What exactly is classical music?

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Classical Music
Classical Music

What is classical music? Is it something of exceptional entertainment like pop and classical jazz or something that is played only in concert halls? Basically, classical music is a particular time in the history of music from 1750 to 1820. This period has always been famous for its clear and simple music, defined themes and beautiful harmony. This traditional genre of music was the preferred choice as far as dances like minuet was concerned. It was used instead of formal and heavy music and it has always appealed to people with critical interest and a developed taste in music.

Music requiring a full orchestra, chamber music, opera, and choral pieces are included in classical music. Unlike other classical art forms, this genre of music doesn’t have many takers. However, there are still many people who are falling to its charm. The mere mention of classical music can remind anyone of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. Mozart used to make music for quintets and quartets. His symphonies, choral pieces, piano concertos, operas and chamber orchestra pieces have been of great contribution to the genre of classical music. Beethoven’s sixth symphony and the melodious Moonlight Sonata are also very popular. Often referred to as the “father of classical music”, Haydn’s contribution influenced many others who made classical music. Some of his best known works are: The Surprise Symphony, and Symphony no.94.


Use of different Instruments

A broad variety of styles, genres and forms are described by the term classical music, which makes it difficult to list all its characteristics. You can distinguish classical music from popular music on the basis of instruments. There are very few genres in which performing groups make simultaneous use of different instruments. For instance, a symphony orchestra includes 5 string instruments, 4 or more bass instruments, 7 or so woodwind instrument and approximately 10 different percussion instruments to create music.

The invention of several instruments used in common practice classical music took place in the mid 19th century. These instruments got codified during the 18th and 19th century. Some of it included solo instruments like organ, piano and harpsichord. Electric guitar appeared in classical music of the 20th and 21st century. As far as the technical execution of classical music is concerned, it can take the form of a symphony, opera, concerto, suite, symphonic poem or dance music.

History of classical music

Early period (including Medieval (476-1400) and Renaissance (1400-1600)), common practice period (including Baroque (1600-1750), Romantic (1815-1910) and Classical (1730-1820)) and the modern period including contemporary classical (1975 onwards) and 20th century classical (1900-2000) are some of the main classical music time divisions.

Early Christian liturgical music is where the roots of western classical music lie. Ancient Greeks like the mathematician Pythagoras and Aristoxenus contributed in developing individual scales and tones. A tuning system was created by Pythagoras that helped to codify musical notations. Aulos (an ancient Greek instrument) and the lyre (stringed instrument like a harp) eventually became the instruments of modern day classical orchestra.

Is classical music complex?

Classical music requires technical mastery. A musician should be proficient in sight-reading and ensemble playing. He or she must have a good understanding of harmonic and tonal principles along with fine knowledge of performance practice. A good performance is not only based on the musician’s familiarity with the musical idiom of a given period but it also depends on the use of phrasing, thematic development, modulation and harmonization. In large scale compositions like opera, symphony or concerto, a hierarchy of small units including sections, phrases, movement and periods is represented.

Popularity of classical music:

Classical music holds its own charm even though it has never been very popular with the general masses. Not many people are aware of the fact that classical music is an important part of the famous pop culture. It is not only used to form background music in movies but advertisements and television programs also can’t do without it. Classical music has always been used in television and movies for conveying opulence or refinement. Some of the famous pieces include A Nigh on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky, Four Seasons by Vivaldi and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart. There has been a brief upsurge in the interest in certain classical genres due to its association with major events. For instance, Nessun dorma (from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot) was used as the theme tune for Soccer World Cup in 1990. Its popularity increased the interest in opera among the common people, especially in tenor arias. The association of classical music with such events has always helped in making it popular.

Classical music is a genre that has always been considered a written musical tradition. Opposed to oral transmission, it is preserved in music notations. One of the most effective ways to transmit classical music is the use of musical notations because technical instructions for doing the work are present only in written music. There are no explicit instructions as such in a written score for interpreting a particular piece in terms of performance or production.

Cultural Durability

Cultural durability is one major criterion for distinguishing classical musical cannon. Several elements or materials from popular music have often been incorporated from popular music. For instance, occasional music like the usage of student drinking songs in Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, or the genres exemplified by Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. There are many music composers who have tried using folk music with classical music. Composers like Smetana have used folk theme for imparting a nationalist flavor to his music whereas others have used themes lifted straight from the origins of folk music.

Classical Music Training

Many parents make sure that their children receive classical music training from a very young age. One of the main reasons for making them pursue music lesson is to instill a sense of self discipline. Learning this genre of music has always been considered part of a fine general education. You may find the breadth of classical music a bit daunting but once you develop interest in it, you won’t look back. Make a particular classical piece your starting point and then branch off to similar music by a different composer.