What is Classical Music?
The classical music period was 1750 to 1820. The term ‘classical music’ originated from the Latin term ‘classicus’, meaning taxpayer of the highest class. After the term made its way through the French, German and English languages, one of the earliest definitions of the word meant ‘classical, formal’. The term ‘classical music’ did not appear until the early 19th century, its earliest reference recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary is from about 1836.
There are many styles of music that exist within the classical music; these are symphony, opera, choral works and chamber music.
Among its musical characteristics are the use of dynamics and orchestral colour in a thematic way; the use of rhythm, including periodic structure and harmonic rhythm, to give definition to large-scale forms, along with the use of modulation to build longer spans of tension and release.
Classical music is often distinguished by its wide use of instruments of varying tones and pitches used to create a deep, rich sound. Classical music was hugely affected by the invention and modification of instruments throughout time. There are no set instruments that had to be used for classical music, composers wrote for orchestras, wind ensembles or various combinations of instruments for chamber music. Instruments like the piano, violins, flutes and trumpets were used. The human voice was also used, which invented its own series of classical music, the Opera. Composers also wrote solo pieces for a specific instrument, accompanied by piano.
Classical music composers often aspired to instil in their music a very complex relationship between its affective (emotional) content and the intellectual means by which is it achieved. Many works make use of musical development, the process by which a musical idea is repeated in different contexts or in altered form.
Classical music is primarily a written musical tradition, preserved in music notation (sheet music), as opposed to being transmitted orally. This is a very good method of preserving the piece as the written music contains the technical instructions for performing the work. The written score, however, doesn’t usually contain explicit instructions as to how to interpret the piece in terms of production or performance, apart from directions for dynamics, tempo and expression; this is left to the discretion of the performers, who are guided by their personal experience and musical education, their knowledge of the work’s idiom.
Essential Reference: A list of the most famous classical music composers:
Ludwig Van Beethoven – 1770-1827
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – 1756-1791
Johann Sebastian Bach – 1685-1750
Richard Wagner – 1813-1883
Joseph Haydn – 1732-1809
Johannes Brahms – 1833-1897
Franz Schubert – 1797-1828
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky – 1840-1893
George Frideric Handel – 1685-1759
Igor Stravinsky – 1882-1971
Robert Schumann – 1810-1856
Frederic Chopin – 1810-1849
Felix Mendelssohn – 1809-1847
Claude Debussy – 1862-1918
Franz Liszt – 1811-1886
Antonin Dvorak – 1841-1904
Giuseppe Verdi – 1813-1901
Gustav Mahler – 1860-1911
Hector Berlioz – 1803-1869
Antonio Vivaldi – 1678-1741
Richard Strauss – 1864-1949
Serge Prokofiev – 1891-1953
Dmitri Shostakovich – 1906-1975
Béla Bartók – 1881-1945
Anton Bruckner – 1824-1896
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