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← Music Technology in EthnomusicologyRay Charles →

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Classical music refers to the art music or musical traditions implying advanced structural considerations and a written musical tradition. These types of compositions encompass the period roughly from the 11th century to present times. Given the wide variety of forms, styles and historical periods that describe these types of compositions, it is difficult to list common characteristics that can be attributed to these types of work though there are some common distinctive features contained in classical music that very few or no other genres of music contain. Some of these characteristics include instrumentation, form and the technical execution used to master and perform this type of composition.

The instruments used in most classical compositions were mostly invented before the 19th century and they consist of instruments found in orchestras together with a few other solo instruments such as the piano and organ. Electrical instruments such as the electrical guitar and synthesizer are seen to appear in the classical music compositions of the 20th and 21st century. Classical music can take the form of a symphony which is an extended music composition or opera which is an art form in which the singers perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score. This type of music compositions are characterized by a complex relationship between its emotional content and the means by which it is achieved (Benjamin).

 A majority of these esteemed classical music works make use of musical development which refers to the process by which an idea in musical form is repeated in various and altered forms. Performance of classical music requires high levels of technical mastery on the musician’s part and a thorough understanding of tonal and harmonic principles. Artistic classical works often exhibit complexity through the use of harmonization, texture and modulation. Larger scale compositions often represent smaller units consisting of sections and movements which are aimed at achieving greater understanding of the music hence greater appreciation of the classical style. Classical music has never been as popular with the working class society as it is with the upper level society. However a small section of the working class society is seen to have access and appreciation for the classical form of music.

In modern days classical music has made its way to television programs and adverts and is often used as background music for movies. As a result, most people in the Western World regularly and unknowingly listen to classical music which is an indicator of its popularity. Classical pieces have recently been associated with major events which have led to public interest in certain classical genres. A good example being the choice of Nessun dorma from Giaccomo Puccini’s opera known as Turandot as the theme tune for the 1990 FIFA world cup (Blom and Cummings).

Western classical music is seen to have been influenced by the ancient Greeks like Aristoxenus and Pythagoras. Ancient Greek instruments such as the lyre, a stringed instrument similar to a harp and the aulos which is a reed instrument eventually led to the modern day instruments used in classical orchestra. Baroque compositions on the other hand describe a style of European classical music which extended from 1600 to 1750 as a result of demands for new art. The term baroque is derived from the Spanish word “barocco” which means “a rough or imperfect pearl”. This type of musical composition is widely characterized by use of diverse tonal counterpoint, which is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in rhythm but are interdependent harmonically (Hefling).

During this period, composers and performers of this form of music made notable changes in the musical notation and were responsible for the development of new instrumental playing techniques.  Baroque music is associated with composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti, Henry Purcell and Claudio Monteverdi.

Baroque compositions expanded the size, range and complexity of instrumental performance and are responsible for the establishment of the opera as an independent musical genre.  The popularity of the baroque style was highly encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church in order for paintings and sculptures in church contexts to be able to speak to the illiterate as well. Baroque employed an image writing that was direct, obvious and at the same time dramatic. They were characterized by contrasting phrase lengths, harmony and orchestral color. The use of ornamentation in baroque music was significant as the role of ornaments had greatly diminished in both music and architecture during that era (Hefling).

In paintings, baroque gestures are less ambiguous and mysterious. Baroque sculpture poses induce tension within the sculptures that moves the planes of the figures hips and shoulders making the sculptures seem like they are about to move. It has been emphasized that the baroque style evolved during a time when the Roman Catholic Church had to strongly react against the many revolutionary cultural movements which is why it was highly successful in Rome. A defining picture of what the baroque style signifies in painting is provided by the series of paintings executed by a baroque artist known as Peter Paul Rubens for Marie de Medici at the Luxembourg Palace located in Paris. Another frequently cited work of baroque’s artistic style is Bernini’s Saint Theresa in Ecstasy which brings together architecture, theatre and sculpture into one grand vanity.

Baroque sculptures often signify a dynamic movement and energy of human forms. These sculptures are often seen to reach outward s into their surrounding space, have concealed lighting and often include water fountains. These characteristics can be seen in sculptures and fountains of Bernini. Baroque sculptures often signify a dynamic movement and energy of human forms. These sculptures are often seen to reach outward s into their surrounding space, have concealed lighting and often include water fountains. These characteristics can be seen in sculptures and fountains of Bernini.

Baroque architecture emphasized on bold massing, color effects and the bold application of volume and void. Baroque style in interiors was characterized by the innovation of the state apartment, a processional sequence of rich interiors which led to a throne room or state apartment. This type of architecture was quickly adapted in Germany, Austria and Russia. A good example of this type of architecture is the Cathedral of Morelia Michoacán which is found in Mexico. Town planning of this era featured radiating avenues intersecting in squares (Kennedy).

Romantic compositions ranged from, 1800 to 1910. Romantic compositions evolved from the formats and musical ideas established in early periods and do not necessarily refer to romantic love though the theme was prevalent in most works composed during these period in literature, music and even painting. Composers associated with this era include Beethoven and Richard Wegner. Romantic music was characterized by increased attention to expressive and emotional elements. The music became more chromatic, discordant and tonally colorful, with tensions about key signatures increasing. Wider arrays of percussion instruments were employed such as brass instruments which took on larger roles. Romantic music aimed at increasing emotional expression in music and power to describe deeper human feelings while at the same time extending some structures from the classical era.

Composers of the romantic period aimed at fusing the large structural harmonic planning presented by their earlier predecessors such as Mozart with more chromatic innovations in order to show the greater fluidity and contrast and also to serve the expression that struggled to emerge.  Composers in this era adopted earlier forms of expression and use of literary inspirations as the central pursuit of the art. Composers were also influenced by advance in technology such as an increase in the range of the piano and the improved abilities and projections of the instruments used (Orden).

Music is affected by events and changes that happen in society. Such events include change in attitudes, ideas and inventions. A good example of an event that had a profound effect on music is the Industrial Revolution which took place between the late 18th century and some parts of the early 19th century. This event marked major improvements in mechanical valves and brass instruments used in composition and performance of romantic compositions. The new instruments were larger and produced a fuller, better-tuned sound and were easier to use.

Before this period composers had a small audience who comprised mostly of the upper class and middle class individuals who had great knowledge about music. On the other hand, romantic composers often came up with compositions for concerts and festivals with large paying audiences who did not necessarily have insightful knowledge on music. Towards the end of the romantic period, opera became popular particularly in Italy as it depicted realistic rather than historical subjects (The Larousse Encyclopedia of Music).

The main characteristics of romantic music compositions include a freedom in form, design and imagination and emphasis on lyrical adventurous melodies. Another common characteristic of this type of compositions is the use of denser textures with bold dramatic contrasts with a variety of pieces ranging from songs to short piano pieces. Unity and shape was brought to lengthy works by use of repeated themes. There was also greater technical intelligence especially from violinists and pianists (Orden).

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