythm, dynamics, how long or short a note is sounded and other characteristics (this is called "total serialism"). Besides Schoenberg, Pierre Boulez and Milton Babbitt are important composers in this field.


So thats my rough draft thus far. I am thinking of including other kinds of less distinct styles, like program and church music.
It's very good and interesting for someone like me who is into this kind of music. But, perhaps it'd be a bit daunting to the classical music newbie. But I guess if they really wanted to learn, they'd take the effort to read it all. I'd also recommend you put some "recommended listening" in for each section, in addition to the composers. I think you should note that a lot of those "styles" fall under 20th century music. On second thought, perhaps all the styles could be assigned to the appropriate period(s)? You mentioned you were thinking of including more styles, and I reckon that'd be good. Opera, concerto, suite and symphony are some that come to mind. Also, perhaps a mention of some new wave classical would be good, like Karl Jenkins.

Good job overall though!
Last edited by shigidab0p at Dec 25, 2007,
Thanks for the reply.

I was thinking of organizing it like this.

Part One - Types
Part Two - Terms (this is where suites, concertos, fugues and such would go)
Part Three - Suggested Listening

I'm not so sure about opera, that's a whole different world since it throws theatre into the mix. I do enjoy opera, but I still feel I don't know enough about it yet to write about it.
Quote by frippogenics
Thanks for the reply.

I was thinking of organizing it like this.

Part One - Types
Part Two - Terms (this is where suites, concertos, fugues and such would go)
Part Three - Suggested Listening

I'm not so sure about opera, that's a whole different world since it throws theatre into the mix. I do enjoy opera, but I still have just scratched its surface.

Ah, that makes a lot more sense. Perhaps you should put styles into part two and composers into part three? Just to keep part one solely about the types, it seems to make sense.

God point about the opera, it is a bit tricky. You could mention in passing some famous opera overtures/sections like those from Carmen (Bizet) and the Ring Cycle (Wagner).
Quote by shigidab0p
Ah, that makes a lot more sense. Perhaps you should put styles into part two and composers into part three? Just to keep part one solely about the types, it seems to make sense.

God point about the opera, it is a bit tricky. You could mention in passing some famous opera overtures/sections like those from Carmen (Bizet) and the Ring Cycle (Wagner).

william tell?
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That was a good read. I found it to be pretty informative.
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