What is classical music?
When asked the question, what is classical music?, elevator music comes to the minds of many people. Although it is grossly inaccurate to say that classical music is elevator music, the two terms are similar in one way. They are both a generic term applied to a type of music. Classical music encompasses many styles of music spanning over 700 years.
Origin and Definition
The term classical music originates from the Latin term classicus, meaning taxpayer of the highest class. Slowly after making its way through the French, German, and English languages, one of the earliest definitions of the word meant classical, formall, orderlie, in due or fit ranke; also, approved, authenticall, chiefe, principall. Today, one of the ways Merriam-Webster defines classical is of, relating to, or being music in the educated European tradition that includes such forms as art song, chamber music, opera, and symphony as distinguished from folk or popular music or jazz.
Periods of Classical Music
Music historiographers classified the six periods of music by stylistic differences.
- Before 1400 Medieval characterized by Gregorian chant, mostly religious
- 1400-1600 Renaissance increase of secular music, madrigals, and art song
- 1600-1750 Baroque known for its intricate ornamentation
- 1750-1820 Classical balance and structure
- 1820-1900 Romantic emotional, large, programmatic
- Beyond 1900 20th Century limitless
Styles within Classical Music
Where to Begin
- For starters, begin with what you already know. You are probably more familiar with classical music than you think. You may hear it while dining in a restaurant, shopping, watching TV, or hear it in the movies. With whats available on the internet, it can be very easy to find a song you've heard in almost any movie or TV show.
- Listen to and research popular composers like Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Brahms and Bach.
- Research the top ten classical music albums or drop by the Top Ten Symphonies You Should Own page. Don't hesitate to read the reviews and find out what others are saying.
- Attend a classical music performance in your area.
- Listen to what you know more than once and by several other artists. Mozarts biographer says in his book that The masterpieces of the Romans and Greeks please more and more through repeated reading, and as ones taste is refined the same is true for both expert and amateur with respect to the hearing of Mozarts music [or classical music]. The bottom line: the more you know a piece the better it becomes.
Above all else, don't be hesitant.
The sheer breadth of classical music can be quite daunting, but as soon as you find something you like, stick with it. Let that piece of music be your starting point. Listen to other pieces by the same composer, then branch off into similar types of music by different composers, and so on and so forth. Pretty soon, you will see that classical music isn't so scary after all.