Classical music is a broad term that usually refers to ‘mainstream music‘ produced in, 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.
The public taste for and appreciation of formal music of this type waned in the late 1900s in the United States and United Kingdom in particular. Certainly this period has seen classical music falling well behind the immense commercial success of popular music, in the opinion of some, although the number of CD’s sold is not indicative of the popularity of classical music.
Given the extremely broad variety of forms, styles, genres, and historical periods generally perceived as being described by the term “classical music,” it is difficult to list characteristics that can be attributed to all works of that type.
Vague descriptions are plentiful, such as describing classical music as anything that “lasts a long time,” a statement made rather moot when one considers contemporary composers who are described as “classical;” or music that has certain instruments like violins, which are also found in bluegrass music, Broadway music, and other genres; or “relaxing” or “background” music for affluent people, descriptions which are probably only accurate when describing court music from the Baroque and Classical periods. However, there are characteristics that classical music contains that generally few or no other genres of music contain.
Classical and popular music are often distinguished by their choice of instruments. There are few if any genres in which so many different instruments are used simultaneously by performing groups such as symphony orchestras, which often contain as many as 5 or so different types of string instruments including violins, violas, cellos, double basses and harp; 7 or more types of woodwind instruments; 4 or so types of brass instrument; and many diverse percussion instruments, sometimes as many as 10 different types. Also prevalent, especially in opera, is the human voice. Comparatively, most popular music genres involve fewer instruments. For instance a typical rock band will consist of a drummer, a guitarist or two, a singer or two, an electric bassist and, less universally, a keyboardist.
Performance of classical music repertoire often demands a significant level of technical mastery on the part of the musician; proficiency in sight-reading and ensemble playing, thorough understanding of tonal and harmonic principles, knowledge of performance practice, and a familiarity with the style/musical idiom inherent to a given period, composer or musical work are among the most essential of skills for the competent, classically trained musician. Works of classical repertoire often exhibit artistic complexity through the use of thematic development, phrasing, harmonization, modulation (change of key), texture, and, of course, musical form itself. Larger-scale compositional forms (such as that of the symphony, concerto, opera or oratorio, for example) usually represent a hierarchy of smaller units consisting of phrases, periods, sections, and movements. Musical analysis of a composition aims at achieving greater understanding of it through the study of this complexity, leading to more meaningful hearing and a greater appreciation of the composer’s style.
As truly – Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy, it is the wine of a new procreation, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for men and makes them drunk with the spirit.
– Ludwig van Beethoven, quoted in Marion M Scott, Beethoven (1934)
No comments yet.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.