4 Musical Eras
There are 4 main eras of classical music.
The Classical era (1450-1750) was led by composers Haydn and Mozart. Orchestras began to take on a more dramatic sound, the harpsichord gave way to the piano and piccolos and bass clarinets joined the strings.
Music became more structured and clear, with composers deliberately writing how loud or soft they wanted the piece to be. The Renaissance brought a new sense of independence to religious music with the rise of polyphonic choral compositions.
This period embraced personal expression, a desire to break rules and to appeal to the emotions. The themes of Romanticism were often dramatic, including extreme perceptions of nature, mysticism, exoticism and the supernatural.
Ludwig van Beethoven bridged the Classical and Romantic periods with his music and pushed the boundaries of musical style. He expanded the strict symphonic rules established by Mozart into more emotional and expressive pieces.
Composers of this era were heavily influenced by literature and included themes, motifs and stories in their musical works. Hector Berlioz and Franz Schubert both wrote symphonies inspired by poetry, and composers like Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Weber wrote nocturnes, which are piano compositions evocative of night time.
This era also saw the rise of the musical virtuoso. Many musicians became celebrities and relied on flamboyance and intensity to attract ticket-buying audiences.
The harpsichord and organ gave way to the piano, which allowed composers to express emotion with greater flexibility. Instrumental music grew in popularity, and composers such as Beethoven, Chopin and Tchaikovsky created works that conveyed intense emotions from joy and ecstasy to melancholy and despair.
The rise of the middle class during this era had great impacts on society and the arts. This meant that art was no longer focused solely on the church and wealthy people. Music was more egalitarian and had a sense of community.
Composers such as Mozart merged Italianate brilliance and Germanic cohesiveness into the classical style. He was also the first composer to write music that he expected other people would play and enjoy. This led to a rise in long cantilena melodies and more virtuoso flourishes.
The Renaissance saw the development of a number of musical forms that would become staples in music over the following centuries. This includes the opera and the concerto (music featuring one or more soloists paired with an ensemble). It also marked the transition from medieval tonality (which relied on modes for harmonic structure) to functional tonal music, which used major and minor scales.
Towards the end of the Renaissance, there was a growing tendency towards complexity in musical composition, known as mannerism. This is exemplified by the madrigals of composers such as Luca Marenzio, Carlo Gesualdo and Claudio Monteverdi.
The Renaissance also influenced instrument design. The hurdy-gurdy (also called the wheel fiddle) and the slide trumpet developed during this period. These instruments allowed for greater virtuosity and the ability to play more complex music.
The Baroque era, which began around 1600 and ended in 1750, is known for its intricate melodies and expressive harmonies. The composers of this era, such as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi, created masterful compositions that continue to impress audiences today.
One of the most significant developments of this era was the use of a basso continuo, which added new depth and stability to music. These harmonic foundations, often played by harpsichord, violin or organ, helped to establish key tones in the musical scale.
It was also a time when composers began to experiment with different ways of conveying emotion in music. They used a wide variety of musical forms, including fantasies, suites, sonatas and sinfonias. These patterns established the template for the musical styles that would be used in later eras.
During this era, instruments expanded to include new oboes, clarinets and bassoons. Composers shook off the restraints of Renaissance music, writing more creative pieces for their own sakes. Religious music remained popular, but there was a move towards secular compositions too. This period also saw the development of musical harmonies closer to functional tonality.
The Romantic era was full of passion and emotion; composers really let their hair down and got stuck into it. Many created 'programmatic music' - musical descriptions of events or places, like Beethoven's pastoral symphonies and Smetana's Ma vlast (My Homeland) pieces. Experimentation and innovation were key with composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy using techniques like dissonance and unconventional scales. Other styles of music emerged, such as Impressionism and Expressionism.