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You are here : home > Indian Culture > Indian Folk and Classical Music > Western Classical Music

Western Classical Music

Western classical music has gradually evolved through the ages. Learn about some of the most notable contributors to western classical music.


When you think of western classical music you immediately think of maestros like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig Van Beethoven. The definition of western classical music however has evolved over time.

The term Western Classical Music focuses primarily on the development of music in the European region. It generally refers to music that has its roots in western art, ecclesiastical (church) music, and concert music.

Music has evolved over the ages, having been influenced by various traditions, developments in technology, etc. Each stage of this evolution has been classified into a certain period. Classical music chiefly evolved within the Classical period. However, to understand western classical music you will also need to know some notable developments prior to and post the Classical period.


Development Prior to the Classical Period

The origins of western classical music can be traced back to the middle ages. Around 500 AD, one of the major influences in music was the Catholic Church. Pope Gregory I is said to have codified the Gregorian chant. Once the chat was documented and standardised it became a base for most tunes of the time. The tunes of the Gregorian chant were monophonic, consisting of a single melody. There was no harmonic support or accompaniment to this.

In the University of Notre Dame, the Organum was created in the ninth century. The organum consisted of two melodic lines sung simultaneously or at intervals. Usually two lead singers would start simultaneously and then would start to sing in intervals gradually increasing the gap between intervals. It was only during the Renaissance period that tunes started to become polyphonic in nature. After the Renaissance, the major development in music was Baroque which was around 1600 to 1750. This highly ornamental style of music was popularised by eminent composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach. Their most favoured instruments were the pipe organ and the harpsichord. During the Baroque period, the instrumental concerto became famous and is found in the works of Antonio Vivaldi. It was in this period that the opera was born in Italy and even German born composer George Fredric Handel composed his operas in this period.


The Classical Period

The Classical Period is considered to be from around 1750 to 1820. During this time Vienna developed as a centre for musical development. Various musicians gathered at Vienna and helped to standardize European music. It was during this time that the orchestra symphony was created. Some of the most notable symphonies, sonatas and string quartets were created by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig Van Beethoven during the Classical Period.

A characteristic of classical music is the complexity of the composed music. Composers have used modulation and variation techniques to weave their masterpieces. The favoured instruments during the classical period were instruments found in the orchestra. Haydn used percussion instruments, wind instruments, and stringed instruments. Wind instruments of the period included flutes, horns, bassoons, and oboes. These were accompanied by the stringed instruments like the piano, the harpsichord, and the organ. Of these, the piano became the most popular musical instrument of the day. Many of the instruments used in popular music today, were initially used in the classical music period. One example of this is the bagpipes, whose use was first popularised during the Classical period and has found its way into Jazz and Rock songs today.


The Romantic Era

The development of music did not end with the Classical period. The Classical era was followed by the Romantic era from 1820 to 1900. It was during this period that an emotional depth was given to existing classical music. This infused the music with inspirations from various areas. German composers were inspired by their folk stories and lore while Italian composers drew upon works of literature. In the field of operas, Richard Wagner from Germany and Giuseppe Verdi from Italy were the main contributors of this time.


Today classical music is reproduced in many forms. It has found its way into the popular domain in advertising jingles and in the musical scores of some movies. Nevertheless, love for classical music in its original form still lives on. For example, there are many classical music lovers who continue to experience the grandeur of Mozart's works at home on CD or attend specially held recitals to marvel at the maestro that Mozart was.

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