History of Western Music
There are many different eras of western classical music, we’ll briefly touch on a few of them. We’ll also explore a few of the composers and their specific works including Symphonies, Operas and Ballet.
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 (1750–1830) and Romantic (1804–1910) eras. Since 1900, classical periods have been reckoned more by calendar century than by particular stylistic movements that have become fragmented and difficult to define.
Gregorian Chant is also called plain chant or originated from plain chant, consisting of one voice or melody. It was traditionally sung my choirs of either boys or men or women in a monastery or church. Music followed a Melisma pattern, or singing many different note pitches for a single syllable.
An adaptation of Roman theater, this was chant that was played out to depict certain religious stories and moral ideas. The most well known composer of these dramas is Hildegard von Bingen, a German nun who lived from 1098-1179. We have over 70 written musical works from Hildegard, making her one of the most published and well known composers of the medieval era.
A modern take on Medieval Music comes from a group called Libera:
The Renaissance era was from 1400 to 1600. It was characterized by greater use of instrumentation, multiple interweaving melodic lines (polyphony), and the use of the first bass instruments. Social dancing became more widespread, so musical forms appropriate to accompanying dance began to standardize.
During the Renaissance we start to see the beginnings of musical notation on the staff as we see it today. This was a time for expression and experimentation with musical sounds. If a composer was writing about a bird one may here chirping and quick moving melodic lines that tried to emulate the sounds and emotion of what they were conveying through their words.
Standard instruments began to change and be developed into more modern forms to keep up with the changing styles of music. We started to see early versions of the trombone, bassoon, and trumpet. Though most of the music in this era was still largely vocal. Instruments were mostly used to accompany singers and were not considered as important.
Composers like Palestrina created motets and madrigals consisting of several different voices singing different melodies or harmonies that were sung at the exact same time creating polyphony.
Jacopo Peri was an Italian composer that wrote in the Renaissance and Baroque transitional period, he is often considered the father or inventor of Opera by trying to recreate the Greek tragedy, the first opera was called Dafne.
Baroque music forms a major portion of the “classical music” canon, being widely studied, performed, and listened to. Composers of the Baroque era include Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti, Domenico Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi, Henry Purcell…and Johann Pachelbel.
…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, cantata, oratorio, concerto, and sonata as musical genres. Many musical terms and concepts from this era are still in use today.
Handel’s Water Music played on baroque instruments
The Classical era established many of the norms of composition, presentation, and style, and was also when the piano became the predominant keyboard instrument. The basic instruments for an orchestra started to become standardized (although they would grow as the potential of a wider array of instruments was developed in the following centuries). Opera continued to develop, with regional styles in Italy, France, and German-speaking lands. The opera buffa, a form of comic opera, rose in popularity. The symphony came into its own as a musical form, and the concerto (where a single solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra) was developed as a vehicle for displays of virtuoso playing skill. Orchestras were often led by the lead violinist (now called the concertmaster).
The best-known composers from this period are Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven
Singspeil was the German equivalent of the Opera Buffa. One of the most famous works is Die Zauberflote written by Mozart.
1:37 “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart) – The Queen of the Night, scene 3
Watch a brief summary of the plot of the Magic Flute below:
Romantic Era 1780-1910
Though created in the Baroque era the Fortepiano designates the early version of the piano, from its invention by the Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700 up to the early 19th century. It was the instrument for which Haydn, Mozart, and the early Beethoven wrote their piano music.
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is one of the most widely performed ballets
Complete your crossword study guide by going to the articles linked below. Make sure to finish the crossword! Listen to the following youtube videos of these ancient instruments and music styles.
Example of Pentatonic Scale in the video: