Buying Guide for Music
How to Learn About Classical Music
Classical music really became popular during the mid-1700s to early 1800s, and everyone waited anxiously as composers came out with new concertos, sonatas and symphonies. There were many one-hit wonders, but composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn rose to the top and stayed there. Anyone can develop an appreciation for classical music by studying different styles and learning about the developments in each era.
Classical music wasn't always about violins and conductors. Singing had been going on for centuries before Pope Gregory came along, but he was the first to come up with the idea of writing music down--and, because if this, sheet music was born. Gregory gave each note that he could come up with (four in total) a corresponding letter: A through D. We still use these notes today, but E, F, G and all the half-notes between each note on the scale have been added since Gregory's time.
Soon, monks started writing and singing songs using Gregory's rules. These simple, yet meandering melodies were called Gregorian Chants. If you listen to them, they really sound like a bunch of monks singing in a monastery--spiritual, calming. A few years later, a monk named Guido of Arezzo invented the music notations do, re, mi, fa, so, la and ti, and drew them as notes on a staff. Notes and staffs are now a lot more complicated than when Guido first came up with them, but he can certainly be credited as being the first.
During an age when visual art and religious beliefs were being reborn, music was not about to be left out. Madrigals, a form of vocal music that incorporated at least three voices (but often more), was created and quickly became popular. Madrigals involved being a team player, sounding beautiful and harmonic, and a fun technique called madrigalism. An example of madrigalism--when singers came across the word "happy" in their lyrics, they would sing that note happily. Or if they were singing about running down a hill, the notes would also descend. Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi came up with the idea of adding musical accompaniment to madrigals. He also decided to make music more dramatic by inventing opera.
The Baroque Era emerged around the late 1600s, it was fashionable for the royalty and rich households to employ a composer (sort of like a maid or a chauffeur). Composers also resided in churches and wrote music for mass. So writing music wasn't a hobby for composers like Vivaldi, Handel and Bach--it was a high-pressure job. And they were the best at it, each creating hundreds of pieces that are still played and cherished today.
The classical period lasted from the mid-1700s to early 1800s, yielding some of the most popular composers in history.
The romantic era (early to mid-1800s) saw music take a turn for the highly emotional and poetically personal. Structure, though still important, was second to expressing oneself freely. A beautiful sunset or a lovely member of the opposite sex would send a composer running for his quill pen. Berlioz, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt and Strauss are just some of the romantic greats.
Before the mid-1800s, composers typically went to Vienna, Austria--the Mecca of classical music--to become great. But then it became fashionable to just stay home and compose music from there, instead. Composers like Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and others made up songs that had a bit of hometown flavor, and this style of incorporating your country's folk music into classical music was a hit, lasting until the beginning of the 20th century.
When a new century dawned, composers like Debussy, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Gershwin changed all the rules again by making their music very "visual." Their pieces were like musical movies. Disney took advantage of this fact and incorporated several 20th-century pieces into "Fantasia."