Classical music is the musical current that mainly houses music produced or based on the liturgical and secular music traditions of the West, mainly Western Europe. It covers a period of time that goes approximately from the 11th century to the present day, although this definition is not applicable to the music produced in the 20th century despite presenting the same characteristics, although the main characteristics of the genre were codified mainly between 1550 and 1900, which is usually considered the characteristic period of production of classical music. In a historiographic sense, classical music is divided into several periods: ancient or medieval music, which covers the period from the late Middle Ages in Europe (1000-1400); renaissance music (1400-1600); baroque music, which coincides with the development of baroque art (1600-1750); classicism (1750-1800), which in the History of Music and Musicology is sometimes called “classical music”; Romanticism (1800-1910); and contemporary music, which includes the different currents of classical music of the 20th century, which adopts atonal and dissonant composition and other tendencies opposed to previous currents.
Due to both its technical characteristics, the growing professionalization of the profession of musician and composer, and the socio-cultural context in which it develops (under the patronage of aristocracy, church and bourgeoisie), classical music is usually defined as the music of the cultured tradition.
In this sense, classical music is distinguished from “popular” music and other non-European musical forms by its characteristic symbolic musical notation, in use since approximately the 16th century. Such notation allows composers to prescribe in detail the tempo, meter, rhythm, pitch and precise performance of each piece of music. This limits the space for improvisation or ad libitum ornamentation, which are common in non-European art music and popular music. Another characteristic is that while most “popular” styles tend to develop around the genre of the songs, classical music has been characterized by the development of highly sophisticated and relaxing musical forms and genres, and by the use of a very varied and complex instrumentation. For this reason, classical music usually requires a high degree of professionalization and specialization from both musicians and composers.
The term classical music first appears at the beginning of the 19th century, in an attempt to highlight the period as a golden age of music. Today it is associated with the tradition of cultured and academic music described above, and is sometimes replaced by cultured music or academic music to emphasize the existence of “classical” (as opposed to contemporary) music, in other genres such as rock music (see Classical Rock). However, in a popular way, the term classical music is usually reserved almost exclusively to refer to the content of this article.
Unlike other music attached to other forms of entertainment (movie music is sometimes played in concert halls). Classical music concerts usually have a solemn atmosphere, the audience is expected to be silent to avoid distracting the musician and the listeners. Performers usually dress formally, a practice seen as a gesture of respect for the music and the audience; nor do they interact directly or joke with the audience.
As in the fine arts, classical music aspires to communicate a transcendental quality of emotion, which expresses something universal about the human condition. While emotional expression is not an exclusive property of classical music, this slingshot of exploration into emotion allows the best classical music to achieve what has been called the “sublime” in art. Many examples can be cited to demonstrate this. For example, the musicalization of Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy” in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which is often performed at events of national independence or celebration, such as that famous occasion when it was conducted by Leonard Bernstein to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Japanese tradition of playing it to celebrate the New Year. However, other composers, such as Iannis Xenakis, argue that the emotional effect of music on listeners is arbitrary and that, therefore, the objective complexity or information content of the piece is paramount.
Throughout history, parents made sure that their children were educated in cultured music from a very early age. An early musical experience provided the basis for serious study later on. For those who wished to be performers, any instrument is practically impossible to learn at a professional level if, or at least a similar instrument, was not learned from childhood. Some parents sought music education for social reasons or in an effort to impart a useful sense of self-discipline; lessons also seem to show an increase in academic performance. It is also considered that knowledge of the works of classical music is part of a good general culture.
Classical composers aspire to imbue their music with a very deep relationship between its affective (emotional) content, and the means by which it achieves it. Many of the most praised classical works make use of musical development, the process by which a musical germ, idea or motif is repeated in different contexts, or altered in such a way that the listener’s mind, consciously or not, compares the different versions. The classical genres of sonata form and fugue rigorously employ forms of musical development. Generally, classical music works show great musical complexity thanks to the composer’s use of development, modulation (changes of tonality), variation rather than exact repetition, musical phrases that do not always have the same length, counterpoint, polyphony and sophisticated harmony. In addition, many fairly long classical works (from 30 minutes to 3 hours) are built up from hierarchies of smaller units: phrases, periods, sections and movements. Schenkerian analysis is a branch of music that attempts to distinguish these structural levels.
Its written transmission, together with the veneration given to certain classical works, has led to the expectation that the performer will play the work in such a way that he or she will realize in detail the original intentions of the composer. Therefore, deviations from the composer’s instructions are sometimes condemned as complete ethical failures. During the 19th century, the details that composers placed in their scores increased. Thus we see an opposing rejection-admiration by performers who offer new “interpretations” of a composer’s work, and it is not unknown for a composer to ask the performer for a better realization of his original intentions than he could achieve himself. In this way, classical music performers often achieve very high reputations for their musicality, even if they do not compose themselves. Another consequence of the primacy of the composer’s written score is that improvisation plays a lesser role, in marked contrast to other traditions such as jazz, where improvisation is basic. Improvisation in classical music was much more frequent in the Baroque than in the 19th and 20th centuries, and recently the performance of that music by modern classical musicians has been enriched by the resurgence of ancient improvisational practices. During the classical period, Mozart and Beethoven sometimes improvised the cadences of their piano concertos (and encouraged others to do the same), but they also tended to give written cadences so that other soloists could use them.
We have already reviewed in our blog the benefits of music in children and even how music affects your brain, through the computer graphics ‘The Psychology of Music’. The fact is that music in general, and especially classical music, has always been given very different types of benefits. Among other things, it is said to reduce stress, improve mood or even positively affect plants and animals. Here we will review some of the proven benefits of listening to classical music:
The great compositions have their own list of successes, whose most modern work is 113 years old.
The classics never die and the great musical compositions of all times do not stop being played in concert halls around the world, which allows us to draw up a ranking of the pieces that sound most in the main auditoriums, despite the fact that in many cases their authors composed them more than one or two centuries ago, or even three.
The Bachtrack consulting firm has just published the list of the most represented classical music works during 2015, based on more than 28,000 concerts programmed on stages all over the planet. Beethoven is, without a doubt, the star composer with three of his symphonies in the top 10. And, contrary to what it might seem, only one of Mozart’s works is on the list, and in ninth position.
On the other hand, the Salzburg musician has been the most performed throughout 2015, followed by Beethoven, which has represented a change in leadership from the previous year, which was led by the German composer. The rest of the authors whose scores have been most performed are, in order: Bach, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Haydn, Ravel, Sibelius and Shumann. The case that most attracts attention is that of Sibelius, who has jumped from 27th to 9th place due, especially, to the celebration of his 150th anniversary, which led to programming his music in many auditoriums in the form of a tribute.
With respect to operas, Verdi heads the list with his Traviata, a position he has snatched from Puccini with his Bohème (now in sixth place). The second most performed opera worldwide has been Mozart’s Le nozze de Figaro, followed by Bizet’s Carmen, Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.
The same composer premiered his opus 67 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on December 22, 1808. Considered one of the most important works of all time, its first notes (ta-ta-ta-chan), known as the motif of destiny, are unmistakable and have been part of countless themes in modern genres, such as rock.
Handel composed his famous oratorio in only three weeks, in 1741, while he was in London, and it was officially premiered in Dublin a year later. It narrates the life of Jesus and is usually performed at Christmas because the first of the three acts is dedicated to Advent and the birth of Christ.
The Finnish musician composed his opus 47, the only one he dedicated to a single instrument, in 1903, thinking of the virtuoso violinist Willy Burmester. The work, of great technical complexity for the violin soloist, was premiered under the baton of Sibelius himself, but Burmester could not attend and was replaced by a violinist who did not live up to the difficulty of execution required by his score. The composer discarded this version and the definitive one was premiered by the also composer Richard Strauss with the Berliner Philharmoniker, again without Burmester and also with the absence of Sibelius.
Tchaikovsky was in charge of conducting the premiere of his symphony opus 36 in St. Petersburg in November 1888. The composer never felt comfortable with this work, which he considered inferior to the Fourth Symphony. Both have in common a leitmotif dedicated to the force of destiny
The fame of Mendelssohn’s second violin concerto caused his opus 64 to completely eclipse his first work dedicated to this instrument. The German composer thought of the concert pianist Ferdinand David, who helped him with the more technical passages. Mendelssohn was unable to conduct the premiere of the work, which David did perform at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig on March 13, 1845.
Beethoven took advantage of a health retreat to compose what he considered one of his best works. The German musician conducted the premiere in December 1813 in Vienna with an orchestra full of first-rate musicians and despite the fact that he was already struggling to hear the pianos, according to contemporary musicians who explained to the artist. The Allegretto, the second of the four movements, is especially well known, and the orchestra had to repeat it as a tip at the end of the first audition.
The German romantic composer took fourteen years to complete his first symphony, which was premiered in November 1876 under the baton of his friend Felix Otto Dessoff. Under pressure from those who considered him to be Beethoven’s heir, his famous self-criticism and insecurities contributed to the delay of the composition. Some considered that this symphony could have been Beethoven’s Tenth, a poisonous eulogy that Brahms never quite fitted.
Beethoven’s famous pastoral was premiered on December 22, 1808, in the same concert in which the Fifth Symphony was also performed for the first time. With this composition Beethoven tries to describe symphonically nature and breaks with the classical structure, incorporating five movements, one more than usual.
9. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart
It is still unknown why Mozart composed The Little Night Serenade, No. 13 for Strings in G Major, one of his best-known works and premiered in August 1787. It had five movements, but the score for one of them has been lost. It could be considered a magical compassion, a masterpiece in which the Salzburg musician used only nine simple notes repeated in a thousand ways.
Brahms created a technically difficult piece for the solo instrument with his friend and virtuoso Joseph Joachim in mind, who premiered it under the composer’s baton in January 1879.
Exploring a genre with centuries of history can be exhausting. In this list we have compiled a series of composers that are perfect to start a profitable enjoyment.
The term “classical music” is used to refer to countless styles of music: orchestral, choral, impromtus, requiems, symphonies, etc. Pieces of all kinds that have little to do with each other. That is why it is difficult for most people to get started in such a broad genre.
We will now recommend five composers who have one important attribute in common: they all compose pieces that, despite being considered “classical”, have an essential appeal that they share with more popular musical genres. Their songs are not long, on the contrary, they serve to structure an attractive hall that precedes the discovery of the exciting classical world that lies on the upper floors.
Many pianists begin their studies practicing Chopin’s pieces. He has a fairly varied set of compositions, but some of his “nocturnes” are perfect for determining the rudiments of the craft.
Several of his songs are universally popular and no wonder. Chopin had the ability to move you with his music in less than five minutes, an attribute difficult to find in the classical genre.
That’s why he had no problem with love conquests.
During his life he amazed all kinds of audiences. From aristocratic families to auditoriums full of ordinary people. Chopin’s music transcends social barriers thanks to his unparalleled virtuosity.
The musical structures of Schubert’s work are capable of astounding all kinds of audiences. The rhythm of most of his pieces expresses a varied palette of emotions, ideal for maintaining our attention throughout their duration.
The songs of this composer are the most exciting and dramatic you will find in this list. His magnificent piano impromtus have impressed millions of people.
He also has quite a few pieces for orchestra under his authorship, but we dare say that his piano compositions are the most excellent. His style has influenced the Metal genre quite a bit, since his way of structuring the different movements of his works is quite similar to what bands like Mastodon, Metallica, Pallbearer, etc. would later use.
Without a doubt the most outstanding classical composer of today. Arvo Pärt was born in Estonia in nineteen hundred and thirty-five. At the age of fifteen he had already begun to compose his own works.
Years later he would become the most acclaimed pioneer of the minimalist music movement. His works have been used in dozens of films as many of them have an epic character, perfect to accompany an intense drama.
He has composed dozens of records and orchestral pieces, but without a doubt his best work has been for the choral world. His style is quite particular, even the Icelandic singer Björk has expressed her fanaticism towards Pärt’s pieces.
We have already talked about how Ludovico Einaudi has once again popularized classical music on a large scale. His style is quite accessible. He is one of the few examples of how trends in modern music can be successfully mixed with classical elements. Something similar to what happens in the case of post-rock.
His piano pieces are exciting. As in the case of Pärt, his works have been used in dozens of films. Since they have a rhythm that is as dizzying as it is emotional, they are perfect for setting a story with similar characteristics.
We consider him the most accessible author on this list. He has several albums in which he develops his style: from simple piano pieces to massive orchestral titans. Einaudi’s work can be enjoyed by anyone.
Lisztomania” was a term invented in the 19th century that described the state of obsession and euphoria that Franz Liszt caused before, during and after his famous piano recitals. While he was on tour in Europe, women of all ages would chase him through the streets, ready to fight furiously for one of his gloves or any other of his garments.
Liszt’s virtuosity, both in execution and composition, made him famous worldwide. It is not for less, it has so many excellent pieces that it is difficult to choose which is the best of all.
His style was quite extravagant and complex, which is noticeable when anyone performs one of his works. However, all of them have an undeniable passionate element, whose power is only comparable to Schubert’s. He is number one on this list because of the emotional component that attracts millions of people to his music.