Music Periods

My posts about music modes got me to thinking about the different periods of what we now call classical music. The history of western music is the story of changing tastes, moving from the highly rational toward the emotional.

The earliest period was the Medieval whose beginning is unclear but ended in about 1400. The best-known music of the period was Gregorian chant, monophonic (only one voice line) and liturgical. It was entirely modal, not tonal.

Next came the Renaissance which lasted until about 1600. Music became a group performance art with singers and instruments sounding at the same time. The move away from modal toward tonal became pronounced.

Modern music really began with the Baroque period which lasted from around 1600 until the death of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1750. Characteristic of this period was that music was written in keys, major and minor, rather than in modes. Counterpoint (polyphony), that is, playing multiple melodies at the same time while adhering to the rules of tonal harmony, became dominant. The preeminent form was the fugue. This was intellectual (rational) music at its peak.

During the Classical period, 1750 to 1830, simple singable solo melodies accompanied by chords were dominant. The piano (pianoforte) became the primary keyboard instrument. The symphony and the sonata form first appeared, and full-sized orchestras were in fashion. The most prominent composers were Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Ludwig van Beethoven began his composing career during the Classical period and introduced the Romantic period (1830 to 1900). Tastes still leaned toward the rational, but the emotional appeal was growing. Mozart’s unfinished mass for the dead, the Requiem, written as the composer himself approached death, plumbed new emotional depths.

More next time

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