Western Classical Music


    Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western music, including both religious and secular music. While a more accurate term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820 (the Classical period), this article is about the broad span of time from roughly the 11th century to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. European art music is largely distinguished from many other non-European and some popular musical forms by its system of staff notation, in use since about the 16th century. Western staff notation is used by composers to indicate to the performer the pitch,  melodies, and chords, tempo, meter and rhythms for a piece of music. This can leave less room for practices such as improvisation and ad Librium ornamentation, which are frequently heard in non-European art music and in popular-music styles such as jazz and blues. Another difference is that whereas most popular styles adopt the song form, classical music has been noted for its development of highly sophisticated forms of instrumental music such as the concerto, symphony, sonata, and mixed vocal and instrumental styles such as opera which, since they are written down, can sustain larger forms and attain a high level of complexity.

    The term "classical music" did not appear until the early 19th century, in an attempt to distinctly canonize the period from Johann Sebastian Bach to Beethoven as a golden age. The earliest reference to "classical music" recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary is from about 1836.

    Given the wide range of styles in classical music, from Medieval plainchant sung by monks to Classical and Romantic symphonies for orchestra from the 1700 s and 1800 s to avaunt-grade atonal compositions for solo piano from the 1900 s, it is difficult to list characteristics that can be attributed to all works of that type. However, there are characteristics that classical music contains that few or no other genres of music contain, such as the use of a printed score and the performance of very complex instrumental works (e.g., the fugue). As well, although the symphony did not exist through the entire classical music period, from the mid-1700 s to the 2000 s the symphony ensemble—and the works written for it—have become a defining feature of classical music.


    The major time divisions of classical music up to 1900 are the early music period, which includes Medieval (500–1400) and Renaissance (1400–1600) eras, and the Common practice period, which includes the Baroque (1600–1750), Classical (1750–1830) and Romantic (1804–1910) eras. Since 1900, classical periods have been reckoned more by calendar century than by particular stylistic movements that have become fragmented and difficult to define. The 20th century calendar period (1901–2000) includes most of the early modern musical era (1890–1930), the entire high modern (mid 20th-century), and the first 25 years of the contemporary or postmodern musical era (1975–current). The 21st century has so far been characterized by a continuation of the contemporary/postmodern musical era.

    The dates are generalizations, since the periods and eras overlap and the categories are somewhat arbitrary, to the point that some authorities reverse terminologies and refer to a common practice era comprising baroque, classical, and romantic periods. For example, the use of counterpoint and fugue, which is considered characteristic of the Baroque era was continued by Haydn, who is classified as typical of the Classical era. Beethoven, who is often described as a founder of the Romantic era, and Brahms, who is classified as Romantic, also used counterpoint and fugue, but other characteristics of their music define their era.

    The prefix Neo is used to describe a 20th-century or contemporary composition written in the style of an earlier era, such as Classical or Romantic. Stravinsky's Cinderella, for example, is a neoclassical composition because it is stylistically similar to works of the Classical era.

Ancient music

    Burgh in 2006 suggests that the roots of Western classical music ultimately lie in ancient Egyptian art music via chirography and the ancient Egyptian orchestra, which dates to 2695 BC. The development of individual tones and scales was made by ancient Greeks such as Aristotelian and Pythagoras. Pythagoras created a tuning system and helped to codify musical notation. Ancient Greek instruments such as the aulos, a reed instrument, and the lyre, a stringed instrument similar to a small harp, eventually led to the modern-day instruments of a classical orchestra. The antecedent to the early period was the era of ancient music before the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. Very little music survives from this time, most of it from ancient Greece.

Early period

    The Medieval period includes music from after the fall of Rome to about 1400. Monophonic chant, also called plainsong or Gregorian chant, was the dominant form until about 1100. Polyphonic also called multi-voiced music, developed from monophonic chant throughout the late Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, including the more complex voicing of motets.

    The Renaissance era was from 1400 to 1600. It was characterized by greater use of instrumentation, multiple interweaving melodic lines, and the use of the first bass instruments. Social dancing became more widespread, so musical forms appropriate to accompanying dance began to standardize.

    It is in this time that the notation of music on a staff and other elements of musical notation began to take shape. This invention made possible the separation of the composition of a piece of music from its transmission; without written music, transmission was oral, and subject to change every time it was transmitted. With a musical score, a work of music could be performed without the composer's presence. The invention of the movable-type printing press in the 15th century had far-reaching consequences on the preservation and transmission of music.

    Typical stringed instruments of the early period include the harp, lute, and psaltery, while wind instruments included the flute family, Shawn, an early member of the oboe family, trumpet, and the bagpipes. Simple pipe organs existed, but were largely confined to churches, although there were portable varieties. Later in the period, early versions of keyboard instruments like the clavichord and harpsichord began to appear. Stringed instruments such as the viol had emerged by the 16th century, as had a wider variety of brass and reed instruments. Printing enabled the standardization of descriptions and specifications of instruments, as well as instruction in their use. 

Note: Data are collected from various sources i.e Book, Internet References and Blogs. Edited by Dr. Kumar Sargam 

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