Sup – Tony here to give all that are curious, intimidated, clueless, overwhelmed, some tips on getting to know classical music, and a short list of piece from the 12th century on up that you will dig and that will get you better acquainted with this wonderful music. I’ll try to get everything right, however I’m at work and I’m writing this entire thing off the top of my head.
It’s amazing the lack of knowledge that I encounter when it comes to “classical” music. This is kind of a bogus term anyway. When someone says “classical” music to me, I think of music from 1750-1800 – the “classical” period. This would include such composers as Mozart, Haydn, and C.P.E. Bach. The history of classical music is so incredibly varied, that to include it all in one all-encompassing term – i.e. classical – is really ridiculous. I will break down the general periods of music for you later in the article, and give a general description along with key composers.
One reason, I think, that most people do not, and cannot appreciate this music is a simple lack of education – which is getting worse all the time. People often ask me, “How can you listen to this?” They either say “It all sounds the same” or “it just sounds like a bunch of notes”. This is what I tell them. First I ask something like “Have you ever studied a foreign language?. They usually tell me yes – something like Spanish. Then I ask them what Spanish sounded like to them before they studied it. They all say that it sounded like gibberish. Of course, they knew it was a language, but they didn’t posses the knowledge to be able to process and understand it. Then I ask them what happened when you started to study and speak Spanish. They say, “I started to be able to pick out words, then sentences, then whole paragraphs, etc – it started to make sense”. Music is no different. A lot of people in the pop world (and by pop I mean all forms of “popular” music), have the misconception that classical music is really no different from pop music, it’s just more complicated. This is NOT the case. Classical music is completely different. The languages of classical music are often times far removed from pop music language. If you want to be able to really understand, appreciate and like classical music, then you have to learn the language. I’m not saying that you have to learn to play Beethoven concertos on your Casio keyboard, but you need to take time with the music. It is NOT passive listening. Great classical music reaches down to the deepest emotional and intellectual levels. Learning to enjoy it is just about the greatest of all things.
Here’s a run down of classical music – period by period for all tha playazz-
THE MEDIEVEL PERIOD (600-1400)
This period mostly consists of Gregorian chants, sung by monks in monasteries and at church services. Virtually all of the music surviving from this period is sacred in nature and written for the human voice. Instruments were rarely used at this time, and when they were it was only to accompany singers. Most of the period focused on monophonic- single line chants.
Later on in the period, early polyphony (music that employs 2 or more different lines of music simultaneously) started to develop in France at the newly completed Notre Dame Cathedral. One of the first composers of the “Notre Dame” school, Leonin, developed an early form of polyphony called “Organum”. This was later perfected by his predecessor, Perotin. The music usually consisted of three voices, sometimes four. The lowest voice would sing a drone, while the top voices would sing a single syllable (like ahh) in varied and inventive rhythms, usually in parallel fourths and fifths (which later became a cardinal sin in Renaissance music). At the end of the period, a composer by the name of Guillaume de Machaut pushed the boundaries even further and brought music to the brink of the renaissance period.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSERS: Hildegard of Bingen, Leonin, Perotin, Machaut
THE RENAISSANCE PERIOD (1400-1625)
Renaissance music still remained for the most part, vocal and sacred. The music was larger, and more complex. Since women were usually still not allowed to sing in the choirs of the day, the choirs consisted or boys to sing the soprano parts, and men to sing the alto, tenor and bass parts. During this time, complete masses began to be composed (this would be akin to writing an entire multi movement symphony later). The English composers of the early 15th century, John Dunstable in particular, heavily influenced composers on the continent. The continental composers of the late 15th century, became to be known as the “Burgundian School”, because they were all centered around the court of Burgundy (what is now north east France). These composers included Dufay and Binchois, and later Busnois, and the greatest master of them all, Josquin de Prez.
In the sixteenth century, the focus moved away from Burgundy to the south. This was the age of the “high” renaissance style. It was exemplified in various locations. In Spain, Victoria – In England, William Byrd – and in Italy, probably the greatest of all of the renaissance composers, Palestrina.
During the late 16th century, early opera began to be developed in Italy. Probably the most important figure to develop the first operas was Claudio Monteverdi, who also pushed the harmonic language of the time and helped usher in the Baroque era of music.
Instrumental music was also coming into its own during the late 16th century. New works for harpsichord, lute, and small ensembles (called “consorts”) were being written.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSERS: John Dunstable, Josquin De Prez, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Gesualdo, John Dowland
THE BAROQUE PERIOD (1625-1750)
The baroque period is characterized by an increasing complexity in musical language and forms, and more composers writing virtuoso instrumental pieces, although vocal writing is still very important. An early development was of the trio sonata, by the composer Corelli. This usually consisted of two violins and a “continuo” instrument such as harpsichord, lute or viola de gamba. Vocal music continued under the German, Schutz and the concerto developed in Italy under Vivaldi. Around 1700, virtuoso organ works were being produced by Buxtehude, who was a huge influence of J.S. Bach. from 1700-1750, music was dominated by Handel in England, Domenico Scarlatti in Spain, and Telleman and Bach in Germany. Bach represented the pinnacle of mastery of the high baroque style, and the baroque period ended with his death in 1750.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSERS: Corelli, Vivaldi, Scarlatti, J.S. Bach
THE CLASSICAL PERIOD (1750-1800)
The classical period was ushered in when young composers of the mid 18th century grew tired of the complex and abstract language of the baroque period, and instead sought to develop a light, elegant, and more simple style. Thus the “stile gallant” was born. One of the major figures in the early stile gallant movement was Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach, one of Johann Sebastians sons. CPE Bach was a major influence on the next generation of composers. One of these composers was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Along side of the older Joseph Haydn, they pushed the stile gallant to its limits. Mozart began, later in his life to move into a more “romantic” style of composition, fueled by the “sturm und drang” (storm and stress) art movement that began in Germany in the late 18th century. This movement focused on the sublime, dark, supernatural recesses of the dream world. The final champion of the periods music was young Ludwig Von Beethoven, who was also its destroyer. It was Beethoven along with the Sturm und Drang in art that ushered in the Romantic Era.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSERS: CPE Bach, Mozart, Haydn
LOOK FOR PART TWO (Romantic to Contemporary) soon!
For more information go to: http://www.mp3.com/composers